Project Teams: The Secret to Grant-Writing Success

Project Teams: The Secret to Grant-Writing Success


Take a moment to think about your organization’s last few proposals. How many times during the writing process did you think: “Where are we headed with this project?” How often did you worry whether it was competitive enough? Whether you would submit it on time?

Writing a successful proposal isn’t rocket science. In fact, most proposals are fairly straightforward explanations of a problem and a solution. Of course, as you write about your project, you need to explain why it’s the best solution, demonstrate your qualifications to implement it, forecast project outcomes, and demonstrate your qualifications to achieve them. However, as an expert in your field, you could probably describe all this in your sleep.

Planning is Key

If you understand the basics, why is grant writing such a difficult task? If you’ll forgive the cornball railroad analogy for the moment: To stay on track and reach your destination, you’ve got to have your cars lined up first. When it comes to proposal writing, many organizations don’t spend enough time lining up their research, planning, implementation, and evaluation cars neatly behind them. Your problem may be simply a lack of sufficient preparation.

Moreover, if you’re like a lot of small- to medium-sized nonprofits, you may be expecting one person to perform all these tasks. This person might be your executive director, a project coordinator, or even the development director, but she inevitably already has a full plate. As a result (to continue the journey analogy), she arrives at the station with her suitcases half-packed and no idea of which platform her train will be leaving from. If she does make her train, she leaves frazzled.

It Takes a Team

Nobody—not even an experienced grant writer—can write a proposal alone. There’s a lot to do before you’re ready to sit down and write. Sharing this work with a team helps tremendously. For starters, teams produce better proposals on the whole than individuals. Teams offer the advantage of a broader range of vision. They provide:

  • Multiple viewpoints,
  • Pooled talents,
  • Staff and possible community buy-in, and
  • Shared resources.

Teams also share the burden as the deadline approaches. There’s a lot of collecting, planning, coordinating, writing, adding, and revising to do in crafting a proposal. There’s data to gather that substantiates need. Memoranda of understanding must be worked out with partnering organizations. There’s the conceptual work of establishing your goal and objectives. And the project timeline with action steps to work out. You need to review your organizational history and capacity and prepare job descriptions. You need to work out a plan for project sustainability once the funding ends. As we said earlier, writing proposals does not require an advanced degree, but it does take diligence and plenty of time.

Selecting Your Team Members

The good news is that you already have a ready-made team in your staff members and partnering agencies. Keep in mind that the best teams are diverse in gender, age, background, and ethnicity. One person may fill several roles, but remember that the benefit of teamwork is to make less–not more work– for those involved.

Think about people at other agencies with which you would like to partner and invite them to join you. In addition, make sure to think about the skills it takes to complete a proposal–and make sure to invite people with those skills. Here are some of the roles you’ll need to fill:

  • Professional with training in the project’s problem/focus
  • Researcher
  • Accountant
  • Writer/editor
  • Liaison

Start Early

When should you convene your team? Meet as soon as you decide to submit a proposal–ideally several months before it is due. To get started, hold a meeting to kick off your project planning and define roles and responsibilities. The trick is to avoid meeting so far in advance of the proposal deadline that there is no motivation to work steadily, but soon enough so that no one is working up to the last minute. Of course, since some federal RFPs are now released only four weeks before their deadline, working at an intensive pace for several weeks may be unavoidable.

The Reward of a Job Well-Done

Being a member of a proposal team can be an exhilarating experience. Not only do you get to witness the evolution of a project from a simple idea into a solid do-able reality, but you get the opportunity to create relationships with colleagues inside—and outside—your organization. As with any endeavor that involves individuals, there will inevitably be bumps along the road. However, as long as you ask for a commitment to stay with the team until the proposal deadline, you can create the buy-in you need when the going gets rough. Remember to keep focused on the job at hand rather than personalities or differences. In the end, your team is sure to have a positive experience and to want to work with you again.