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Learning patterns/Grant projects are not startups

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A learning pattern forproject management
Stop when you run out of funding: grant projects are not startups
problemPredicting the cost of a project ahead of time is difficult. Especially for those coming from volunteer backgrounds, it may often seem preferable to simply keep going so as to complete the project so there is better news to report, rather than stop and request further funding to continue.
solutionDo not do this. You will be very likely to burn yourself out, and it will undermine the entire project moving forward for years to come.
created on17:49, 29 September 2019 (UTC)

And even if they were, this movement is worth more than that. We should not be compromising our mental health or very ability to contribute in any capacity in the future, let alone as volunteers, by considering ourselves obligated to complete what we proposed regardless of whether further resources exist to support the work.

What problem does this solve?[edit]

There are, if anything, two aspects here:

  • Intentionally under-requesting funds in order to get any funding at all
  • Requesting what seemed like the correct funding at the time, but that turns out later to cover insufficient scope to complete all described aspects of the project in practice

In either case, proceeding regardless of whether or not the funds truly cover your work can be incredibly dangerous in terms of your mental health and ability to proceed with the project. It can lead to burnout, trauma, and potentially even a lasting inability to even go near the project later due to the possible extent of the associated psychological damage. Like with a startup, it may seem worth going into the project with insufficient resources in order to proceed at all, but unlike a successful startup, there is no potential for an actual payout at the end, and any 'successful' project that we are funding and completing here will instead simply be much more likely to continue to require long-term maintenance.

What is the solution?[edit]

When you run out of resources, stop. Request what you need as soon as it becomes apparent, or reach out to your program contact(s) to discuss other solutions. This will allow you to continue in a more professional capacity with considerably less stress, and help you to avoid the situation in which you simply cannot continue at all because it has all become too much.

If you suspect you are already at this point, then just stop. Discuss the best paths forward. Submit what you have such that there is a proper record of exactly what got done, and what did happen, and that you or whoever can easily pick it up again later. For now, or forever, just step away.

If you are being paid for your work, you are a professional. You need to treat yourself as a professional, and not just work for free. Even if your background is as a volunteer on these projects, you have stepped into a different role now, and need to keep that in mind.

Things to consider[edit]

  • This can be a particularly dangerous hole to fall in if you're not coming from a very stable financial situation. Getting any funding at all can seem (and may even be) preferable to requesting the full worth of the project, as there is a limited budget per round to cover each category of grants and more costly ones can thus be harder to fully justify. (Money is, after all, money, and working for very little pay does tend to beat not working at all, and thus having no income at all.) Doing this, however, sets a precedent moving forward when it comes to cost expectations - not just for those evaluating the proposals, but even for you in terms of what you feel you can reasonably request, based on what you've requested previously.
  • If this is a project to which you have been contributing sporadically to as a volunteer in the past, and wrapping it up, you expect to be able to continue to contribute sporadically in much the same manner after the fact, that's more likely to be perfectly fine. Just be sure to make a clear distinction between this and the funded work, not just in terms of your own work-life balance, but also especially what you actually report on for the sake of the grants themselves.

When to use[edit]

This applies to all (grant-funded) projects in which you are requesting funds to cover cost of labour, no matter what the labour is. It does not apply to equipment grants, travel grants, event grants where you are requesting funding to cover costs of venues, catering, etc, but where you and your team are still contributing your own labour in a volunteer capacity.

The main point, perhaps, is that we need to not confuse the two - either we are volunteers, or we are not.


  • For a particularly unfortunate example of a project where we ran afoul of this, please see my final report for the third round of WikiProject X, when it became abundantly clear after discussing it with the others (now advisers) that we'd all pretty much completely burnt ourselves out. Even with a renewal/budget adjustment for further funding, I decided it was time to end my part in it regardless as well at the end of the current budget, as the psychological cost of continuing was simply too high. -— Isarra 17:49, 29 September 2019 (UTC)[reply]
  • Been there, done that (not here, but elsewhere) -- useful insights! JPxG (talk) 04:59, 20 November 2020 (UTC)[reply]
  • Very much agreeable. We experienced this for the AbuseFilter overhaul project grant, specifically the shared variables part. It's very much better to stop as long as it's still possible, rather than getting into sticky situations where you'll have to give up either your project or your mental sanity. --Daimona Eaytoy (talk) 16:26, 25 March 2021 (UTC)[reply]
  • In the Web2Cit project it soon became apparent that we had underestimated the time that was needed for the research sub-project. Therefore, we underestimated the research budget as well. Because all parts had agreed that the time estimation was OK, we could have just continued, but it would not have been fair. Therefore, we decided to use part of our contingency funds to increase the research budget. Diegodlh (talk) 11:05, 28 March 2022 (UTC)[reply]

See also[edit]

Related patterns[edit]

External links[edit]