Monday, June 1, 2009

Revisiting the Last Minute

I have ranted on and on about waiting until the last minute to do things. Art organizations need to be aware of and follow directions in a timely manner just as artists do, and it never ceases to amaze me how many times this doesn't happen.

Yesterday afternoon I got an email from an art organization that I hold in very high esteem seeking a letter of recommendation for a grant proposal. But there was a catch. The proposal is due today at noon. Now I know that it's all too easy to forget things or to put things on the back burner. And sometimes it can be difficult to keep track of deadlines, especially when they are changed (don't get me started on that again). But there comes a point at which one should question whether or not something is worth it anymore, especially when it was a stretch in the first place or when you don't personally know any of the people with whom you'll be working.

Last minute submissions by nature can appear unprofessional. They can be rife with typos and grammatical errors. They can be filled out incorrectly. So where do these proposals often end up? Unfortunately, many find their way to the trash receptacle very quickly. Sometimes, the institution offering the grant will work with you and help you to get your proposal correct. But many times this is not the case and many places simply will not do so because that opens up a can of worms that is much better left closed. (Make an exception for one person/group and suddenly you'll find yourself making exceptions for many, and bigger and bigger exceptions too.)

And how does it reflect on yourself or your organization when a letter of reference has to be wired in? Priority Mail is good - it shows that there is a genuine interest and commitment on behalf of the sender that the letter made it there. Other services, like UPS and FedEx, can show a strong level of commitment as well. But there comes a point when this goes too far and it becomes apparent that it was done at the last minute by everyone involved. And that can reflect badly on your cause by making you appear scattered and unprofessional or by causing the application recipient to question just how important the cause is to you in the first place and how seriously you took the submission process.

A bad submission or application can reflect badly not only on you in the present but in the future as well. It's like dressing sloppy for a job interview and showing up late - you can easily be remembered for this, even later on the next time you apply for a job after you didn't get the one you applied for initially. First impressions are hard to overcome, especially when they are negative. If a submission was sent last minute one year, and then again the next, and then again the year after that, it becomes even harder to take the commitment on behalf of the applicant seriously and just reinforces the bad first impression. This can be overcome if the submission is punctual and correct the second year because those accepting the application may give the applicant the benefit of the doubt, but it is always harder to change history for the better than to have created a positive impact the first time around.

I did wind up emailing a letter of recommendation, but I doubt that in such a context it will be usable. And I did offer that if someone from the grant-giving organization wants to talk to me I'd be more than happy to do so. But I didn't wire anything in.


ChaoticBlackSheep said...

Apparently, the organization that asked for a last-minute letter was meeting with the grant-giving group face to face, so hopefully that went well. (I'm not sure but this meeting may have been moved up so that the applicant needed to be ready sooner than initially anticipated.) They were able to use my emailed letter, and I hope that they get it.

martha said...


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Warm Regards

Project Grant Team