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Grant StrategyProposal Development

Partnering with a Purpose

Increasingly, state and federal grant programs are requiring partnerships as a prerequisite to applying.  And even if a partnership isn’t expressly required as part of the grant program, demonstrated partnerships are often treated preferentially.  Within the context of this broad emphasis on collaboration, let’s review how to avoid two common pitfalls in forging these partnerships. 

Pitfall #1: Leaving the proposal development to someone else

I recently spoke with a school district that was considered a high need district, and they were approached by a neighboring school district to participate in a highly competitive federal grant application.  This district agreed to be part of the application and then proceeded to make one of the top errors that collaborating organizations make: not actually getting involved. 

No one from the district was represented in the grants development team.  If you’re participating in a partnership, it is imperative that you be part of the team that’s developing the grant application, so you can fully understand your organization’s role within the project.  It’s also essential that you, as the partner, carefully read and review every element of grant application.  If the lead applicant refuses to allow you to participate in this fashion, I would strongly suggest that you not participate in their application.  Your organization must have a voice and use it, otherwise you may be handed project responsibilities that you had no intention of taking on. 

Pitfall #2: Not benefitting from your participation

Additionally, you may not receive any real benefit, monetary or otherwise, from your involvement in the application.  There’s probably a very good reason a lead applicant has asked you to be part of the project. You may have compelling statistics, like a high percentage of low income population, or geographic features, like being in an extraordinarily rural location, whereby your participation in the project will bolster the application.  It’s a two way street though. Your partnership will add to the competitiveness of the application, but you need to realize a benefit from your involvement - whether it be monetary, access to the services described in the application, a share in equipment, etc. 

One of the best ways to ensure “you’ll get yours” is to execute a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the lead applicant.  It may or may not be a required part of the application, but it’s still a good practice to have a MOU in place in any collaborative venture.  A well-written MOU will spell out clearly who’s participating, who’s responsible for bringing what to the project, and what the timeframes are for the project deliverables. It is generally signed by high ranking executives from all the organizations that are participating.  The MOU will make certain that you know your role and what you can expect from the organization’s your partnering with.

Partnering is a great way to bring new services, resources, personnel, and equipment to your organization, and coming together with other organizations can be positive and rewarding.  Just make sure that you’re not a silent partner in proposal development.  Ask questions, speak up, and represent your organization from a position of knowledge, confidence, and strength; and document your relationship to avoid misunderstanding when the project is funded and it’s time to implement.