Rebecca Vermillion Shawver, MPA, GPC
How can our team win the game if everyone isn’t playing?
When I interviewed for my current position, I was asked the typical array of questions. Nothing was out of the ordinary until the final question was poised. My future supervisor asked me a question that I'm confident he thought was simple and direct. But for me, a seasoned grant development professional, it stopped me cold in my tracks.
What was the question? Simply put, he asked me, "How many grants do you think that you could write for us in a year?"
My quandary was should I answer the question in a forthright and honest manner…or should I provide the type of answer that I was certain he was expecting?
For a few brief seconds, I struggled because I really wanted the job. But I didn't want it if I couldn't tell them the truth. So that is exactly what I did. I told them the truth — even though I knew that my interview might end on a negative note.
My response to the question will not surprise any of you that have more than a year or two of proposal writing experience. I simply responded, "I don't want to play word games with you all; but, I don't write grants for anyone. I write grants with you. So my answer is simple. How many grants do your faculty and staff want to write with me?"
Well, I got the job and I'm happy that I did. But as I finished up my annual report to our College Board of Regents and my dean, I can't help but wish that during this past year my office had submitted more grant applications than we did. So my renewed focus for this academic year is to involve more college personnel in all phases of the proposal development process.
We need more teams — and not just any teams, we need enthusiastic and capable teams ready to take the field and win the grant game!
Creating Your Team
Step #1 - Recruit a wide diversity of talents and expertise. Every football coach knows that you must recruit great players if you plan to win championships. Grant development teams need to include the insight and knowledge of everyone to be involved in the proposed program. This includes direct service folks, information technicians, institutional researchers, data collectors/analysis, support staff, clerical personnel, and administrators. It is their collective abilities that will enable the team to write a winning proposal. And without their collective knowledge, simple mistakes can be made that can result in the team's proposal being ejected from the grant game.
Step #2 - Train your new team members. Just like spring training is the time for football players to learn the new play book, grant development team members must learn the rules that govern grant applications. So divide your team members by specialties. Think of your offensive unit as those members that can and will quantify and verify your team's ultimate performance of outcomes and process objectives. Your defensive unit beats out the competition by documenting why your school's need for grant funds are greater than others.
Step #3 - Remember that you're a team. You must work together. On a football team, veteran players help new members learn to play in sync with the team as a whole. The action is fast paced and players need to keep up with the speed of the game and to respect each other. No one player or position is above the team. The same is true for grant teams. Each member has a specific job to do. Every member must actively contribute their abilities and time to the effort because each position is equally important if the team wants to score the winning touchdown.
Step #4 - Provide the team vital information. Just like the offensive coordinator sends plays down to the coach for transmission to their quarterback, the development professional needs to provide their grant teams with key information about available funding opportunities, deadlines, latest research findings, and up-to-date best practices.
Step #5 - Lead them to victory. As the development professional, you will more than likely serve as the quarterback for your team. You're the one that will give the play to the huddle and start the action by passing or handing off the football. So just like in football, you will lead them to victory as a member of the team…not the only play maker on the field. You will be responsible for pulling all the other players' contributions together in one cohesive, comprehensive, and compelling grant application---and of course, you will also more than likely be the one that opens the envelope announcing that your team has won a grant award!
Step #6 - Instill good sportsmanship in your team members. Remember, there isn't a football team in existence that has won every game…and neither is there a grant team that has won every contract. After every football game, the coaches shake hands and congratulate each other on a game well played. Celebrate with your competitors their grant awards even if your team lost. And remember, there is always another game to play.
Step #7 - Don't lose your players. No one wants to see a popular player traded or injured. Don't make the mistake of losing your grant team players as a result of bruised egos or failing to pass them the ball when they are the open receiver. Remember to always take advantage of their expertise and knowledge when it best suits the team. Each player must feel valued and a contributing member. If they don't, they'll ask to be traded.
What Winning Grant Teams Know
It takes a unified team to write a successful grant proposal. Administrators provide guidance and oversight. The support services staff members contribute student data and statistical evidence of need. Librarians research the latest journals for pertinent “best practices”. Program staff assists with program design and implementation plans. Even the secretary that prepares the proposal is essential for it is their attention to detail that ensures the final document meets required page limitations, is properly formatted and contains all required attachments and forms.
So make no mistake. Just as no one football player wins the championship for his team, no one member of a grant team writes the winning proposal alone.
Author's Note: Special thanks to Alicia Hodge (Administrative Office Specialist from Angleton, Texas) for her assistance with the football analogies! Without her, this article would have combined my minimal football, basketball, and baseball terminologies.
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