Writing Grant Proposals as a Team

Recently I realized that my article “Grantwriting Basics” had less detail on grantwriting in a team than I remembered, whether through editing or never getting around to all of the content in my mind. Here’s an expansion for those of you writing in a team environment, something that I find I do about 50 % of the time. By team grant-writing I mean situations in which key parts of the grant are written by others and editing and changes to the document are done collectively.
 Grantwriting in a Team Environment
Grants written with a collaborative team are usually stronger, more realistic and tied to the real activities and history of the organization and provide opportunities for team-building. Grants written with a collaborative team can also be among the most frustrating and time-wasting of activities if there is no plan for the collaboration and team members don’t adequately understand their roles.
Why write a grant collaboratively?

  1. Capitalize on multiple talents
  2. Get multiple viewpoints
  3. Increase organizational and/or partnership buy in to the project proposal

There are four key steps to ensuring a successful collaborative grantwriting process:

  1. Define roles
  2. Choose the team
  3. Chart a realistic timeline
  4. Choose tools

NOTE: Many times one individual is responsible for more than one role in grantwriting, but it is useful to break down the roles to understand all areas of responsibility. For most grants the roles include:
1. The Grant Lead: This is the person, often referred to as “the grant developer” who is delegated responsibility for team leadership on the grant. They define the process, assign grant tasks, manage the timeline and are ultimately responsible for declaring when grant components are final. They may or may not be the actual grant-writer.
2. Grant Researcher: This role requires someone with skills and experience in researching funding bodies and (if applicable) expertise with the fundraising database used by your organization. They identify funding programs with high relevance to the activities of the organization.
3. The Grant Analyst: This role requires someone able to summarize the grant requirements and provide the information to key individuals within the organization for decision-making about whether and how to proceed and to set out key requirements needed to be met (such as signed contracts).
4. The Organizational Historian/Fact-checker: This role provides up to date content on organizational history, mission, projects, as well as needed documents such as board lists, audited financial statements, incorporation papers, photos, biographies/profiles of team members and partner organizations.
5. The Needs Manager/Project Rationale Researcher: This role is able to research the “need” that the project addresses whether it is a need in the community or an organizational need. Articulating the need is important to making a case for the relevance of your project (whether the application asks you to answer questions about needs or not).
6. The Grant Writer: This is the individual who takes all content provided and crafts it into a coherent argument that is presented with one voice through the document. They are ultimately responsible for style, grammar, format.
7. The Collaboration Organizer: This role is responsible for the nitty-gritty of the collaborative effort, sending invitations to team members, organizing meetings according to time-line, chasing people for content, and tracking the receipt of all needed materials, signatures, support letters, etc.
While above, I have defined the ROLES needed within a grant-writing process, one team member will likely assume more than one of the roles. Your grantwriting team may be 2 people or 20 people (or more). Most grants involve 2-4 key contributors with some input from stakeholders. Who you choose for your team depends on your organization and the nature of the application. While you typically would want only one person assigned to some roles (such as project leader and/or lead writer), others can be performed by teams (such as researching community needs or literature surveys, getting equipment quotes).
The skills you need to assure are on your team include:
1. A professional within the organization who has key insight in the organization’s history, goals, and able to speak to the nature and importance of the key points of the proposal.
2. A grantwriting professional who is skilled in researching funding opportunities in tune with organizational needs
3. A budget specialist able to craft a realistic project budget and answer financial questions about organizational finances
4. Writer/editor who will be the “voice” of the grant–responsible for the tone, grammar and persuasive language of the grant
Unless one person has ALL of the skills above, you need to develop a team however small! If you are the Grant Lead–taking into account both the roles needed in the grant and the list of key skills–consider who will make up your team. Following the rules for good delegation, you will need to assure that team members understand their role(s) on the team as well as the role of others. Each team member must have the tools and resources needed to perform the tasks (time, materials, budget) and the authority (existing or clearly delegated) to successfully fulfill their role.
Chart your timelines with key points for completion of stages of grant development through a work back schedule from the due date with full understanding of that due date which can vary from “postmarked by X date” to “must be in our hands by 5 pm on the due date”. While generally the earlier the better, a too early start date can undermine any sense of urgency about the work and lead to procrastination and dropped balls. Likewise some RFP have tight timelines that mean that intensive work will be unavoidable.
Generally the charting done by an experienced Grant Lead will look like this:

