For the past two years, my team and I have been working on a massive funding proposal. The application trumped most funding asks, with a total project value of more than $100 million – the equivalent of nearly 1,000 Tesla Model Ss! It required countless tasks and touch points. Everything had to be carefully managed, from communications, planning, content research, and writing to marketing, presentations, networking, and partnership building.
Although there is no sure-fire five-step plan to guarantee mega grant success, if you are considering a funding proposal of similar magnitude, here is some high-level advice to get you closer to a yes.
Start with a (flexible) plan
Developing a proposal at this scale requires a carefully considered action plan. However, the plan is just a start, as success requires constant course corrections. Believe me when I tell you that expecting the unexpected is essential for your ultimate success. Lock yourself into the “why” while leaving the what and how somewhat flexible.
Obtain team buy-in
Large proposals require a team effort. Obtaining buy-in is a necessary and often neglected step in the early stages of the application process. However, I have seen proposals disintegrate at submission time because of this one missed step.
Develop partnerships internally first! Confirm you have the support of senior management. Next, ensure team members are totally engaged and committed to rowing in the same direction.
Application development has enough external challenges without having to deal with the “Human Factor” of divergent visions or internal tugging of conflicting goals. But this doesn’t mean shutting down new ideas. Diverse views can propel the proposal to further greatness or send the process into a tailspin, depending on how they are handled.
Systems, systems, systems
There is nothing more dangerous to a large team effort than the risk of working on the wrong version of a proposal. Using standard tools and systems from the start is essential because it is the only way to avoid the chaos of missed emails, outdated files, and incorrect versions.
Many tools are available in today’s market to help teams succeed. The key is to consistently and collectively use them during the entire proposal development phase. We support our clients with access to the Resonant Solutions Client Toolkit, a suite of licensed, free-to-you software tools and platforms such as Basecamp, Microsoft Sharepoint, Adobe Creative Suite, and WebEx.
Don’t freak out
The grant development curve can, and probably will, feel completely overwhelming at times. Fear not. This is a common and rather predictable phase of the grant development process.
Be aware of these concerns and prepare for them in advance to reduce stress levels and keep everyone focused. Replace future worries with proactive grantsmanship and project management principles set in place from the start:
- Identify all necessary subject matter experts and partners in advance, and confirm their availability.
- Clearly determine all tasks associated with each section of the proposal. Assign each to one specific team member and indicate due date for completion.
- Put follow-up systems in place and keep all team members in the loop as to how the proposal draft is progressing.
- Create friendly rules of operation to ensure a common understanding of the grant development process. For example, I institute a file ownership rule. The team member working on a file is considered the owner of the file and other team members only edit that file once ownership changes hands to them.
- Meet frequently as a group to keep a pulse on progress, obstacles, and opportunities relating to the proposal.
- Most importantly, make sure all work is done with the end goal of the funder in mind.
With appropriate grant development and project management strategies in place, your time can be more wisely spent on developing your proposals and enhancing your chance for success.
As for the project mentioned at the start of this blog post, CLICK HERE to see the final result. The supportive management, eager team, and generous partners were a delight to work with, in a most challenging and rewarding funding competition.
Need advice or more info about the tips mentioned above? Which platforms do you prefer to use? What have you learned through tackling large grant applications? Let us know!
Until next time,