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How to Support Your Grant Writer

by Beverly Browning on June 22, 2015
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Isolated_Office_Worker.jpgI spend some time every day listening to other grant writers tell me their tales of gloom, doom, and drama. I noticed some common topics that come up in their emails and in conversation. In this post, I am reaching out to employers, supervisors, and clients of grant writers to share some very basic internal practices you can follow to support your grant writer.

Provide a work space that contributes to creativity and productivity

Recently I spoke with a grant writer for a city’s police department. She told me that her office was in the basement of the department in a small area that doubled as the janitor’s supply closet. The room had no windows and she could go days without interacting with her coworkers. At the end of our conversation, the grant writer told me, “I don’t even know why I feel like I’m not a member of the team; my contributions [funded grant requests] are not acknowledged among my coworkers.”

Takeaway lesson(s):

  • Strengthen work team interactionsWhile your grant writer needs a quiet work space in which to spin the magic that results in a funded grant award, don’t take seclusion too far. It’s simply not enough to add a grant award to the governing body’s agenda without acknowleding the people behind the prize. Internally publicize grant awards and give credit to your grant writer.
  • Strengthen creativity Contact with the outside world, even via a window that provides a look outside, or being able to socialize with coworkers walking by is critical to keeping creativity levels high. Speaking for an industry that I’ve been working in for 40+ years, I know that having an office versus a cubicle fuels creativity. Being in an open area filled with distractions prevents us from focusing on writing a compelling application to snag a highly competitive grant award. Having a door to close when necessary is the only way we can work efficiently and effectively.
  • Strengthen productivity through a comfortable setting Where you place your grant writer sends a message to team members and visitors alike about how much you value your grant writer’s contributions. A quiet place conducive to concentration is very different from an isolated cave.We want to seclude ourselves mentally, not end up in a coat closet with only a 40-watt light bulb for company.

Facilitate the expedited flow of critically needed information

I have heard from hundreds of my grant professional colleagues, and I know firsthand, that the information we need to start and finish our grant applications is often held hostage by well-meaning coworkers, the finance or business office, or community partners. Typically, a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) is published by a government grant making agency at least 30 days before the grant application deadline. Grant writers get these alerts the same day they are published via Grants.gov or another more detailed subscription-based service. We then immediately read through the guidelines and highlight all critical points, including the information needed to write a highly competitive grant application narrative, and are ready to convene the project team. After the team meeting, grant writers are excited to have verbal confirmation from each team member as to when they can email the critical information, and have set firm deadlines (often for earlier then when we actually need the information to anticipate procrastinators).

But we still find ourselves either getting the information just a few days before the application’s deadline or not getting it at all. Procrastination and failure to deliver actions have caused us to work after hours, weekends, and holidays in order to meet the deadline. Even worse, we've had to extrapolate quasi-information from multiple public sources at the last minute to cobble together what could have been a highly competitive grant application.

Takeaway lesson(s):

  • Strengthen the information flow process – When a top-level supervisor or administrator gets involved to support the grant writer, other team members and partners move a lot faster to deliver what is requested. "Involved" is defined as 1) attending the initial information gathering meeting and 2) sending out a reminder email to all parties in attendance that you’re counting on them to provide the requested information well in advance of the deadline given by the grant writer.
  • Strengthen your grant writer’s confidence in you – As grant writers, we need our top-level supervisor(s) and administrators to validate and support our efforts to fulfill our job or contract responsibilities. Our voices—and sometimes our position titles—often don't convey our assigned power to internal or external team members. When you take the lead to support our role(s), we have more confidence in you because it shows that you understand our challenges and want to alleviate them.

I’ve provided two very easy ways to support your grant writer. By providing us with a work environment conducive to productivity and helping us get the information we need to write and win grants, we can soar above your expectations.

Let’s summarize the takeaway lessons that are a win/win for all parties involved in the grant writing process:

  • Strengthen work team interactions
  • Strengthen creativity
  • Strengthen productivity through a comfortable setting
  • Strengthen the information flow process
  • Strengthen your grant writer’s confidence in you

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