We Can Work It Out: A Grant Writer's Guide to Teamwork
Grant writing is often thought of as a solitary pursuit. Give the grant writer the information they need, wait for them to write, and you’ll have a fully finished, submittable proposal later. Yet despite all thoughts to the contrary, teamwork is actually needed to write a successful grant application. Whether your nonprofit is a small 1–5 employee operation or a large organization with a dedicated grants department, you need several pairs of eyes on the grant proposal to get everything right. Quite frankly, grant writing is such a detailed oriented process that this is non-negotiable if you want to succeed. So when you find yourself in the position of collaborating on a grant, here’s what you need to know to get the best results:
1. Take the lead (or make sure someone else does). With all the many components of a grant application you need someone acting as the lead and keeping track of the application process, deadline(s), required attachments, application questions, financial documents, etc. Without having someone acting as the grant coordinator it’s easy to assume someone else is taking care of those details, learn everyone assumed the same so no one worked on them, and then scramble last minute to get it all together. Avoid that nightmarish scenario by having someone take point and guide your team through the entire application and submission process.
2. Schedule everything (including time for review). When you have multiple people working on a project you have multiple schedules you have to coordinate to get the job done. Rather than try to keep track of who does what, when, schedule it all in a calendar or grants management system. It’ll save time when you need to double check who is in charge of different components. And when I say everything I mean every aspect of the grant writing process: brainstorming, researching, writing, editing, reviewing, submitting, meetings, and all. Because there are so many people working on the project there’s bound to be differing opinions; at some point you will need time to discuss the merits of everybody’s ideas and choose which ones to include, modify, or remove, from the proposal.
3. Adapt to new methods (because compromise is key). When you’re used to doing things your way, it can be a challenge to work with someone who has an entirely different process. It’s important to keep an open mind here! For example, if they like to send questions as soon as they think of them while you prefer to send all your questions in one big email, be open to trying to correspond their way. You never know when their grant writing process will work better for you than your current process and improve your productivity by leaps and bounds. So try their way for a little bit, and if it doesn’t work adapt it to suit your needs. Teamwork is to a large extent about compromise and everyone has to give or take something to make it work.
4. Explain the reasoning behind your decisions (no matter how much time it adds to the process). Nobody knows what you know. Nobody thinks the way you think. They don’t have the same amount of experience as you—they could have more or less. So expecting things to accepted just because you say so is somewhat unreasonable, and expecting no one to question your decisions is even more so. However, if you take the time to explain your thought process and share the reasoning behind all of your decisions you’ll build trust and credibility with your team members that will aid all your future endeavors. You may even get feedback from your team members that inspires new grant projects or project methods!
5. Stay calm if things don’t go as you expect (and they won’t). It may not happen during this particular collaboration or even the next, but at some point your collaboration will hit bumpy roads—it’s sort of inevitable when you involve another person in the writing process simply because they don’t work the way you do and that can cause tension. Instead of surrendering to your less than professional impulses, read my article on what to do when collaborations fall apart. You’ll thank me later.
6. Be prepared to contribute to other parts of the project (even tasks you weren’t assigned). Although you may only be responsible for one aspect of the grant when the project first began, you have to remember this is a group project. Every team member’s success is vital for your grant’s success. So you need to be ready and willing to help another team member out if they need help researching information, a second opinion on an idea, etc.. It may not be ideal if you are already overwhelmed with work, but think of it this way: by supporting your team member’s efforts you’ll gain knowledge of a different aspect of the grant process (which is always useful) and ensure the application gets submitted on time.
These are the collaborative lessons I’ve learned from my time working as a grant writer, but I’m sure this isn’t an extensive list. What have you done to ensure your grant collaborations run smoothly? Share your knowledge & experiences in the comments below so we can all learn from each other and support each other.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week with another article!
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