WRITING TOGETHER: A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO COLLABORATING ON GRANT PROPOSALS
Katherine Kubarski, MPA, Principal,
GRANTWORKS Proposal Writing Services
One of the most striking trends in philanthropy in recent years has been the increase in grant funding for collaborative projects. More foundations are recommending that applicants work in partnership, and many government agencies now require that schools and nongovernmental organizations apply for grants as formal collaboratives.
The rationale behind grantmakers’ growing preference for collaborative proposals is as follows: problems – whether they exist at the local, regional, national or global level – are typically multidimensional and therefore require multifaceted solutions that engage numerous entities. For example, complex issues such as illiteracy, gender inequity, food security and global warming cannot be single-handedly tackled by one NGO or public agency, but rather need to be addressed by multiple stakeholders from diverse sectors. Similarly, as educators we know that student learning often requires support and resources beyond what we can directly provide within the confines of the classroom – including daily nutrition, health care, access to safe water and adequate sanitation. In order to develop grant proposals that lead to meaningful change, we may need to reach out to and engage common and uncommon partners in our project planning process – teachers, school administrators, health care practitioners, community and religious leaders, business owners, researchers, policymakers, parents, families and students themselves.
Collaboration changes the way we work on grant proposals and necessitates making the following shifts in our approach to project/program planning and grant proposal writing —
From Competing for Resources, to Building Group Consensus
Too often, it is the quest for funding, not a mutual mission, which drives the collaborative proposal development process. Schools, organizations and government institutions may come together simply because grantmakers require them to collaborate. If a grant isn’t awarded, the collaborative often falls apart.
Successful collaboratives are those that evolve from common issues and a shared purpose and vision. Getting there is not a quick process. It takes time to form partnerships, exchange ideas and discover mutual concerns. Consensus decision making is a process of that involves dialoguing and generating widespread agreement within a group. Participants must take the necessary time to build this consensus and arrive at joint decisions, well ahead of grant proposal deadlines.
From Working Alone, to Including Others from Diverse Cultures, Fields and Sectors
Collaborative grant projects require that participants shift their attention to the collective WE. This may mean crossing cultural, religious, disciplinary and/or geographic boundaries, as in the case of members of different ethnic and/or faith communities who come together to promote youth development or educators who work with health care practitioners to develop comprehensive care and school programs for children and parents living with HIV. Collaborative projects may also engage participants from the local and international nongovernmental sectors and multiple government ministries.
From Thinking Mostly about Activities and Services, to Considering Systems Change
Developing collaborative grant proposals challenges participants to stretch beyond their desire to provide concrete services and look instead at the “bigger picture.” For example, a collaborative focused on keeping girls from economically disadvantaged families in school might propose practical activities (e.g., provide girls with uniforms, shoes and school supplies; award scholarships), and simultaneously address the root causes of girls’ low access to education (e.g., raise awareness of the detrimental impact of child marriage on girls, through street theatre and community dialogue), as well as institutional barriers (e.g., construct separate toilet facilities for older girls; prepare and recruit more women teachers for rural schools). Such a collaborative effort could potentially involve the participation of the Ministry of Education, teacher associations, international and local nongovernmental organizations, individual teachers and schools, parents and local suppliers of uniforms and school materials.
From Focusing on Short-term Accomplishments, to Planning for Long-term Results
Collaborative grant proposals involving partners from multiple disciplines and sectors provide us with the opportunity to affect change for the long-term benefit of the students, schools, universities and communities we serve. While our grant proposals must spell out specific, measurable, achievable, results-based and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.) objectives for the short-term funding period, we can also express the broader, more far-reaching goals that we hope to realize over the long term. Drawing on the previous example of a project focused on keeping girls in school, our longer term aims might include lower birth rates, reduced infant and maternal mortality, lower rates of HIV, less girl trafficking and increased access to economic opportunity for women.
Collaborative Projects and Tools for Further Exploration and Reflection:
- Building Group Consensus
A nine-step consensus building process (with pictures).
Bringing together common and uncommon partners through creative partnerships to enhance funding, advocacy, and impact, USAID: http://www.washplus.org/about
- Including Others from Diverse Cultures, Fields and Sectors
INGO and religious leaders collaborate in HIV/AIDS awareness campaign, Nepal:
Youth Leadership and Peacebuilding trainees reduce prevailing prejudice and violent conflict between Hindus and Muslims, Nepal: http://www.sfcg.org/programmes/nepal/nepal_youthsuccess.html
- Considering Systems Change
Street theatre challenges attitudes on child marriage, Pakistan:
Film motivates parents to keep girls in school, Bangladesh:
- Planning for Long-term Results
A multi-stakeholder girls’ education project that encompasses short-term and long-term outcomes, Nepal:
This publication makes the case for investing in young people to achieve the long-term goal of national poverty reduction, UN Population Fund:
(Katherine Kubarski, M.P.A. is principal and lead trainer of GRANTWORKS, a proposal writing service that develops grant resources for public and non-governmental organizations, nationally and internationally. Katherine holds a BA in Spanish and Education from the State University of New York and an MA in International Public Administration from the Monterey Institute of International Studies. )