How To Draft Your Grant Writing Dream Team

By | December 2, 2013


With fantasy football teams and leagues winding down for the year, it dawned on me that putting your grant writing team together can be a bit like drafting a fantasy football team.

While not an owner of a fantasy football team, or even a football fan myself, I’m always in favor of an analogy to help make the grants profession more of a real world conversation, and the fantasy football/sports analogy seems to a great fit to me in this case.

Just as if drafting a fantasy sports team, when putting together a team for a grant team for an organization, you need to make sure that you have all of your key positions covered within the players at the table:

  • You likely need your head writer, your finance director/staffer, the person that will be responsible for implementation if funded, representatives from your collaborative partners, and your evaluator/data guru (whether they be internal or external).
  • The order that they are drafted to the grant team can vary, but you need to have someone who is ultimately facilitating/coaching the team and inviting others to the team to sub in as necessary, be it an Executive Director, Town Supervisor, or Grants and Foundations Director.
  • The actual titles and roles of individuals that you may call to the table as part of your grant team may also vary by community, but the idea of having a formal team pulled together as early in the grant discussion as possible will greatly strengthen your application.

Strengths Based Approach for Your Roster

So how do you create a “dream” grant writing team for an organization or specific application that covers all areas of needed expertise in order to create a competitive grant application?  I recommend approaching your team composition from a strengths based approach.  Think about the strengths that each of the potential players brings to the table assessing a strong kicker or wide receiver or in the grant team a strong budget developer or a strong program evaluator.  I also recommend creating a core “starter lineup” of those intimately familiar with the grant application, process, and details of the application and then a second string support lineup of those who are supportive of the effort and familiar with the project and application, but are not necessarily needed at all meetings or on all email exchanges and draft reviews.

Substituting Team Members

Now, assuming that you were able to assemble an excellent strengths based grant writing team, how, as the grant professional do you handle the situation when a player on the team gets traded to another team/organization?  If you had such a person on your fantasy football team, you would quickly replace that person in your line-up.  This situation occurs in organizations due to staff turnover or unexpected illness as well as in collaborative writing situations as players move in and out of the collaborative group for issues again, such as staff turnover.  However, most nonprofits do not have numerous staff doing the same or similar duties, and therefore are not necessarily able to be quickly substitute players in a grant team situation.  By going back to the strengths based approach, and keeping a focus on maintaining a full roster and the availability of players, other team members may be to also cover the role of the missing team member, or have ideas on who would make a strong replacement to the team.

Productive Team Members

How do you maintain your “dream” team if a member of the team stops producing touchdowns or yards, and is now a negative or non-producing member of the team?  Particularly when in a collaborative writing situation where numerous organizations may be involved, keeping all parties engaged and active in the process without getting mired in collaborative politics can indeed be tricky. Keeping a strong emphasis on the goal of the grant team and the mission that has brought the team together can help prevent this situation from occurring.  However, when it does occur within a team, the strength of the coach or collaborative facilitator can help ease the personality strains of a collaborative writing situation, or in the case of an internal grant team, the Executive Director can be a support to help empower the leader of the grant team to engage different players from within the organization.

 There is No “I” in Team

While there is indeed, no “I” in the word team, there is certainly a need for an assigned or mutually agreed upon leader of any grant team, as ultimately, while it takes the full team to accurately pull together information and portray the proposed program to a potential funder, there needs to be one final person on the team who has the team’s authority to make final wording choices and other decisions of that nature.  Ultimately, this person serves as the team’s quarterback.  While the team practices and works together, the grant team needs to be able to look to one person to make the on the field decision to help the group move forward and finalize an application for submission.

With a continued emphasis on your grant team “roster” you will have a strong team supporting your grant seeking efforts, and in particular your pre-application planning efforts,  you should see the benefit of the team’s work in the form of approved grant applications.  In which case you then get to shift your attention to your grant implementation and management team!

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