By making your first draft completion date far enough in advance, you can allow for a second round of commenting and revision if necessary or if the project gets behind schedule due to external factors or difficulties in obtaining all information needed, you can forgo this step.
Do you need special tools for collaboration? Not necessarily. It depends on your team, process and proximity. If a grant is being written by one person who edits submitted content and incorporates 2-3 team members content and comments (the majority of grant-writing scenarios) no special tools are needed. Emails, word documents or notes written on a table napkin, will all be incorporated by one individual into a master document that is not available for editing by anyone else. No tools beyond a word processor needed.
Where it gets dicey is where multiple individuals are working on writing/editing sections of the grant collaboratively (and there has to be a strong rationale for this approach). Here version management becomes difficult and if there is no system in place, valuable content can be erased by a contributor who lacks the big picture. The grantwriter has started by organizing content into paragraphs dedicated to single ideas, ensuring that all building blocks are in place over the entirety of the grant. This can become lost as new writers add irrelevant details to paragraphs unaware those ideas are stated later, or in a different section of the application that they may not have in front of them. Simply tracking the revisions becomes a chore. Take this as an example: Susan has written the first draft of a project timeline that outlines a series of workshops. She sends it out simultaneously to Sandra and Kevin by email. Sandra gets back to Susan first with her revision and has added 2 workshops to the list. Kevin (working on the original document) adds one workshop. If Susan saves the most recent edit (Kevin’s) as final, she will not have incorporated Sandra’s input. So how will this be avoided without adding hours of pouring over revisions with a fine tooth-comb?
The need for a unified voice and coherence within the full application dictates that:
The process for editing needs to be clearly articulated

  1. There needs to be a start and end point to edits (a date where no more edits will be received and the key writer will consolidate).
  2. A system or tool for tracking versions must be decided on and used by all contributers
  3. The final edit must be done by one person assuring a single voice and coherent thread.

 MS Word “Track Changes”:
When two or three editors work on a document and only one or two revisions are anticipated, the tools within Word for tracking changes, emailed back and forth will likely be sufficient to the team’s needs, provided they agree on version labeling and documents are not sent to multiple editors at one time without the knowledge of the key writer. The key writer needs to know which version of the document the edit is based on to not lose content previously submitted.
The drawback of “track changes” with multiple edits and editors is that the document becomes unreadable unless the revisions are hidden by selecting “show final”, however in that view content crossed out by one editor which may be necessary and need to be restored can be lost.
 Google Docs and Google Drive
Google docs are similar to MS Word’s track changes in look and feel. The advantage of using Google docs is that two people cannot work on the document at the same time so that the most recently saved document is always based upon the work of all previous contributors. In addition, prior versions are saved (and can be given custom names) enabling rollback. All docs can be saved in a Google Drive folder.  In order to have a fully secure work folder on Google Drive, it can only be shared with Google accounts.  Creating a shareable link makes the folder viewable by anyone with the link.  This can be a concern for some teams with non-Google users.
Wikis were developed specifically for collaborative writing and allow team-members to look at all version histories and share files are various types. Within a wiki, it is easy to roll back to a prior version or ensure content is not lost.  Although Google Drive has some of the same functionality, teams might prefer a wiki for ease of navigation and the ability to share different file types and work in familiar software (MS Word vs Google docs).  Teams concerned about the online security of their information might also prefer a wiki space.  There are a number of free or inexpensive wiki spaces available online and using wiki tools are highly recommended where team-writing for sections of a grant involve three or more people and or is anticipated to involve more than two rounds of editing. My favorite wiki spaces include: http://www.wikispaces.com/ and http://pbworks.com/  
 Proximity and Face to Face Meetings (a collaborative tool we sometimes forget):
Grant-writing teams seldom go off the rails when collaborators work in the same office space and work the same days/shifts. When they do not, it is important to be able to simulate the good synergy effects of proximity. Wiki tools help with this. Meetings, web conferencing, shared Skype calls, and even meeting virtually in online environments (such as Second Life or an OpenSim environment) can avoid the pitfalls that occur when collaborators feel they are working in a vacuum at some points or are surprised/ambushed by input from other team members at other points.
Symptoms of failed collaborative grantwriting:
 Reluctance to contribute in a timely fashion: One of the leading signs of a process that is failing is the hording of information and avoidance of content sharing until the last moment of a grant deadline. People sometimes do this as a defense when they feel that earlier input will be lost or be subject to so many revisions that it will add to the time they will actually be required to spend on grant-writing. “Why contribute now, it will only have to re-done 10 times?” It can also be indicative of a missing or unclear timeline.
 Lost or confused content: Editors are simultaneously working on the same document making tracking versions difficult to impossible. “I’m sure we had something in here about X in an earlier version. Where did it go?” The wrong tools are being used for collaborative writing.
 Surprises and conflicts: “Why are you working on X? I’ve already done it!” The team and roles were not clearly defined.
Loss of engagement by project and/or writing lead: You send your lead writer comments and edits galore and they stop responding. There’s likely a timeline problem. The editing process needs to have a clear end-point so that final draft can be constructed. Grantwriters who are unsure of when they are needed for final edits may be reluctant to contribute until they are sure the dust has settled to avoid wasting their time.
Lack of consistent voice and format in final grant: Editing and commenting has not been terminated with enough time for grant writer to polish and format or grant writer has not been correctly delegated authority to override edits that are off message or inconsistent in style.
 Lastly take this quiz

