Collaborating for Grant Writers

The word collaboration evokes thoughts of harmony, cooperation and productivity.

I admit it, I’m a control freak (who me?) My stomach tightens when I hear the words “let’s collaborate on this grant application”. The speaker invariably means well, and I have worked on grant projects where collaboration was a key factor in successful completion. Many hands make light work, two heads are better than one.

However, I have also seen grant projects stall and become mired in bickering and in-fighting because strong personalities will try to assert themselves and gain ascendancy. It’s human nature. There are ways to avoid this.

There are different kinds of collaboration in grant writing. The first is the necessary networking that must occur with stakeholders in the project under development. It is always necessary to sit down with the teachers and administrators who will benefit from the grant funds in question. The grant writer needs to understand the mission, scope, and wish lists for the project. Tip: Have the initial networking meetings in your office, it establishes leadership. You’re in charge.

I always prefer to work within my own school or district on a grant project. If the thought occurs to me that we don’t have the human resources to put a plan in motion, chances are, the project needs to be revised and cut down to size. Sometimes a foundation requires collaboration across agencies or schools. This is somewhat rare, but it helps to spread the wealth and eliminates calls of favoritism. District to district collaboration is possible, but don’t count on receiving a grant this year. It often takes years to plan and craft a big project with many people and parts. You’ll need an experienced hand to bring it to fruition. (Do I hear “bring in a consultant”?)

The other kind of collaboration is when two school districts or schools get together to go for a big grant to cover costs for a big project. If you are exploring this idea, I applaud your ambition, but I also caution you. Here are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself before you begin.

1. Who is the lead agency in this project? Who is the person or office that will manage the money? You will not be able to split the money down the middle and manage “your half” while the other district manages theirs. The foundation will likely demand a single fiscal agent for many reasons, including tax and other legal obligations. This automatically assigns leadership to one district over the other and can cause territoriality problems unless it’s managed very skillfully. There are pros and cons to being the lead. Lead fiscal agents will incur time and cost expenditures the other partner will not face. Be sure to include those costs in your budget. From the foundation’s point of view, it’s all about the money. The processes developed for management must be transparent and books must be open to foundation personnel at all times. They will not hop from school to school to accommodate your wish for autonomy. There will be no autonomy. A benefit of being the lead is the light shines brightly on your team. If you’re a control freak like me, you’ll want to offer to be the lead agency.

2. Prepare a detailed timeline for completion of various stages of the grant application process. Assign a specific person for each task with a due date. It should be on a wall chart, big, in the lead agency’s office (actually, everyone’s office). This eliminates the possibility of “oh, I thought you were going to do that”. Put it all in writing, put it online, and preferably use a software package designed for project management.

Project management is a science unto itself. If the role of the project manager interests you, I’ve listed some resources for training to become a project manager below.

Project Management Resources:

If your big collaboration works, kudos all around. Much depends on the leadership provided by the foundation or the corporation, or state grant agency. They are not all created equal. Just as you have variations in quality of leadership in your school, so do foundation boards and staff. Pick your funding partners carefully. You’ll get better at this over time.

Let me know how you’re doing. You may network with me by leaving a comment below.


This entry was posted in Grant Research, Grant Writing on by .

About Neva Fenno

Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS, has been a special education teacher, school library media specialist, curriculum specialist and grants manager for several urban school districts in New York and Massachusetts for 30 years. As grants manager for 7 years, she managed up to $28,000,000 a year in federal, state, foundation and corporate grants from application through fiscal administration. She has hundreds of stories to tell, not all successes, but from each story there is a lesson to be learned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *