Working Well with Others: Grantseeking as a Team


For those new to the world of grantseeking, the amount of information available can be daunting. Between the complexity of various applications, the numerous types of funders and types of projects that you can apply for, and the announcements of funding opportunities spread out among thousands of departments and their unique websites among all levels of government, individuals seeking grant funding can become overwhelmed. It can be a Herculean effort to manage all aspects of the grant application process, and if it can be avoided, it is one that should not be a one-person show. While there are many examples of individuals seeking grants, writing and submitting the application themselves, and being awarded funding, it is always better to apply for grant funding as a team. One of the best things you can do when starting your grantseeking journey is to build a team that will work together to achieve your funding goals.

Why Build a Team? 

When coaching grant seekers in the usefulness of teams, there is often a bit of skepticism at the suggestion. Nearly everyone, at some point, has had a bad experience with group projects and there can sometimes be a vision in the minds of some grant seekers that they will be the sole person responsible for securing a million dollar plus grant for their institution. In my work with higher education institutions, a common concern in building a grantseeking team is the impenetrability of divisional silos that are hard to overcome in creating an effective team. Despite these concerns, building a team is worth the effort. Why?

  1. More Experiences, More Expertise. Having the expertise of a broad range of individuals strengthens your application and also provides you with insights from other
    fields that you would not have if you were to seek funding alone. This is especially true if you are a first-time grantseeker. Having others on your team that have been through the grantseeking process before can give you a better sense of what to include in your project proposal, how to interact with program managers, and how to tailor your application for the unique interests of the grantmaker.
  2. Demonstrate Collective Buy-In. Funders want to back projects that whole institutions and communities can benefit from and support. While the vision of a single individual can be compelling for funders to consider, it is always more attractive to funders to see a larger group of individuals excited and committed to see a project through successful completion. Building a team to design a project and apply for funding demonstrates to funders that there is collective buy-in within the institution and the surrounding community.
  3. Create Realistic and Comprehensive Budgets. A team of individuals coming from various parts of an institution or community can ensure that the program budget includes everything that is needed. A common error grantseekers make in their application is to propose a project that is unable to be successfully completed with the budget proposed. A team will enable you to see the various needs that a budget must include, can spread out the work of contacting vendors for accurate quotes, and anticipate any red tape that must be addressed in the process.

Who Should be on the Team? 

Once you commit to building a grantseeking team, then comes the challenging task of deciding who should be on it. While you know your institution best and likely have an idea of who have proven to be effective collaborators and colleagues, there are a number of individuals who we recommend including on your team in order to submit a successful grant application.

  1. The Decision-Makers. These are the individuals at your institution who have the final sign-off on larger, more comprehensive projects. You need the approval and support of those in leadership at your institution, whether it is your institution’s president, superintendent, chief operating or executive officer, or board chair. While these decision-makers may not be heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of your team, they need to be on board with your project and ultimately support the direction of your work.
  2. The Financial Representative. Including someone from your finance, advancement, and sponsored programs office is essential for your work. They will have the best knowledge of how your institution manages payroll, contracts with vendors, relationships with any foundations you may engage, and more. These individuals will also be the ones who end up receiving and tracking any funding you receive, so it is best to include them early in the process.
  3. The Implementers. The folks who are going to do the day-to-day work of meeting the stated goals and objectives of your project need to be on your grantseeking team. This includes faculty and program staff charged with implementing the project, but it also includes IT staff tasked with procuring and supporting the technology needs essential to your project’s success. Ensure that each of your implementers has a seat at the table at an early stage in your team’s work.
  4. The Partners. If your institution is partnering with any external organizations, they need to be involved in the grantseeking team when appropriate and as early as possible, especially if the success of your project depends on the partnership of an external organization. Partners can also add valuable expertise and resources, and demonstrate to the funder that there is buy-in to  the project from outside the institution.
  5. The Writer. Whether you will be using a grant writer from within or outside your institution to do the pen to paper work of completing your application, it is essential they are engaged with your team throughout the process.

How to Improve the Work of your Team? 

Having your team in place is just the first step toward better grantseeking. It is vital that your team work as effectively as possible. Here are some steps you can take to avoid common mistakes made by grantseeking teams.

  1. Clearly define roles. A common trap teams fall into is failing to clearly define the responsibilities and expectations of all members of the team. Ensure that your team does not make this mistake by defining members’ roles clearly and openly. Defer to one another’s expertise and experiences and assign roles and responsibilities for which each member is well suited. These roles can be as formally defined as drawing up a memorandum of understanding or as informal as spelling them out in the minutes of an early team meeting. However formal, it is most important that it is done with intention and understanding among all parties.
  2. Communicate often and openly. Teams work most effectively in environments of open communication. Setting expectations for the frequency and manner of communication for your team is a crucial step in your success. Come to a consensus on how often your team will meet, whether your will discuss agenda items informally between meetings, how you will keep a record of your meetings and the progress of your group, and an overall time commitment to the project among your group’s members. Openly discussing these matters will ensure that your team knows what is expected and how they can best contribute.
  3. Create a realistic application timeline. There are few things more discouraging to a team than to work hard on a project to see it fail due to poor planning and time management. A useful way to guarantee your team will have enough time to submit a successful proposal is to backwards map your application timeline from when the application deadline is, setting benchmarks for key project dates along the way, including when you will obtain quotes from vendors, when drafts of your project narrative will be completed and by whom, and when you will confirm your institution is registered in the system used by the funder to collect applications. Setting a realistic timeline with key benchmarks will provide an ample runway for your grantseeking team to complete all necessary tasks to submit a maximally competitive application.

Acknowledging that you will find more success in your grantseeking journey by engaging with a team is a strategic decision that can help you create the strongest application for your funding needs. It is in the best interest of you and your organization to do the hard work of building a team of individuals committed to fully developing and carrying out a project that will attract the attention of grantmakers while giving funders confidence that their money will be well spent on a worthy and impactful cause that has the wide support of a team and the comprehensive buy-in of an entire institution.