Building Stronger Programs
4 tips for establishing better grant partnerships
By Derek Gatlin
The right partnerships can improve your chances of winning grant funds. But if you’ve ever found yourself waiting on a letter of commitment the day a proposal is due, you also know the pain of partnering.
Outside organizations may take too long to commit, or fail to produce their share of the work, or both. These delays are detrimental to your proposal, if not fatal. And staff time is too precious to waste on inefficient partnerships.
How to establish better grant partnerships? Follow these four tips.
1. Communicate as early as possible
The earlier you reach out to potential partners, the better. You needn’t talk directly to the leader of the organization, but aim as high as you can in the hierarchy.
Use initial conversations to gauge shared interests and the alignment of the grant to your organizational missions. Early conversations can be as informal as a phone call; if you wait until the last minute, even effective partners may not be able to respond to your requests in time.
2. Set an early, firm deadline for partnership decisions
If you don’t get a firm commitment from your initial conversation, set an early deadline for it. If your contact needs approval from higher-ups, or the partner will play a significant role in your program, ask for a decision well before the proposal’s due date. If leadership of the organization denies approval, you need sufficient time to incorporate resulting changes into your program design and narrative.
3. Set clear expectations
Put your expectations in writing and communicate them early: State the role you want partners to play, the resources you’re asking them to commit, the portion of the proposal you want them to write, what they might expect in the budget, etc.
Summarize your requests in bullet form, with associated due dates for each item. Provide a template for their letter of commitment, and examples of other materials they can emulate.
4. Hold partners accountable
If partners are unable to meet agreed-upon deadlines, consider withdrawing your invitation and thanking them for their consideration. Explain that you must proceed without them at this time, and (if true) that you look forward to exploring future partnership opportunities.
Consider the ramifications
Extending deadlines for delinquent partners reduces your ability to craft a strong proposal. In the competitive landscape of the grants world, you cannot afford to submit anything less than the best you can produce. An inability to meet deadlines is a red flag and, should you secure an award with this partner, may continue to be an issue during program administration.
Are partnerships worth the effort?
Yes—- partnerships have the potential to enhance even the best grant proposals your organization can produce on its own. Your organization may not be able to do it all, and some goals of the grant program may fall outside your mission.
The right partnerships can help you create stronger, more comprehensive programs that achieve all of the goals set forth by the grant opportunity.
Derek Gatlin is Resource Development Coordinator for Outreach and Engagement at NC State University and the NC State Industrial Extension Service, facilitating collaborative proposal development among staff and faculty at NC State, NC Community Colleges, and other institutions.
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