It Takes a Village to Launch a Grant Proposal
Bonnie Farley-Lucas, PhD Southern Connecticut State University
Nationwide, faculty are under increasing pressure to obtain external funding and grants to support research initiatives to build on the scholarly work of teaching, learning, curriculum, and faculty development projects. In addition to the labor of love, research, innovation, and technical writing involved in creating a grant proposal, complex collaborations are required to launch the proposal from the individual level to the institution level. While campuses vary widely in policies and administrative support for external funding, one commonality is that it takes a village to launch a grant proposal. As Principal Investigator for a recent external grant proposal, I experienced a village adventure worth sharing.
As part of a three-member team, luckily on the same campus, we worked collaboratively on numerous drafts and collectively cobbled together our various perspectives. We had a relatively short time-line of less than a month, so I corralled a barrage of e-mails and phone calls. We worked through nearly twenty successive document drafts, but were quite pleased with our end result. However, we simply could not have done it alone.
Several professionals across campus assisted in the effort. Three professionals in Sponsored Programs and Research seemed to drop everything to assist. At one point, the Director provided a critical piece of information via cell-phone while in transit to a conference. Sponsored Research staff helped with budget formulas and forms, including a “Letter of Intent to Apply” that needed written approval by several university leaders. Professionals in Payroll and Human Resources provided valuable information on salary and fringe rates needed for creating the budget, while the Office of Management and Institutional Research provided vital statistics, including student diversity, retention, and graduation rates for various departments.
Running dangerously close to the deadline, we solicited letters of support for the project from the Dean and from Department Chairs affected by the project. It was quite a humbling experience to make this request on such short notice, but I only received one semi-cranky response. Within a few hours of the request (and on a day when the campus was closed due to inclement winter weather) the Dean and four Department Chairs supplied their letters of support. We also needed to identify an External Evaluator for the program, who quickly agreed to collaborate and supplied a curriculum vitae within an hour of the request. At that point, we had the three-member project team, plus a supporting cast of fourteen professionals across campus who were needed to complete the proposal. If this grant proposal were funded, the project would have directly involved more than a hundred faculty and positively impacted thousands of students. Indeed the entire village was targeted to reap the rewards.
With increasing competition for external funding, it was a bit of a disappointment, but not a total surprise, that this particular proposal was not accepted. However, with each attempt at grant proposal writing, we get to research our organizational needs and practice the interpersonal and collaborative skills that ultimately strengthen our campus teaching and learning village. We also work a together to implement strategies that will help our students thrive as members of the larger global village.
When mobilizing your own grant-writing village, considering the following takeaways may give you a jumpstart.
Familiarize yourself with your institution’s policies and procedures for grant writing, grant writing assistance, and financial/budget constraints before you begin the grant writing process. In some cases, there are incentives, while in other cases, there might be a lack of support for grant activity.
Review Calls for Proposals very carefully to ensure the proposed project meets granting organization’s objectives. Then be sure you have the expertise and enthusiasm, and add co-investigators who are proactive, accessible, and just as enthusiastic as you are about the project. If you have little experience with large grants, seek a mentor or administrator who will help you through the initial process.
Plan ahead as much as possible. Keep key players involved in the process as soon as the project is deemed viable. Plan a time-table and work backwards from the due-date, allowing an extra week for correspondence, last minute edits, and administrative paperwork processing. If possible, utilize the editing skills of your talented colleagues who are not familiar with the project.
Communicate with the chosen representatives for the particular grant program. They are happy to answer questions and aid in formulating effective programs that further their mission. They also aim to reduce time on task for dealing with proposals that clearly do not meet grant parameters.
Especially in the case of non-funded proposals, carefully review written feedback and suggestions from grant proposal reviewers. These comments will be helpful for future proposals and when targeting other external funding possibilities. Send a cordial note thanking them for their feedback and inviting future collaborations.
Keep trying – learn from any non-funded proposals to strengthen your next submission.
Licklider, M.M. (2012). Grant seeking in higher education: Strategies and tools for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
With thanks to Hilary Clinton for popularizing the often-morphed phrase, “It takes a village…” Clinton, H. R. (1996). It takes a village and other lessons our children teach us. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.