  1. We always have organizational buy-in for our grant-writing before we begin. Yes/No
  2.  Our grant team all know their own roles and responsibilities. Yes/No
  3.  All team members know from the outset who will contributing and how. Yes/No
  4.  Our grant process has a defined time-line for key steps. Yes/No
  5.  Our tools match the number of collaborators we are involving. Yes/No
  6.  We work in close proximity or have plans for meeting/conferencing as needed. Yes/No
  7.  We have no difficulty tracking revisions to grants. Yes/No
  8.  We are never surprised at the last minute by missing documentation or signatures. Yes/No
  9.  Team members contribute on schedule with confidence their input will not be lost. Yes/No
  10.  Grant proposals have a unified voice and a coherent argument on completion. Yes/No

Give yourself a point for all your “yes” answers.
A perfect 10: Where do I apply to work for you as a grant-writer? Great going.
7 to 9: You are like most organizations, doing most things correctly but there’s probably just one area where you could avoid conflict and time wasting if you planned a little better.
4 to 6: You are probably experiencing some staff stress or even conflict. You may be wasting time and energy due to duplication of work by people not understanding their roles and/or doing intensive last-minute grant-writing due to lack of pacing.
Less than 4: Grant-writing collaboratively is either very new to your organization or has become a huge trial that your staff members view with dread. They react with either avoidance/delay strategies or by jockeying for position when a grant-writing task is announced. The process is likely always contentious and the results are worse than if one person completes the grant leading you to feel it is better you do it yourself. (Most of us have been there.) Consider, if you feel this way, whether your team really lacks the skills or whether the process is at fault.

