Grant writer as chief collaborative officer
Your grant proposal is due in a mere six hours and you are very confident that you have all your ducks in a row. Just to make sure, you unearth the official grant application checklist that was buried in a folder from day one, only to discover to your horror that you were so focused on writing the proposal narrative you completely forgot about the budget.
What do you do? Do you: a) grovel in front of your agency’s accountant and plead with them to make time to do it; b) simply do the budget yourself; c) submit the application without the budget and hope nobody notices; or d) start scrolling through the ASU Lodestar Center Nonprofit News looking for new job opportunities?
Ultimately, the answer is: you never should have gotten into this predicament in the first place, because preparing a grant application should be an inter-departmental endeavor. All too often, nonprofits that have a staff grant writer make the assumption that they will be 100% responsible for every aspect of the grant application process. And all too often the staff grant writer will take this on because that was the initial expectation.
The truth is that if ever there was a nonprofit activity that needs to be collaborative across departments, it is the preparation of a grant application package. It is not the grant writer’s job to create programs, or decide how money is to be spent, or determine if a grantor should get media exposure for their gift. These tasks should be driven by program staff, finance staff, and marketing staff respectively. It is the grant writer’s job to communicate with all of the appropriate staff, gather the necessary information from them to address all of the requirements set forth by the funding entity, and use the information to create a grant application so compelling that the grantor will take one look at it and shout out, “Goodness gracious, where has this organization been all my life? Let’s fund their request and tack on an additional $3 million!” (this never happens, of course, but you get the point.)
From this perspective, the role of a grant writer is really that of facilitator of internal collaboration. It is their job to be the person most familiar with the funding opportunity and determine what it is the grantor is looking for from the grantee. What forms need to be completed? What attachments need to be included? What specific information is being requested about the program? The grant writer must know the answer to all of these questions to determine who from their organization needs to be assembled to create the best possible application package.
Now I suspect that there are a great many of you who are thinking, “This internal collaboration thing is all well and good in theory, but we have a small organization and our entire staff is overtaxed. We hired a grant writer so that the rest of us don’t have to worry about grant applications.” While I fully appreciate this sentiment, the truth is that the rest of your organization does have to worry about grant applications. Perhaps not quite to the same extent that the grant writer does, but you do need to worry about what outcomes you say you will achieve, and how much of the grant funds will go toward salaries, and whether or not you will issue a press release upon receipt of funding—and none of these are items that should be determined by a grant writer.
Internal collaboration will certainly look different depending upon the size of the nonprofit, but it still needs to take place for grant-seeking organizations to be successful. For smaller organizations, grant collaboration may simply mean that the grant writer will inform the proper staff members of a grant opportunity via email and then seek additional information as needed. For larger organizations grant collaboration may mean that an inter-departmental team meets on an ongoing basis throughout the application process. In either case it is very helpful to create a grant application flowchart so your organization has a specific process that is followed to ensure proper involvement from all internal departments. And yes, it is not a bad idea for the flowchart to be created by an inter-departmental team as well. So remember, there is nothing more important when working on a grant than internal collaboration-except, perhaps, for external collaboration...but that’s a discussion for another blog post.
Andrew Schwartzberg is the director of grants at Valley of the Sun United Way. He has been in the nonprofit field for more than ten years. Andrew has a degree in English literature from New York University and was in the inaugural class of ASU Lodestar’s Generation Next program.