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How to Find the Right Partners to Win a Grant

The right partners are essential for a winning government grant application. Some funding guidelines give favorable consideration to applicants who can get cash or in-kind contributions from partner organizations. Moreover, partnering with another organization may open the door to government funding for which your organization isn’t directly eligible to apply.

The value of working with collaborative partners

The old method of grant seeking was to identify a ton of community partners (any agency with letterhead) who would agree to write a generic — and somewhat weak — letter of support. The new and improved way to create partnerships is with collaborative partners who agree to provide letters of commitment to support your grant application.

Collaborative partners are government, health, education, faith-based, business and industry, social, and human services agencies at local, regional, and state levels that commit in writing (via letters of commitment) to use their resources to help your organization better deliver the services funded by a grant.

These organizations are signing on for the long haul to help your organization implement the grant-funded activities. Collaborative partners also help draft and then sign detailed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) or Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs) — working agreements that spell out the scope of services that both parties (you and the partner agency) will perform.

Federal funding agencies prefer that partnerships are documented in letters of commitment, MOUs, or MOAs rather than their weaker cousin — letters of support.

As you can imagine, involving your organization in a partnership has pros and cons. On the pros side, partnerships have the potential to do all of the following:

  • Create new opportunities

  • Initiate trust at the local level

  • Expand your organization’s marketing/target-population area

  • Expand your public image (via links to your organization or services on the partner’s website and mentions in the partner’s press releases related to the grant-funded program)

  • Help maximize your financial assets to a grant maker by adding external leveraging and/or matching resources

  • Increase your competitive advantage in the grant-seeking arena

  • Provide access to broader financial and human resources

The cons of partnerships are mostly related to what the partners expect. They expect all of the following:

  • A piece of the grant pie

  • An equal voice and vote in group decisions

  • Reciprocal benefits from your organization — letters of commitment, expeditious signing of future MOUs for upcoming grant submissions, grant alert sharing, and more

When looking for a collaborative partner, look for an agency that already serves all or part of your target population. Also, make sure to select partners that have a history and background in your specific grant application area for each grant or cooperative agreement you plan to pursue.

How many partners do you need? The magic number is ten or more partners. Because the partners you select must fit the project topic/funding area, your list of ten will change with each grant application. Partners will tire of writing letters of commitment multiple times per year, so try to switch out partners occasionally to invite new players to your grant-seeking game. Types of partners include the following:

  • Referral partners (agencies that refer clients to your organization and agencies that your organization refers its clients to as well)

  • Public sector partners (state, county, city, and other government agencies that have representatives assigned to your governing body or any advisory boards or committees)

  • Business partners (any type of business that has a vested interest in your clientele such as banks, potential client employers, retail establishments, and for-profit employment agencies)

  • Professional sector partners (for example, law firms, accounting firms, and professional associations that can provide adult mentors)

It’s okay to have multiple partners from any one of the categories. Of course, the number of partners for each grant application depends on the project and the organizations needed to provide complimentary services or funding.

Not having any partners can be detrimental to your grant application during the peer review process.

Square away your arrangement

Before you meet with a prospective partner, prepare a fact sheet on the grant program’s purpose and goals. E-mail or fax a copy to each agency you plan to invite onto your team. This way, before you meet face to face, the other agency can start thinking of ways to collaborate with your organization.

At your first meeting, ask for at least one of the following contributions:

  • Cash-match monies: A commitment of actual cash in the form of a contribution toward your proposed program’s expenses

  • In-kind contributions: Donated personnel, office space, training space, transportation assistance, supplies, materials, printing services for classroom training use, and other needed items

If you receive a commitment for cash or in-kind contributions before you even write your grant application, you’ve already chalked up points with reviewers. In the eyes of those who hand out the grant money, having one or more partners gives you a huge advantage over any grant-seeking organization without partners because partners mean that community resources will be maximized to benefit the target population.

After you have a committed partner, you’re ready for the official MOUs or MOAs. Some funding agencies request that you attach MOUs or MOAs as an appendix to the funding request. Other funding agencies simply require that the documents be on file with your organization and that they be accessible by the funding agency if monies are awarded.

An MOU or MOA should be treated like a legal document and should not be developed by a grant writer. Assign this task to your organization’s executive director or legal staff; don’t take it on yourself.

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