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4 Ways to Plan the Perfect Project

As grant writers, we often hear, “I have a great idea for a project, can you help me get a grant to support the cost?” Many times, the “project plan” is a few written sentences in an email or a briefly worded statement describing the activities and the project audience. We often have to cajole any further details out of our client or co-workers in order to write a quality grant proposal.  

I have long been a huge advocate of project planning. This is primarily because I have seen the positive impact that an organized, effective approach to project planning has on not only obtaining grant funding but on maintaining good funder relations, which can lead to increased grant funding.
This was the case with a grant I helped my former employer obtain for some equipment.  When we applied for the grant, I immediately put together a cross- functional team of my coworkers, representing engineering, operations, maintenance, and accounting.  Our planning sessions were a combination of in-person meetings with local staff and conference calls with our company's engineering team, which was located in Toledo, OH, far away from our plant in St. Louis.  Together, we developed the project timeline and budget for the grant application submittal.  The team helped me identify the outcomes and activities needed to complete the project.  Once I had their input, I used it to complete the application, which was fully funded. 
Once the grant agreement was signed, we went to work, using the project plan that had been developed.  We met monthly by phone and in person to discuss progress of project activities compared to the timeline initially established.  After each meeting, I sent a quick email to my funder contact with a copy of the timeline, updated with completion dates or modifications to accommodate equipment delays or early deliveries.  I established a system with our accounting department for copying me on all project bills received so I could have a copy for audit purposes, check the expense against the budget and approve the payment.  I tracked all expenses on an Excel spreadsheet, which made the quarterly reporting required by the grantor easy to complete. 
Because I had such frequent contact with the funder, and they knew exactly how our project was progressing, both financially and operationally, we were notified when additional grant money came available.  During the twoyear duration of the project, we received an additional $1.7 million in funding!  After the project was closed out, the funder made the comment that it was the best run grant project they funded.
There were four characteristics of this project planning process that I believe made it successful and that you can incorporate into your own planning process to improve its effectiveness:
1.  Utilizing a Cross-Functional Team- No project should be planned in a vacuum.  You need input by those affected by the project to get buy–in, if funding is received and to ensure budget and timeline accuracy.
2.  Using Technology to Facilitate Communication- Don't be afraid to bring in potential partners or collaborators, even if they are not geographically close to you.  You can utilize conference calling and email to maintain strong relationships with collaborators and funders.  Doing so with the latter can mean more money in your pocket, as my experience showed.
3.  Timely Reporting to the Team and to Funders- Don't leave anyone in the dark, especially your funder!  By submitting updated timelines and budget reporting, my contact knew in a timely fashion if there were anticipated delays or issues with project expenditures.  This dramatically improved our relationship with our funder!
4.  Creating Systems to Ensure Successful Project Execution- I decided, after the success of this project to create a template to help my clients and other grant writers plan projects without letting details fall through the cracks.  Just as I created a system to obtain project invoices quickly, the more templates and systems you can develop, the more effectively your project will be executed.
A well-planned and executed project is key to getting grant funding and to solidifying funder relations.  I hope you find my experience and the tips shared above helpful when you get that inevitable request for help with funding that next project.