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The goal is a winning grant...or is it?


I remember my first intern.  Courtney was bright, hardworking, and energetic, and I was more than thrilled to have her on board.  Her goal in applying for my internship was to gain knowledge in grant writing: where to find grants, and how to write and submit grant proposals. And of course, she wanted to be able to celebrate the sweet success of receiving them.  She was young and a bit naïve to think she'd accomplish all this in one semester. But, Courtney was studying environmental sustainability and it was wise of her to realize that grant writing would be an important skill to have in her future career. What she didn't realize was that there were other skills she would need to win a grant.  


Our first project together involved multiple community stakeholders who had formed a regional coalition that needed resources. However, at the time the group had no stated vision, mission, or strategic plan.  They were grassroots, passionate, and educated; and all members brought their own perspective from their “full time jobs.”  Individually, they knew what they wanted.  Collectively? Well, that was an entirely different matter.  


Sound familiar?

As grant writer, developer, and facilitator, it was my job to remain neutral and synthesize the common themes that brought this group together.  We had many strategic planning sessions, created stated goals with measurable outcomes, agreed on action plans that supported those goals, and even developed timelines with assigned responsibility for accomplishing the various activities in the action plans.  And, after much input, re-writes, and some often heated discussions, we also established vision and mission statements.  Courtney was more than willing to jump right in and often felt like our role as “mediator” was primary to any other we were tasked with.   

We soon realized that we needed more baseline data. Courtney was assigned the task of implementing a social network analysis tool to measure and monitor the collaboration among the individuals and organizations who belonged to this coalition.  We used the PARTNER Tool ( as we could add some of our own questions and the various graphic displays of the data really hit home to all learning styles. This proved to be invaluable as it concluded that the coalition had some networking gaps that most members were either unaware of or were in denial of. In my work with coalitions, I find this to be a pretty common situation.  

This was perhaps Courtney's greatest lesson learned: that what was most needed before any grant proposal could be written was the explicit identification of the issues facing the coalition and an effort to address these.

After all this organizational development was complete, the coalition still hadn't submitted a grant proposal when Courtney's school term and her time with us came to an end, and a new intern joined my office.  However, the coalition used the data, strategic plan, vision and mission to apply for a grant a few months later and won!  I called and thanked Courtney for her role in our success, and yes, she celebrated with pride.  

While funding was the short-term goal, the process itself motivated the coalition members to become invested in their mutual success. This outcome will far outlive that first grant.  The trust, shared goals, and commitment that were established in their collaborative work in the network analysis will serve to strengthen and sustain this coalition.  We saw give and take, egos set aside for the greater good, and now, two years later, other successful grant and institutional collaborations with these partners.  

And, yes, I've been a reference for Courtney several times as she continued to intern lobbying for climate change and at then at the White House.  She is currently the Associate Director of Education and Development for the Earth Day Network.  She is definitely using the skills she gained and has begun her own development career in the non-profit world.