The essential program collaboration guide for grantmakers

by | Apr 21, 2022

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Teamwork makes the dream work.

We’ve all heard it. But this saying certainly rings true in many aspects of life. And that goes for grantmakers, who often need to work with a team of stakeholders and community members to collaborate on a program.  

On certain occasions, you might need internal or external collaboration to increase your program’s impact. For example, there might be the need to work with:

  • Application reviewers in different geographic locations who need to organise and collaborate on reviews or provide feedback and comments on grant applications
  • Stakeholders in the program who want to brainstorm ideas on new areas of funding
  • Program managers who need to run grantseekers through a qualifying round and decide on common criteria

In these cases and more, it makes sense to combine resources and knowledge to move the needle with regard to your program’s goal.

With so many important tasks that require collaboration, how can you make sure stakeholders come together and collaborate effectively to amplify your program’s impact?    

What is program collaboration?

Program collaboration refers to the joining of forces and pooling of efforts by a group of people with varying skill sets and experiences and from one or more organisations to work on a particular program.

Much like adhesives hold fast various pieces of wood to create a piece of furniture, so does collaboration bind together persons who unite to work on a program. With its focus on the team as a whole, collaboration ensures that all stakeholders proceed in unison with a common goal. 

Program collaboration is all about the team operating and emerging successfully or, … ahem… unsuccessfully, as one.         

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The importance of collaboration in program management

No man is an island… oohh!!

Dennis Brown’s lyrics were right on point. Really, no one knows or can do it all.

In every industry, there comes a time when it’s advantageous to gather people from different departments in an organisation or different organisations to work together on a project. 

Collaboration in grantmaking allows funders to make the most of their program impact, furthering their cause and better supporting their grantees.

Collaboration in grantmaking creates stronger, more impactful outcomes for your organisation, your grantees and the community in which you serve.

Effective collaboration fosters more profound relationships with your interested stakeholders and community members, all while working toward your shared goal.  

Collaboration is also important for grantmakers because it:

  • Integrates efforts and boosts the chances of a positive outcome
  • Makes for clarity of vision and accuracy of strategies
  • Legitimises each team member while activating the potential of the entire team
  • Fosters ideation and knowledge sharing
  • Saves time and improves efficiency
  • Boosts team chemistry, morale and productivity
  • Aids the development of professional and personal skills 
  • Makes for the quick identification and correction of errors
  • Enhances prompt and calculated decision-making
  • Eliminates mindless speculation and guesswork      

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How to enhance program collaboration for grantmakers

Program collaborations by grantmakers can assume different forms. But there are some tips to help make your collaboration more effective, no matter your goals. Here are six ways to enhance your program’s collaboration efforts. 

1. Emphasise goals and roles

The first question that grantmakers embarking on program collaboration must answer is “What are we doing?”.

When building a team, there should be no confusion as to what the ultimate objective of the alliance is. Emphasising what the collaboration is trying to achieve drives your goals into the consciousness of your team members and highlights the value of the target they’re working towards. 

All team members should have a clear understanding of the impact they’re making. Proper determination of objectives enhances collaboration while providing a sense of unity and motivation. Should the goals ever change, it’s important to communicate the change.

Just as important as goal stressing is creating a team outline. Defining the role of each member creates order and organisation, makes everyone comfortable in the collaboration and identifies expectations and deliverables.

With goals and roles clearly outlined, there will be no gaps in the tasks and no one will have to say, “I thought you were handling it”. While the delegation of tasks is important and oversight functions are necessary, it’s also important not to micromanage. Trust the team you have assembled.         

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2. Prioritise communication and transparency

Communication is the foundation of every organisation. Deleting communication from the equation makes collaboration an absolute impossibility. Communication, or the lack thereof, can either make or break your entire grant lifecycle. 

After all, according to 85% of respondents, regular updates are highly motivating.  

Along with communication goes transparency. Think of one as the yin to the other’s yang.

Eliminate all silos and see to it that everyone is privy to the same information. If we’re in this together, then let’s be in it together. Keeping the entire team informed reduces to the barest minimum the need for reckless alterations and scope creeping in the latter stages of the program. 

What’s going on? At what stage are we? What challenges are we facing? How do we move forward from here? 

Share updates and feedback that answer these questions. All these demonstrate a true desire to work together. They also can improve the overall growth of the team and team spirit.  

And communicate effectively through available technology. If your team is all on Slack, for example, share ideas, news and updates there. If you have grant management software that allows for collaboration, feedback and communications, take advantage of that. (More on this later!)

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3. Champion innovation, contribution and flexibility

In program collaboration, it’s natural for the grantmakers to be stuck in the old way of doing things. While the old way guarantees certainty, there is almost always a better way. For more efficient collaboration, there should be a consistent but flexible process in place. Such a process prevents disorder; it also creates wiggle-room for clever changes should the need arise. 

The collaboration and its process should neither smother your team members nor cripple their creativity. Encourage unorthodox solutions to obstacles. Their individualistic remedies might be quicker, more budget-friendly and more effective.

When the teammates make their contributions, run a test on their suggestions to know if they’ll work. Calling for contributions without any effort to apply them will have a counterproductive effect; no one will make suggestions next time.

Welcoming innovation, particularly from teammates who would rather keep quiet, erases the fear of being shut down by other teammates. If they feel safe, they’ll definitely share their ideas when there’s a need.          

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4. Form a supportive atmosphere

To improve program collaboration in the grantmaking industry, much like in any other industry, a supportive atmosphere matters a great deal. 

A supportive culture makes the collaboration feel natural. It fosters association within the team and prompts them to reach out for necessary assistance without fear of embarrassment. It also breeds trust, cohesion, investment and dependability. 

Here’s how you can create a supportive atmosphere:

  • Check-in with your team members regularly
  • Have an open-door policy
  • Select people with unique skill sets and diverse personalities for your team
  • Have open, honest and respectful conversations

An uplifting environment makes for smooth conflict resolution and reduces the possibility of growing tensions and fiery arguments.   

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5. Build excitement

Collaboration and working with a diverse group of people can and should be FUN! 

Keep your team happy and motivated!

Research shows that happiness at work boosts productivity. Here are some ways to increase excitement and keep your team in high spirits:

  • Schedule engaging activities to get your team involved from the start 
  • Organise social times for the members to get to know one another better
  • Conduct team-building events 
  • Be generous with praise, compliments, awards and all-round recognition

The beauty of maintaining excitement is that it releases stress and guarantees a positive lively environment. It allows the team to function as one instead of as a group of strangers tossed into one project. It further proves that you care about improving the team environment as much as you care about the success of the program.    

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6. Leverage software to support your collaboration

Make collaboration with your team easy and effective by leveraging your existing software. How can your grants management system help you better collaborate? 

In Good Grants, for example, there are ways to quickly send communication updates to specific sets of people within the program directly from the platform. Send notes about program updates and deadlines, ask for assessment feedback and more! 

Software can also help with:

  • Document sharing, synchronisation and file security
  • Tracking progress, setting deadlines and creating task dependencies 
  • Visualising milestones and setting task permissions
  • Searching for information

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In summary, effective collaboration in grantmaking can create harmony within your team and organisation and improve your program outcomes. 

Good collaboration can boost your team’s morale and encourage diversity, innovation and problem solving — all of which can increase your grantmaking impact. 

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