Ready, Set, Write!
Monday, November 15, 2010
By Meaghan Provost
Even after a priority funding opportunity is identified and an organization is beginning down the grantwriting road, there are still pitfalls and roadblocks on what seems like a simple linear path. Employing a grantwriter that is not on organizational staff and might not be familiar with the intricacies of the project is a method of grantwriting that can present its own unique challenges to the grantseeking process. Grantwriting engagements involve both give and take—there is a necessary level of exchange of information and expectations from both the client and the grantwriter. Successful engagements often involve executive and editing support from those outside of the immediate grantwriting and client staff, and the grant development phase can become an arduous process for everyone if expectations are not clear. Collaborative involvement between a client and a professional grantwriter can result in the development of a superior proposal, and many common pitfalls of such an engagement can be avoided if all involved parties understand and commit to their roles in the grantwriting process. While there is no silver bullet for a successful process, there are steps that can be taken to ensure a smoother grantwriting engagement and a stronger grant proposal. Dan Casion, Manager of Grants Development and Administration at Grants Office, said his number one tip for employing an outside grantwriter for a project is to "establish open and honest lines of communication."
"The first point of not giving the grantwriter the whole scope, withholding information, or sugarcoating feedback on a draft, " he says, "can result in the project grinding to a halt."
To avoid derailing a project with an outside grantseeker, it's important to formulate as many details as possible on a project, including timelines, budget, and project leaders; it is equally important to understand that those details must have some degree of flexibility in order to create a narrative that responds to the funding priorities of a particular program.
1. Develop a grantwriting calendar.
Many grant opportunities do not provide a long timeframe in which to develop program documents. Typically, federal grants allow between 30 and 60 days from the release of an RFP or NOFA and the deadline for program documents. While it might seem like a long time to develop a narrative and gather information, it's critical to be on top of program requirements, registration, and needed information throughout the process in order to ensure successful submission. For this reason, development of a grantwriting calendar is a must. Represent critical steps in the process, and develop agreed-upon deadlines for each step. This will ensure that the project stays on task throughout the process, and that documents are forwarded as needed. Include a list of all proposal requirements, and their due dates for information needs.
2. Be clear about each individual's role and expectations in the process.
Grantwriters represent a unique role in this engagement, and can function as managers of the process as well as technical writers. It's important to be aware of the requirements for an opportunity, whether they be financial documentation, letters of support, notification of a federal entity, and the like. A grantwriter, to ensure his or her product is responsive, needs to be aware of all program requirements, not just narrative structure. It's also important to keep track of the narrative document itself-simple things like naming consecutive drafts in the file extension and asking that the edits follow suit can go a long way in ensuring that all the recommendations are built into the final draft. For editing, seek outside editing or a mock review of the final draft.
3. Clarify, clarify, clarify.
For clients, it's important that the expectations are clear—it will make the process simpler and more manageable if accountability is established early. Questions to consider include: how many rounds of editing does the client expect, and what are the milestones associated with the process? It's also important that the client be aware of what documentation is expected, and what the submission process may be. For many federal opportunities, registration with multiple government entities is required—whether this is the Grants.gov system, the Grant Management System associated with OJP programs, HRSA, eRA commons, and the like.
For grantwriters, taking extensive notes or recording proposal development sessions with the client, whether they are on the phone or in person, is essential to ensure that all program requirements are met. These notes can also ensure that the client is not asked for duplicate information, making the engagement that much smoother.