Collaborative Grantseeking: 3 ½ Secrets of Success

Jeremy Miner

The most popular section of Tuesday’s popular “Collaborative Grantseeking: 3 ½ Secrets of Success” webinar was, not surprisingly, the “half-secret” of appealing to a sponsor, for it essentially described the anatomy of an effective collaborative grant proposal. Download the slides.

Here’s a summary of that section plus a few other key takeaways from this popular webinar with Jeremy Miner, director of grants & contracts at University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. Jeremy is also president of Miner & Associates, a consulting firm that has provided grantseeking and fundraising services to nonprofits since 1992, and the author of the author of three books on proposal writing that are very popular among visitors and staff at our regional offices.

(Some of the notes below are supplemented with content from one of Jeremy’s books, Collaborative Grantseeking: A Guide to Designing Projects, Leading Partners, and Persuading Sponsors. This practical guide includes four sample proposals with comments for each type of collaboration (coexistence, coordination, cooperation, coalition). Find it in Foundation Center libraries, libraries near you, or at Amazon or your favorite bookseller.)

Code words for collaboration

Besides the word “collaboration” and its derivatives, here are some “code words” that suggest funders want to see applicants collaborate, from examples from the Leeway Foundation, Alaska Community Foundation, Wellmark Foundation, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

  • Change partners
  • Working with others
  • Relationships
  • Letters of support
  • Vouching for
  • Community engagement
  • Partnership agreements
  • Greater collective commitment
  • Stakeholders come together
  • Community-based coalitions

Where to find collaborators?

As expected, most viewers responded to this poll question that they would first approach organizations they’ve previously worked with, or consult community resources, like professional associations, libraries, and United Way, or larger ones like GuideStar and the Internet. Jeremy offered some additional tips:

  • Ask grantmakers or congressional members to suggest who they think are the best orgs in your field and perhaps geographic area.
  • Consider “competitors”. Every organization has its strengths and weaknesses. Shift your focus to how you can join your respective strengths to work towards a common goal.

Secret 3 ½: Appeal to the Sponsor

Jeremy said: “The tendency is to address collaboration in just one part of the proposal, typically in the methods section. Instead, weave collaboration throughout your proposal in order to persuade the funders that this is a true collaboration, not a ‘phantom’ one that exists in paper only. How do you do that?”

Problem Statement: In addition to statistics that demonstrate need, include results from a needs assessment done WITH your partner orgs. This says that it’s not just your org running the project then finding a partner afterward, but that you’re invested in working collaboratively from Day 1.

Goals/Objectives: Show that groups have shared guiding principles and mutually decided on the objectives. If you’re collaborating just to get a grant, stop. Collaboration should be in line with your overall mission and strategy. Reviewers also are very good at recognizing “phantom” collaborations.

Methods: Provide copies of MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) and explain the collaboration’s decision making process, i.e., who created it, who’s involved in making decisions, and when. A collaboration “organizational chart”, which might include the organizational charts of the collaborators, can be a quick and effective visual summary of where the project fits among the partner organizations.

What if this is your first “real” collaboration? Show your process. For example, how many meetings, phone calls, and visits did you have, with whom, about what related to working together? How many focus groups did you have, with whom, and what did you learn from them? If you’ve worked with other orgs informally in the past, describe those experiences briefly.

Evaluation: In addition to judging if the objectives were met, judge the collaboration itself. If you can show that participants felt good about the experience (e.g., survey them at the end of the grant period, then at 6 and 12 months later), they’re more likely to continue even after the grant ends, even if it’s not at the same level of intensity. That’s a real win because that can partially answer the later question about the project’s sustainability.

Budget: The grant funds don’t have to be split equally among the collaborators. What’s more important is to justify why the grant funds will be spent as you’ve described. This may mean that more of the grant funds will go to certain collaborators because of their role in the project.

Dissemination: Explain how you will tell others about your project’s purpose, methods, and results, and how collaborators collectively decided the communications strategy. Perhaps some partners have strengths or strong networks in public relations and media. Use that to that project’s advantage, and provide an action plan that includes the pertinent details of who, why, what, where, when, and how.

Appendix: Include letters of support or, better yet, commitment from key personnel.

Parting thoughts

From Jeremy: Value isn’t what you think it is. It’s what they, the sponsors, perceive it to be. Successful grant writers understand the sponsor’s values and show how the project will support, reinforce, or move forward those values.

Learn from examples. The Collaboration Hub features a searchable collection of 650+ vetted nonprofit collaborations, where you can read about a project's motivations to collaborate, key players, challenges, lessons learned, successes, impact, and more. 


SANDY PON is the GrantSpace Specialist for Foundation Center, where she leads content editing for GrantSpace and the Center's Ask Us service. In her 13 years with Foundation Center, Sandy has answered thousands of questions from our visitors about nonprofit grantseeking, fundraising, and management. Her experience also includes teaching and program design.