Six ways to ensure successful collaboration on grant projects

Collaboration is a common occurrence in grantsmanship today. Even when funders do not require it, many applicants find that in order to carry out a project successfully, they need the expertise and resources that others can provide. For example, a technology vendor or university researcher might be helpful in planning and carrying out an assessment of your grant project. In fact, some funders require specific types of collaborative partners for a grant-funded project.
Collaborating has some pretty apparent benefits, but it also brings a unique set of challenges for grant writers. Here are a few suggestions to help make working with collaborative partners and writing a collaborative proposal a smoother experience.

(1) Identify and involve all possible collaborating partners as early as possible in the proposal process. This will create buy-in and make defining the project easier. Sometimes it’s hard to identify all partners until you’ve formulated more details about a project. Ask partners on a regular basis during the first few weeks of project development if there is another individual or group who should be brought into the process.

(2) Make sure the top official from your collaborating partners (a university dean, university president, school district superintendent, or agency executive director) is aware that a staff person has been attending proposal development meetings representing his or her organization. Learning about a collaboration when you’re asked to sign a commitment letter is not the right time to discover this information.

(3) Carefully read the funder’s requirements for these letters of commitment. Some funders ask that specific information or a specific phrase (related to costs or in-kind contributions, for example) be included in letters from collaborative partners. Also, double-check to see who the letter of commitment should be addressed to (usually the lead applicant, unless it says otherwise in the RFP), and make sure the letter includes the correct name of the grant program.

(4) Early on in the process, find out if your partners can sit around a table for discussions, or if you’ll need to use technology (video or teleconferencing) to hold meetings that include all partners. To schedule meetings, take into account any time differences, if applicable, and the availability and quality of technology that can be used to meet. I recently worked with a group that included a partner from another country. Occasionally there were electricity blackouts that interfered with our use of a computer to meet.

(5) If all partners cannot meet on a regular basis, have someone take careful meeting notes and distribute them to all partners soon after the meeting. If jobs are assigned or specific information is requested from partners, include these in the meeting notes along with suggested deadlines for completion.

(6) Make sure you involve all collaborative partners in budget conversations. If in-kind contributions are required, notify all partners of this fact early in the project development process, so they can consider the kinds of contributions they’ll make. If cash contributions are required, partners will need to know this well in advance of the proposal submission deadline. Keep in mind that not every partner might be able to contribute, or partners might contribute at different levels–and this information needs to be shared with everyone during the proposal process.