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On Grant Partnerships - Overcoming Common Challenges

About 10 years ago, I was working on a partnership grant with a lead organization. There were about 15 partners total in the group. We all contributed important aspects of the grant, and my piece was the 2nd most important because it covered several components.

As we continued in our talks, everyone was asked to present a budget. My budget was one of the largest budgets in the grant. I even participated in helping to write the other pieces for the grant, to ensure that it was cohesive, creative, and unique in presentation. As you would expect, we won the grant. But that was where the nightmare began.

The Budgeting was not transparent

The lead organization never shared the approved budget with us. When we asked about what our budget was, they would say, "Just work with what you submitted."

The organization wanted to cut us from the project to use the funds in another way

Our partner used our name, pull, and grant writing ability to obtain the winning grant, but in the long run, they did everything in their power to have us removed from the grant, including scheduling events during our event hours, discouraging students from attending our program, and changing/making amendments to the project without discussing it with us.

Hindsight is 20/20, right? Here's what I would do differently knowing what I know now:

  1. If I'm not writing for the fiscal agent of the grant, limit my contribution to one program

  2. In the partnership agreement, add a clause that mandates approval to any changes that impact my program directly fiscally or otherwise

  3. Maintain written records of all communications with fiscal agents, as well as expenses related to the grant (which I did)

  4. Do not be afraid of calling out fiscal mismanagement. Speak to the evaluator if you have concerns. Better late than never!

  5. Create program goals that are attainable and quantifiable publicly. Grants are very political, and partnerships are about relationships and performance. If you don't have the relationships, and the variables that impact your performance are not in your direct control, DO NOT PARTNER WITH THAT ORGANIZATION!

  6. Finally, always stay true to your organization's mission. If the grant asks that you change your focus, it's not a good opportunity for your organization, even if it's a winning proposal.

I hope these rules will help you navigate grant partnerships in a more productive, effective manner. If it's not a healthy partnership, you're better off applying as the lead organization yourself, if possible. If not, just don't do it at all. The right opportunity will come.

Keep looking!

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