Rebecca Vermillion Shawver, MPA, GPC
You Need a Grant Team!
When teaching webinars or in-person workshops, we frequently ask participants, “How many of you have a grant team, either formal or informal?” Typically, far fewer than half of their hands go up. However, when we ask, “How many of you feel like a grant team of one?” That’s when the rest of the hands go up—far more than the first group’s.
Let’s be honest. Grant professionals can secure grant awards without a grant team in place. But it’s much more difficult and ultimately can result in implementation problems. We simply cannot be successful in the long term if we have to work in a silo or vacuum, as an island, or any other analogy that comes to mind. We need to interact with a wide variety of our colleagues to optimize our success and minimize our stress levels.
But still, many of us struggle to have our colleagues identify with and commit to their informal roles as grant team members. Thus, we may find it challenging to establish formal grant teams because colleagues don’t necessarily want to be on another team, committee, or task force. They simply want us (the grant professionals) to pull in the money and let them do their jobs without worrying about anything related to money.
It is important for us to recognize that sometimes the biggest challenge to getting program staff and administrators involved is their lack of understanding how important their roles are and what exactly they need to contribute to a successful grant team.
What Is a Grant Team?
A grant team is simply a group of colleagues that have a stake in creating competitive grant applications in order to acquire adequate funds for key projects and programs.
Grant teams can be informally or formally aligned. Teams can meet in person or via web/email communication on a regular basis. The format matters not. What is important is that the teams are committed to the successful submission of specific grant opportunities and that they support the efforts of their lead grant writer.
Who Should Be on a Grant Team?
Over more than one decade, we have worked with successful grant teams that have looked quite different. The composition and titles of the people gathered around the table (or on the phone) have varied by which organization with which we were working. Successful teams have been both informally and formally structured. Specific titles of team members have not been key to the team’s success; rather, we have found that the overall composition is key to success. Each team must include people that play different organizational roles and possess needed skills.
Over the years, we’ve learned that the most successful teams include individuals from the following roles:
Experienced Grant Writer – Every team needs a strong grant writer that clearly understands the technical and non-technical aspects of winning proposals. This grant professional must be able to lead and keep the team on track to ensure that deadlines are met.
Upper-Level Management – High-level administrators and other upper managers need to be on the team in order to confirm the organization’s commitment to the proposal development and submission process. They must leverage their influence and power to ensure that everyone understands that the administration is expecting the team will successfully fulfill its responsibilities.
Finance Personnel – While it’s not always practical to have the chief financial officer directly involved, a director level subordinate should play an active team role. Their input and oversite ensures proposed budgets, staff salaries, travel regulations, and equipment purchases will be in compliance with all federal, state, local, and organizational rules and regulations.
Program Staff – Direct-service staff members are always key to the successful development of any program plan. Their insight of client needs, implementation challenges, and ambitious but attainable outcomes is invaluable. Their collective and individual commitment to any proposed program are absolutely necessary to ensure any program’s ultimate successful implementation. Upper-level management simply does not have experience in the trenches—only program staff members do.
Number Crunchers – Most organizations can’t afford a full-time statistician. However, every organization has people that are responsible for data collection, evaluation, and reporting of performance numbers. So no matter what your organization calls these staff members, be certain to have one of them on your grant team. They will play a key role in determining outcome projections, creating reasonable performance timelines, and planning for future evaluations.
IT Staff – We all know that in today’s reporting environment, the IT department is critical to maintaining access to the internet and networks. Additionally, they maintain computer software and hardware. We all surely acknowledge that we can’t do our work without their support. Therefore, an IT staff member should be included on the grant team if plans include related expansions. Problems with future compatibility and support can be avoided it potential challenges are identified before a grant proposal is submitted.
Marketing & Promotion Gurus – Many funders want to know how we will promote their contributions and recruit participants. Before the team makes promises to do specific outreach and promotion activities, it is best to ensure that your organization’s marketing staff can and will do them. For example, if the team is proposing that a new website be developed to assist in recruitment, you will need to know that the IT and marketing departments have the time and expertise to do so.
What Does a Grant Team Do?
Now that you have your grant team formed, they will want to know what they must do. The answer will vary depending on the organization’s culture. Some of the most common roles and activities include the following.
Creation of Grant Calendar – Team members help develop reasonable timelines based on other commitments. This is important because you don’t want team members to be pressured too much or feel negatively because they can’t meet future due dates. Successful teams are happy teams. And no one is happy if they feel that they are the “problem child.”
Preplanning – Most experienced grant writers will tell you that it is always better to start preparing program plans before the funder publishes their request for proposals. Therefore, the team members need to engage with their grant writer in advance of the program announcement. This is especially true for large state or federal applications because many of them require three to six months to gather data, investigate best practices, develop program plans, find collaborative partners, acquire support letters, gain upper management support, etc. If at all possible, program planning should begin long before the formal application opening.
Plan Program Strategies & Implementation Plans – No grant writer knows what program staff and other team members know. The role of the grant writer is to draw from the collective experience and expertise of other grant team members. Thus, each member needs to be actively involved in the creation of the program design, logic chart, measurable objectives and outcomes, implementation strategies, timelines, budget, and everything else needed for the completion of a successful application.
Gather Support Letters & Client Testimonials – Grant professionals don’t work directly with partnering agencies—upper-level management and direct service personnel do. Therefore, it is essential that these individuals should be requesting and receiving any needed support or testimonial letters for inclusion. Additionally, upper-level management should be the ones acquiring any signed memorandums of agreement or partnership commitment documents.
Review and Editing of the Application – At least one or two team members should be actually involved in the review and editing of written documents. Narrative statements need to be checked to ensure that the program design and outcome projections are realistic, to check for grammar and spelling errors, and to ensure that the budget includes all expenses related to the implementation of the proposed strategies and activities.
Celebration – When a grant award is received, the entire team needs to take the time to celebrate. After all, grant writers don’t work in a void. It takes a team to truly make a difference and everyone deserves recognition for the role they played.