Cultivating Buy-In by Tracey Diefenbach, GPC

Cultivating Buy-In by Tracey Diefenbach, GPC

I will never forget the day I took a grant approval form to the vice president of programs I worked with at the time. She took one look at it and said, “We are back to using this thing again?” The form required the team’s signatures on a statement of whether we decided to pursue a grant. At the time, I was fairly new to the position and while I thought what she said was cynical, a part of me agreed and questioned how a piece of paper could serve as full consensus and buy-in. I went with it and started using the form.

As a seasoned grant professional today, I would never just go with it. I have come to understand the depth of the work we do in project design and development, writing, and reviewing requires a full planning and buy-in process. This is, to say the least, exhausting at times. It is a process that needs to be worked and reworked with new grant opportunities and projects. While it seems daunting, it is critical to the success of not just winning a grant but the entire organization. Without full buy-in, everything from the grant writing and reporting processes to managing project workflow and people can be a serious challenge.

So, what has helped me? Here are some of my learnings from both successes and mistakes along the way.

  • Establish your team – Create a plan to establish your team. Determine the key decision makers. You may know these off the top of your head or you may have to ask, read organizational charts, or go digging within the organization. Either way, your job is to find out who these people are and how to best access them.
  • Get your team thinking early – Look at government grant forecasts, and plan for foundation deadlines and other Request for Proposals (RFPs) that are often issued the same time every year. Send RFPs and grant guidelines to your team. Highlight the critical components you want them to start thinking about because, let’s be honest, your team is likely not reading the entire RFP!
  • Organize your team – Schedule an initial team meeting or conference call bringing together all the key players. Create a solid agenda to keep them organized and on track. Lay out what they need to know, what needs to be discussed, and what is next from there. Essentially, give them everything they need to make effective decisions.
  • Manage your team – You have done the organization and prep work, now is the part where you will guide or manage your team in making effective decisions. Lead your team in discussions and conversations, listen to your team, and ask the hard questions. Do we have the capacity to meet these reporting requirements? Is this project straying from your organization’s mission? While these may be very uncomfortable questions, they are better asked internally and early on rather than when a funder is reviewing your proposal, or so I have learned.

As grant professionals, we are in a unique position to really lead teams, provide expertise, and guide them in “owning” decisions. This achieves true buy-in, and not simply a signature on a form. So, what happened to the grant approval form? I quit using it after about six months, and no one ever asked about it again.

Competency 2: Knowledge of organizational development as it pertains to grant seeking.

Skill 06: Identify strategies and procedures for obtaining institutional support and approval of decision makers for grant seeking activities