You’re probably wondering, “What does Willy Wonka have to do with grant funding pursuits?”

Let me explain.

Willy Wonka is a fictional character in Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The premise of the novel is that the aging Mr. Wonka wants to find a worthy beneficiary to take over his chocolate factory.

Wonka hides five golden tickets amongst his famous chocolate bars as a ploy to find the right person to take over. Whoever has one of these special tickets is promised a lifetime supply of candy and an exclusive chance to see inside the factory, thus prompting a mass chocolate-eating frenzy to find the hidden tickets. As the plot goes, young Charlie not only receives a lifetime supply of candy, but passes Wonka’s series of tests and wins the factory. 

Movie critic Jeffrey Anderson sums up the film adaptation by writing:  “If you’re a kid, Wonka seems magical, but watching it now, he has a frightening combination of warmth, psychosis and sadism.” In many ways, that unusual mix reminds me of the municipal funding process. So, since there were five golden ticket holders, I give you five lessons we can learn from the story:

  1. The golden tickets elicit excitement about being a winner, receiving a gift, free money, and a lifetime of opportunity. But the reality is only five individuals can make it through the first round and find a golden ticket. With the exception of the extremely lucky Charlie Bucket, all other golden ticket holders put forth considerable effort, money, and resources into obtaining their ticket. Much like these tickets, grant money and opportunities are limited; the competition is high and those that typically receive grant money have worked hard for it.  When applying for grants, reach out to nontraditional sources for advice and assistance like groups, organizations, non-profits, and other municipalities—specifically those who have received money in the recent past from the organization offering the funding.
  2. The golden tickets only give the recipients access to enter the factory, they do not grant ownership.  Once inside the factory, the five ticket holders are put through multiple tests. Most municipal funding opportunities are multi-phased and may require additional documentation,  effort, and resources as well as a more focused approach. Be prepared for the second round, seek high-level influencers, and educate yourself on similar, successfully funded projects.
  3. Charlie not only wins the lifetime supply of candy, he also wins the factory by proving to Wonka that he is worthy of the gift. Document to the funding agency that you understand their money will be used to design and construct an asset; you understand the value of this asset and are prepared to care for that asset for years to come. Include asset management in your grant proposal to set yourself apart from competitors as the option that best values the money being offered.
  4. Make an assertive effort to get to know your audience, and they will get to know you.  Wonka’s intention when he invited the five ticket holders to his factory was to learn about each potential recipient and inform his final selection. Get familiar with your funding source; it’s harder to say no if there is a relationship, even if it is an informal one.
  5. Charlie won over Willy Wonka by being himself. There was no embellishment. Successful grant writers use similar approaches: they are honest; they support statements, facts, and figures with relevant studies and research; and the applicant mirrors the application (i.e., they provide exactly what is asked for in the format that it was requested). A grant reviewer sees hundreds, even thousands, of applicants; they can spot an embellishment. Most grants are awarded on a scoring system, so if you present your data in the format they’ve requested, you make the reviewer’s job easier and reduce subjectivity in scoring. Ultimately, the result just might be a higher score.

Following these tips could be the golden ticket to funding your project, but for additional help, C2AE is here for you. We are a practiced and effective resource, with 50 years of experience aiding municipal clients to obtain a total of $700 million in grant funding to build parks, trails, roads, sewers, water systems, and even libraries. Chocolate isn’t a part of the deal, but if you’re looking for quality service at a great value, you’re in for a treat.

You will live in happiness too, like the Oompa Oompa Loompa doompadee do.

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Mike Jantz is a business developer at C2AE.