Commonsense Social Media for small arts organizations

A few Do’s and Don’t’s about Social Media for artists and small arts orgs
Do remember to include in your plan all your skills that are relevant to a successful social media campaign
You’ve been talking to your supporters, colleagues and audience for a long time and you know them and their interests better than anyone. You also are skilled at reaching out to them creatively and inexpensively. For pete’s sake, you are artists! Those skills will be key in making your social media campaign a success!
Don’t be phony in your social media voice
Social media is … well… social. It’s got a tone like talking to your neighbours about your work today. Your neighbours and friends will be delighted to hear your voice saying “here’s what we’ve been working at in the studio today” in your own voice. Having that voice delegated to someone outside your company will feel phony and insulting to them. If it feels like a trick in social media, people turn off.
Do have the confidence to run your own social media campaign
The best social media campaign is grass-roots, just like you started your arts organization.
Don’t feel you have to spend big bucks on a social marketing professional
No social media “guru” knows your art and your audience like you and your staff do. So what if they have 2,000 Twitter followers, are they relevant to you, or just other social media gurus all jabbering to each other with re-cycled tweets and links?
Do take the time to blog yourself
I know you don’t have the time, but you know the best blog-posts are short ones. Here’s some good tricks. A photo is worth 1,000 words. Snap photos with your cellphone or digital camera and post to your blog with a small comment. Tumblr is a great platform for quickie bloggers. If you are more of a talker than a writer, make brief voice recordings and ask someone to transpose them as blog posts. Or, make a time to sit down once a week with someone in your organization who does like to write and give him or her a list of things to interview you on. Or just have a chat and record it. A 30-60 minute meeting about what’s going on with the company right now should yield a week’s worth of blog posts that can be timed for daily release.
Don’t let a staff member turn the Artistic Director into a sock puppet
If a post is listed as being from the Music Director or AD, it really should be that person’s words. To charge a staff person to write on your behalf without input or approval isn’t fair to them or you.
Do make meaningful connections with colleagues and organizations with common-cause.
Guest write for your colleague’s blog and share your posts with organizations that will be interested for example your post on set-construction with an umbrella theatre organization or your post on financial planning with an arts administration website. Ask your colleagues to post to your sites. Include the news from other organizations in your tweets and Facebook updates.
Don’t be territorial in social media
If all you tout in your blog, facebook page or twitter stream is your own news, you will be preaching to the choir instead of reaching new audiences.
Do listen to your followers and engage with them
Social media is social, so a part of every social media campaign should be to spend a little time reading what your followers are saying: about you, about other arts organizations, and about things in general. Comment, re-tweet, and thank them for their favorable mentions of your organization.
Don’t be a broken record
You wouldn’t invite your neighbour to a party and then invite them again, and again, and again, using the same message, would you? So invite and follow-up in social media much as you would in other media.
Do use more than one social media that is relevant to your company
As a suggestion, pick one blog platform to share your news in greater length than a twitter post or Facebook update allows. Create a Facebook group for your followers to publicize events. Use a photo site like Flickr or Picasa to host photos & slideshows and a video site like YouTube for video snippets. You may or may not find the social aspect of the photo & video sites useful. But embedding photos in blogs and Facebook posts enlivens them. Finally use Twitter to connect followers in short news bursts to your content in blogs and Facebook. As you develop your social media campaign you will find other tools to use, but no one tool will make effective use of your social media time or effectively distribute your news.
Don’t get too enthusiastic about linking and automating your social media messages
As we’ve seen different social media platforms have different uses and formats. A 140 character twitter post sounds brief and possibly rude when repeated on Facebook, so be thoughtful about linking media. Auto welcoming followers used to be recommended but has become so prevalent that many people regard this as spam and will unfollow anyone who uses the tools. Services that spam followers with auto quotes are fairly universally despised and will lose you followers.
Do use buffer apps to time distribute your posts.
You may want to do all your social media posts at one time of day and all your blog posts one day a week, but many posts at one time will bore your audience and also not reach some potential followers. Twitter streams are one place where people only are likely to see the posts made in the last hour, so use a buffer to send your tweets over the day (twitter is probably the only social media where you can repeat a key message like an event reminder). Facebook posts can also be spaced through the day. (I use http://bufferapp.com ) and you can choose whether blog posts will be published now or at a future date.
Do remember that the message of your company is important
Probably only the artistic director and/or senior management can really articulate key messages about projects, mission and artistic direction of the company. Identify the person or people within your company who will craft the social media messages. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the plan and will follow-through.
Don’t give the social media job to the intern
The intern may be able to Facebook up a storm about their keg stand at the party last night but that doesn’t mean they know how to tell your story to your key audience. Interns can help but don’t leave them in charge of the process or be prepared to accept the results.
Do use your grassroots skills in building up your number of followers
Hey you built your mailing list & email list from 0 to thousands, right? How? By asking people who visited your website to join the mailing list right? By capturing Box Office data, by asking people to enter contests and by asking people to save money, save the trees by signing onto your email list instead. When you have events, that’s the time to ask people to join your Facebook group or follow you on twitter. Make it easy with slips of paper they can take away, inserted in programs or available in the lobby on info tables.
Don’t get greedy
Don’t try to build followers by following hundreds of random individuals. They won’t stay and aren’t relevant to your success. In the worst case scenario you could lose your account through being listed as a spammer. Having 100 followers who actually come to your events is better than having 3000 followers with only 25 actually coming to your events.
Do give incentives
You know how to do this! Give potential social media contacts incentives by running contests for free tickets or other goodies available only to Twitter followers or Facebook Friends (but don’t make these goodies valuable enough to annoy other contacts).
Do evaluate your social media plan
How are you doing? Did you sell out a show using just Facebook? Are you getting more re-tweets of your news? How many lists is your twitter stream on? How many mentions did you get on Twitter last month? How many blog visitors have you logged (Google analytics or site-tracker have good tools).
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results right away
A good social media campaign is not going to happen over-night for most of us. It is slogging work like building a mailing list. If you are not seeing results after a few months you may need to fine-tune your plan, discover why your blog posts and updates are not engaging & growing your audience.
Do remember the goal
You want to deepen the engagement of your existing audience with your company so that they will be more likely to support you by increased attendance and financial contribution. Plus, you want to reach new audiences– while spending less money on advertising and postage. You also want to be able to brag about how efficient and green your company is in achieving these goals.
That’s pretty hot stuff so it’s worth some work, right?