Right on the Money: Set the Stage For Joint Funding Requests with Early Relationship Building
Mary Ruchinskas still remembers the time her organization, New Beginnings in Lewiston, Maine, was included in another agency's grant proposal without her knowledge. Although grant writers made a last-minute phone call to get New Beginnings' approval, they had already drafted the proposal to include the agency's services without seeking their input. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the project was difficult to coordinate due to a lack of communication.
For years, family- and youth-serving agencies have chosen to apply for grants as a team—rather than submitting individual proposals—to strengthen their approach to solving a community problem and avoid competing for limited funds. But as Ruchinskas discovered the hard way, successful partners need to communicate with one another long before applying for shared grants.
We talked to Ruchinskas and Ruth Peebles, president and founder of The INS Group, about the importance of relationship building early on to strengthen joint funding applications and set the stage for fruitful collaboration. Here are some of their suggestions.
1. Make relationship-building an everyday practice. Maintain frequent contact with like-minded organizations that share your program’s approach and philosophy, Ruchinskas says, so you always have a list of potential partners “on the same wavelength.” Make outreach part of your strategic planning, she adds, so you are forming relationships without worrying about a specific ask or deadline.
2. Develop criteria to assess potential partners. Setting partnerships standards ahead of time will help agencies determine which organization will be the best fit for future proposals. Peebles advises organizations to create their personalized list of partnership criteria, including items like an agency's history collaborating with others, dependability, and service capacity.
3. Decide if you want to be the lead agency. Every collaborative grant application requires one organization to oversee execution of the grant and its finances. Decide early on if you have the staff and resources to serve as the lead agency or if you’d prefer for a partner to take on that role, Ruchinskas recommends.
4. Involve your entire organization. Make sure board members and staff have the opportunity to express their opinions and concerns before selecting a grant partner. Once you select a potential partner, bring key staff into negotiations, Peebles shares, including employees who will be implementing the grant on the ground.
5. Establish a clear vision and stick to it. Negotiating a partnership can get intense, Ruchinskas says, and it can be easy to lose track of your intentions in the middle of the process. Know in advance where you will draw the line and be prepared to say “no” if needed.