No one writes grants in a vacuum. By which I mean that even if you work at a small nonprofit or if you’re a “one-person shop”, you really never write grants all alone. You still need input from program directors, approval and buy-in from the Executive Director and the board, data collection from program staff, and assistance and input from possible collaborators.
So even if you spend most of your days in a dark closet of an office writing and even if you are the lowest-ranking staff member on the office totem pole, you are in fact a manager. Even if you don’t want to be. Because effective, successful grant writers know that writing the grant is the easy part.
Managing all the other moving parts of a grant, including the team that helps make it happen and all of the expectations around grants, is the hard part. It’s the time-consuming part. It’s the part that often burns out great professionals. And it’s the part that can make or break successful grant development.
In my experience, if you want to be a grant pro and have a long, productive career doing it then there are 3 main areas of grants that you must learn to manage (and they have nothing to do with writing).
Manage expectations through education.
Personally, I think this one is the most important area to manage well. There are so many well-meaning nonprofit executives, board members, and staff who truly believe that grants are the answer to their prayers. That you will go out, find a bunch of grants to cover the newest idea your board president had for a program or to plug a hole in the budget. Many see it as “easy money”.
But you and I know that this is far from the truth.
In reality, grants are time-consuming to research and write (especially if you’re going after a larger state or federal grant). Then you need to take the time to form and cultivate a relationship with the grant maker. You need to spend time with program staff asking questions and getting information and data on the program in question. You need to formulate a program budget and a plan for evaluation that the program staff must commit to carrying out. Then if you get the grant, there will be data to collect and analyze and reports to turn in. There will be strings attached to the funds you receive (if you receive them). And oh, by the way, what’s your plan for this program once the grant money runs out?
There’s a lot that goes into getting and managing a grant. But you should never assume that staff or board members who don’t have grant writing experience have a good understanding of the processes or the work involved.
Rather, if you are your organization’s primary grant writer you should plan on also being your organization’s primary source of education on the topic. I suggest this because I think that having co-workers, bosses, and a board who understand a bit about grants will go a long way towards managing their expectations and keeping them rooted in reality. This means that you will often be managing your own boss and his or her expectations, which can be delicate. But it’s doable with a bit of education.
If possible, see if you can do a small presentation to your board of directors and/or at a staff meeting. Go over some basic information about the grant writing process, what is realistic and unrealistic to expect, and what your process and strategy is for the year. Also make sure you give them information on what you need from them in order to be successful. If possible, plan several meetings throughout the year to educate co-workers and board members on various parts of the grant seeking and management process.
Doing this will help foster understanding that it truly takes a team to successfully pursue grants and it will ensure that they have realistic expectations as to how many grants your org will be awarded and how many will likely get denied….without you getting blamed for it.
Manage your project, manage your team.
Managing grants means managing your team. Again, grants aren’t written in a vacuum. You will need input from others to write a solid grant proposal and if a grant is awarded, you will need a team of people to execute the program, collect the data, and help you compile information for reports.
Anyone who has ever managed a team of people before knows that the process can be a little like herding squirrels. It’s difficult to keep everyone on the same page and on deadline. Especially in the nonprofit world where people often wear multiple hats and this project is probably just one of many priorities for them.
My suggestion for effective management of your grants team is to make sure you have the right tools for the job. There are lots of great project planning and management tools out there, such as strategy maps, RAILs, and SWOT. In fact, I recently wrote a post about that. Go back and read my ‘7 Project Management Tools for Grants” article and then download my project management tools bundle!
I also recommend making sure that you have some tools in place that can make things easier while you are actually executing your project or program. This could be the use of Google Drive and docs to compile and collaborate on documents, Slack to chat with your team, or Asana to assign individual tasks and track progress.
No matter which tools you choose, you need to customize them for your team and your project, ensure everyone knows how (and why) to use them, and communicate priorities and expectations clearly to team members.
Manage your own expectations.
Lastly, manage your own expectations. Continually educate yourself about the world of grant writing and understand that when you are managing a team that things won’t always go as planned. Your team members are human and like you, will sometimes need help, reminders, or a little understanding.
Do the organizational and mindset work in the background required to be a great leader and keep everyone on track in a way that maintains your sanity and theirs.
What are YOUR favorite tips and tools for managing expectations and teams when you’re working on a grant project? Leave them in the comments!