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Choosing Collaboration: How a Partnership is Effectively Demonstrated to a Grantmaking Agency

Jul 15

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Thursday, July 15, 2010  RssIcon

By Meaghan Provost
July 2010 (GO Know)

In the shadow of the recently closed Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program, the importance of collaborative projects and clear partner agreements remain vital pieces of a grantseeking and project development phase. This particular program involved the possibility of collaborative efforts, and documentation of these collaborations was required for this type of engagement.

This documentation, either in the form of a Letter of Support (LOS) or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), was often a sticking point for applicants, whose partners were either unclear about their role or uncomfortable binding their agreement with an MOU given the short time frame from the beginning of the partnership discussion to the grant deadline. Even in the non-collaborative grants landscape, relationships can be hard to navigate and take time to cultivate into lasting partnerships.

In terms of grantseeking, it's important to know your partners, should they be community organizations, local/national government offices, or schools, and how they fit into the overall project. Many grant programs require partnerships in order to be considered responsive to the application criteria, and even in these cases, it's important to establish a relationship early and clearly.

Should you miss a deadline for an annual program, it could be a great time to begin a relationship with community organizations or other local partners that could contribute to your project. Taking the time to fully understand your partner's mission and how it can relate to the project can lead to more effective long-term relationships, and many granting agencies give additional weight to projects involving local organizations with the ability to increase the effectiveness of the project.

There are two ways to demonstrate effective partnerships in a grant application, and each has unique benefits and drawbacks. Certain grant programs may specify which type of partner agreement they wish to see, while others leave the choice of partner to the discretion of the applicant.

A Letter of Support (LOS) is the simplest way to state a partnership to a grantmaking agency. Signed by the partner, the LOS should describe the project briefly, state what the partner plans to allocate to the project (such as resources, facilities, matching funds, etc.), and affirm support for only one project. LOSs are appropriate to use when a partner relationship is still in the beginning stages, or if the deadline of the particular grant program does not allow enough time to solidify the terms of a relationship. LOSs are often used to demonstrate general support as well and often don't carry as much weight as a formal agreement.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU, or sometimes Memorandum of Agreement-MOA) is a document binding the parties to stipulated roles in the relationship. MOUs are official, and often take multiple drafts and passes through legal departments before they are signed. Due to time constraints, MOUs for projects whose deadline is quickly approaching often turn into LOSs, with an MOU solidified after the award or application submission. An MOU carries more weight than an LOS, because it is a binding agreement, and is a great way to ensure partner agencies don't fall silent once the award is made. The MOU will dictate what the responsibilities and benefits will be for each party, and is signed by representatives of each agency.

Project planning can include the exploration of possible collaborative efforts with effective partnerships well before a particular grant program is open, and often this type of partner seeking results in more responsive grant applications. While project relationships can be found and expressed through multiple methods, actively seeking out collaborative partners remains an important component of a robust grantseeking plan.

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