What I learned from watching Disney lifeguards on a cold day

Spring 2021

Four lifeguards, dressed in red and carrying red life preservers, pace around individual sections of an empty pool at a Walt Disney World resort. Empty. As in no guests whatsoever. The water in the swimming pool looks inviting, but the air outside is a frigid 52 degrees. 

It’s not summer, and it’s not a heatwave. It’s not even warm. Yet, the lifeguards continue their watch of an empty pool. 

A supervisor joins one of the lifeguards and walks alongside. They walk and watch in tandem with their eyes on the pool the whole time. Back and forth. Whether there are guests in the pool or not, the activity is the same. Walking. Watching. Ready. 

Our work as grant professionals is not so different from the practices of the Disney lifeguards.

Whether we are in peak grant writing season or things are quiet, we continue in the same manner. Watching. Ready to respond. Like the lifeguards who practice CPR and other life-saving skills as a team before the pool opens, we must continue to read, write, research, and grow as professionals. 

There are many resources you can use for professional development during slow times:

  • Stay tuned in to the latest trends in giving through sources like Grants.gov, Philanthropy News Digest, Council of Nonprofits, and Candid. 
  • Research funders through Grant Advisor. 
  • Engage in free and low-cost learning webinars with Foundant and Charity How-To. 
  • Connect with your local community foundation, philanthropy association, and nonprofit advancement office.

Finally, and maybe the best thing you can do for yourself as a professional, is this:

  • Find a group of like-minded people to challenge you to be the best you can be. LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media platforms can be a great way to meet others who care about the same things you do. 
  • Consider joining a professional association, like the Grant Professionals Association or Association of Fundraising Professionals.
  • Join a study group to achieve a credential like the CFRE or GPC.

Keeping watch and practicing life-saving skills is an integral part of a lifeguard’s job, even when it’s cold and the swimming pool is empty. Likewise, as grant professionals, we should keep our skills sharp, our connections strong. Take the down times to prepare for the busy times. 

When it’s time to respond, you’ll be ready.