July 8, 2010

Go, Team, Go! The Art of Collaboration in Grant Writing

Collaboration is the name of the grant-seeking game these days. At The Grant Plant, we’ve watched our clients forge exciting collaborations with other service providers in order to increase their capacity and competitiveness for funding opportunities.

When it comes time to prepare a grant application that supports the collaboration, however, the excitement can turn to anxiety if there aren’t clear expectations for writing, editing, and submitting the proposal.

Working with a team to prepare a grant proposal can be a mixed bag. It can be a relief to have more than one person responsible for the many moving parts of a big proposal. At the same time, it can be a challenge to negotiate the different priorities, agendas, and workloads of many players.

This article offers some tips to address the most common challenges that arise when working with a team.

Tip # 1: Define Roles and Responsibilities

The opportunity of collaboration lies in the multiple skills and talents of a diverse team. The challenge is how to capitalize on those resources without getting bogged down by a number of competing voices or agendas. In a collaborative process, defining roles is essential. Identifying and utilizing specific skills in writing, editing, proofreading, and graphic design is important, but so is defining the decision-making hierarchy. Who has the final say on what is included in the proposal? Who will act as the lead applicant and fiscal agent? Differentiating these roles—and agreeing on them up-front—can streamline the process and heed the proverbial warning: “Too many cooks ruin the broth.”

Tip # 2: Create Realistic Timelines

Once you’ve defined roles and assigned tasks, it’s time to create a timeline. Be conservative when estimating how long tasks will take. And remember, the more people who are on the team, the longer it takes to review and edit a proposal. Someone will need to combine all the feedback into one draft that pleases everyone. Keep this in mind in order to draft a realistic timeline for editing and compiling a final version of an application. (Helpful Hint: Don’t forget to check all eligibility criteria closely. Nothing is worse than assembling a grant writing dream team and digging into a big project only to discover you missed the deadline for submitting an eligibility application, Letter of Inquiry, or some other qualifying step.)

Tip # 3: Create a Contact List

It sounds deceptively simple, but communication really is the key. Creating a contact list can save a lot of time and anxiety if things get down to the wire. Ask team members about their contact preferences (e.g., phone, email, or text message) to ensure a timely response. Make a group email list, so everyone on the team is in the loop on all communication. And compile phone numbers, too, so that if you need to contact someone for a quick question or a last minute emergency, you don’t have to scramble to find the phone number.

Tip # 4: Develop a Work-Plan

A work-plan can be a valuable tool to define jobs and track progress. Assigning specific tasks with defined deadlines will make a big project seem more manageable, and ensure nothing slips through the cracks. To make a work-plan, create a spreadsheet that lists each task, a deadline, and the name and contact information for whoever is responsible for completion. Remember to include “last minute tasks” that often take more time than anticipated like, “compile and format attachments,” “gather signatures on letters of support,” and “submit complete application online.” Then use your work-plan to track progress and keep the team on track and on schedule.

Tip # 5: Build in a Generous Margin

It’s a big challenge to learn when to stop “improving” your application, but you need to give yourself a time-margin for compiling and submitting your proposal. Those final steps can take what seems like an eternity to complete! Be sure to leave some wiggle room on the day of the deadline in case of technical difficulties (“Computer crash now? No!”), long lines at the post office, traffic jams and parking problems, or other unforeseeable events.

The growing trend for electronic submissions presents its own challenges. Some common, time-consuming pitfalls of electronic submission include file sizes that are too big to upload and character counts that differ from word processing software to the online application form. You can do a test run with the online form—by inserting test answers without actually submitting—to reveal “hidden” character limits. Giving yourself a margin to resolve these kinds of issues can eliminate a lot of stress.

Final Tip: Celebrate a successful submission!

You’ve accomplished a major feat by successfully completing and submitting your application, and it’s time to celebrate! Whether it’s with a cupcake or a cocktail, a group cheer or a thank you note, make sure the whole team feels appreciated. Often it can be months before you hear if your proposal gets funded. Don’t wait until awards are announced before you celebrate your group effort. Celebrate now, while the excitement, accomplishment, and sense of teamwork are still palpable!

Collaborating to prepare a grant proposal can yield amazing results. As is true with most teams, the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts: the results of a team effort often surpass what any individual member or organization could accomplish alone. Following these tips will help ensure your team reaches the finish line in tact and on time. Go, Team, Go!

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