Grant Guru Tip #10 by Gary Carnow: Collaboration May Get You Nowhere

There is a natural foods market in Los Angeles by the name of Erewhon. I shopped there when I lived in that area over twenty years ago. I had assumed that it was named for Samuel Butler’s Victorian novel of the same name. Butler meant his title to be read as the word nowhere backwards, although the letters “w” and “h” are transposed. I liked going to Erewhon, the natural foods store experience in 1980s Los Angeles was surreal. I would wander around the aisles as if I was in some strange new world. Today, many of these items are in any local market. The nowhere experience has stuck with me. Without proper planning, your grant team can easily become “erewhon.”

Writing a grant proposal can be a nowhere experience. I’ve previously written about the benefits of collaboration and also the problems connected with getting a group of very busy people to collaborate. Today’s tip will help you and your team get organized so that your time and energy is well spent.

Begin by planning backwards. Identify the deadline date and work backwards. Determine the shipping or overnight mailing deadline. Figure out how you plan to submit your proposal and determine the time it must be mailed to arrive at the funder’s doorstep no later than the specified final due date. In advance, I determine when the local FedEx closes and when it is the last possible time for me to ship. Plan for everything to go wrong. The copy machine won’t be working the day you need it. The funder may require four copies with original signatures and the Superintendent will be away from your District. You get the idea. Plan in advance.

There are a number of items that you will need to collect and think through prior to writing your proposal. Some of these items you can do yourself and some will require your grantwriting team. Determine the various processes and activities and assign responsibility for completion early on.

1.Make enough copies of the Request for Proposal for your team, with some spare so that you can keep one at home, one at work, and one in your car. I like to create a notebook with tabs for each section of the proposal, so that my various drafts have a home.

2.Some people prefer to write on yellow pads; others prefer a computer. When working on a proposal I find myself working on several computers, one at work, one at home and sometimes a laptop. I like to keep a USB flash drive on my keychain so that I always have my work with me. I also use a dot Mac account to store my files electronically. This way, they are with me whenever I have Internet access.

3.Brainstorm a list of potential collaborators and set-up planning meetings with those that agree to work with you.

4.Make a list of the required data and the potential sources for that data. Include the source’s contact information (name and phone numbers) so that another team member can easily follow-up.

5.Develop a list of needed documents and determine who will be responsible for following through.

6.Develop a calendar for completing drafts of the proposal and realistic revision cycles.

7.Determine who will review the draft proposals and calendar their availability.

8.Determine what letters of support will be needed and provide collaborators with sample letters. Determine who will be responsible for collecting these letters.

In addition to the narrative, the grant request for proposal will also require a budget, and sometimes a budget narrative. The line-item budget will need to be completed in the format provided to you in the RFP. In future weeks, I will focus on the budget; for now, know that this is usually where I begin. I tend to put together the budget prior to writing any of the narrative. This helps me keep the grant activities realistic and doable.

Although the various parts of any proposal come together much like a jigsaw puzzle, the people on your team may have intersecting roles that will look more like a Venn diagram. The proposal preparation process becomes highly interactive and interdependent as various team members bring their talents and experiences to the group. You may wish to consider the following team roles and responsibilities.

The Grant Lead. This is the person who is most responsible finding suitable RFPs and for getting the proposal written and submitted. Sometimes this person is known as a developer. The developer will foster a group of collaborators as the proposal is written. This team may become the grant implementers if funded.

The Grant Researcher. The grant researcher in a school setting may be a media specialist or a savvy technology-user who has mastered the art of Google searching.

The Grant Analyst. This person will assure that the team has detailed information about the funder and the particular grant opportunity. The analyst may be the one to contact the funder with a pre-proposal letter of inquiry. The grant analyst assures that your school or agency is pursing a project in which you have a good chance of success.

The School Historian. This is the person who knows more about your school and your general community than anyone else on your team. This person collects and updates what we call boilerplate information. Lawyers use boilerplates to describe those parts of a contract that are considered standard language. Grant seekers use boilerplates to make their jobs easier. Typical boilerplates will include your school’s demographics, enrollment figures, socio-economic status of your students, staff characteristics, special school designations and prior grants and awards. Having this information available will make the team’s job easier, even if not all of it is used in the proposal.

The Needs Manager. This person understands the problem and its causes that will form the cornerstone of the grant proposal. The Needs Manager will research on-line and in the library, determining relevant content from a sea of information. The Needs Manager will provide the team with the why, the how and the what. The grant activities the proposal describes to solve the problem will be based on the needs.

The Collaboration Organizer. This is the person that fosters the relationships with collaborators in your school and your community. This is the point person and keeps all members of the team up-to-date.

Involving as many willing participants as possible and assigning roles that suit their skills and talents, will improve your ability to be successful in the proposal process. As a group, you will get somewhere.

Dr. Gary A. Carnow serves as the Director of Technology and Information Services for the Alhambra Unified School District. Dr. Carnow is the co-author of two software products published by Knowledge Adventure. He is also the co-author of three books, Prolific Thinkers (1986, Dale Seymour Publications), Software-in-a-Book: The Cruncher (2001, Teacher Created Materials), and Software-in-a-Book: KidWorks Deluxe (2001, Teacher Created Materials). He has authored numerous publications and learning resources for Apple, IBM, Scholastic, and others.