Funding Toolbox: Seven ways to build your fundraising team

With the recent passing of the federal budget bill–giving more dollars than ever before to school technology–plus the rash of grants for technology from major corporate and private grantors, now’s a good time to organize–and motivate–your grants-getting team.

Many people picture grant writers locked away in the lonely writer’s garret for days on end crafting the perfect proposal. Finally, after several days, perhaps even weeks go by, the harried writer emerges with the completed proposal in hand ready to mail it or more than likely, hand deliver it to the funding source. There is, however, something terribly wrong with this picture!

Successful grant writers do not work in a vacuum. Writing must be approached as a team effort, relying on the knowledge and expertise of several people to design the idea/project that you need funding for, to hammer out the fine details of how the project is going to happen on a day-to-day basis, to determine what roles specific staff people will play in the project, to determine what parameters will be used to define the success of the project and to determine how these parameters will be measured.

Here are some specific ways that you can involve other individuals in the grants process to improve the quality of proposals that are submitted:

1. Involve the staff who will carry out the project in the design stages so that there is buy-in and commitment on their part. Rarely does anyone appreciate being told that they are totally responsible for a project that some one else designed. The same goes for grant proposals. If a grant writer writes a proposal without assistance and it is funded, the staff will be responsible for carrying out the project, not the grant writer. The staff are familiar with what happens in the classroom, how projects can reasonably be implemented and how students react. Without this specialized insight, a grant writer is merely guessing at what a project will look like when it comes to fruition.

2. Carefully review the Request for Proposal and make a list of items and information that will be needed to complete the proposal. These assignments can then be divided among people who have access to specific types of information and expertise.

3. Use the business manager to assist with budget information. I find that accounting and business staff are of tremendous help when working on the budget section. For example, they are familiar with indirect cost rates and salary and benefit ratios and they can add and double-check numbers a lot faster than I can!

4. Use the Director of Personnel to assist with the development of new job descriptions for new positions or to get current job descriptions of staff.

5. Use individuals familiar with evaluation procedures to assist with designing the project evaluation. Often this is the most difficult section of a proposal to write. Finding a person or two who is skilled in evaluating can be a godsend when it comes time to write this particular section! If they can’t help you to write, at least ask them to review what you’ve written to be sure that the goals and objectives are measurable and the evaluation plan really will provide the data that is needed to evaluate the project’s success.

6. Use individuals with public relations expertise to assist with the design and formatting of the proposal. Many people have a tendency to write paragraph after paragraph of narrative. It is important to remember that proposals should be “reader friendly”. There is nothing wrong with using indentations, bullets, bold and italics to add “zest” to your narrative, and in some cases, to actually make it easier to read. Graphics are also another added addition to the narrative in cases where it is easier to interpret a picture than to read paragraph after paragraph of statistics.

7. Create an internal grant review team to review proposals before they are submitted. This group can be given the actual scoring sheet if it is included in the Request for Proposal and can function as a review panel before the grant even leaves the office. Make sure that the members of the review team are from various fields in addition to education. This is an excellent way to involve the community in your process and provide an unbiased critique of the proposal. Remember, however, that in order to review a grant, readers have to be trained. You must provide them with guidelines so that they know the kinds of information that they are looking for in the specific sections of the proposal. If a scoring sheet is not a part of the RFP, there will often be a set of questions that are required to be answered in each proposal section. Give these to your readers as guides. Obviously, if the answers to the questions cannot be found easily, some editing and revising of the narrative must be done.

Using a team approach takes some getting used to. And, it can be frustrating at times trying to get information from people in a timely manner. However, I find that in the long run, using this type of approach is easier because it gets several people excited about the grants process, it gets them involved and it keeps the whole process going which makes my job a lot easier. Besides, who wants to be stuck in a lonely writer’s garret, anyway?!

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