We Don’t Work Together (yet), We Don’t Write a Grant Together

2704913_origSeveral months ago we wrote about the importance of trust in partnerships. We need to revisit the topic, especially as it relates to grants and grant application processes. Grant making and grant seeking are like dating, most people don’t marry someone after one date or after just seeing their Tinder profile. Grant making is very relationship driven, who you know and how you work with each other are telling, especially as it relates to race and equity. Relationships allow good organizational partnerships to develop.

Do Your Really know who you’re partnering with?
Fakequity shows up in the grant application process from the moment you ask a POC led or centered organization you haven’t worked with to partner with you on an application. We’re going to assume your intentions are in the right place, but it is completely the wrong approach. We think of it as being the same as the good old friend request on Facebook. You know the person you have to search to even see who you know in common? We may have met once or twice, but are we really friends? For the formal business people, like LinkedIn when you get an invitation to link to someone, but you have no idea who the person is, do you accept the invite to connect or hit delete? (For the record we only link to people we actually know. Very awkward getting a text from a colleague asking for a reference for someone we are connected to on LinkedIn and having to text back saying you have no idea who they are talking about — that um, never happened.)

Reaching out to an organization to partner in a grant without a meaningful connection is fakequity. If your organization is seeking to partner on a grant, stop and ask yourself if you’ve really done your own work to build a relationship with the organization. If you haven’t stop typing an email to [fill in the blank PoC centered organization], your organization has some work to do before asking if they will partner on a grant.

A grant cycle or a grant application shouldn’t drive how you form a partnership. The collaboration should begin long before an application is on the horizon. As an example, a few months ago a colleague met a professor at an event and exchanged business cards. Professor X invited us to his center to learn more about our organization and to share what he’s working on. Throughout the meeting we verbally danced, saying nice things and asking questions, finally at the end of meeting we asked “What are you hoping to gain?” Professor X answered truthfully: “access.” He wanted access to our networks since he wants to focus his research more on closing achievement gaps.

We don’t want to be seen as gatekeepers to communities of color, but in reality we sometimes have to. Our reputations are on the line, we don’t want to be seen as “the person who brings in bad partners.” We went back to Professor X and said we would like to get to know him and his work better and encouraged him and his team to attend our meetings and get to know us. Professor X said he would attend our meetings and he has. As a result, we’ve gotten to know each other and build relationships. Professor X has met with others in our network so they now know him as well. All of this led to us joining in on a grant proposal. We’re looking forward to connecting and working together.

The Approach – Like the First Date
If you are looking to collaborate with an organization centered in a community of color please be aware of how you are approaching a people of color based organization. Skip the ‘savior’ mentality of thinking you’re doing someone a favor, or the “you owe us, because we serve kids of color” entitlement and privilege lines. Be polite and say nice things.

Recently an organization called seeking to partner and gave us the worst first grant date pickup line ever, layer in a tone of judgment, annoyance, and privilege: “You never pay attention to us. You only pay attention to those kids over there. … We want you to be the lead partner on a grant that is due in three weeks.” Erin almost hung up on them, well it was only because she was trying to take them off of speaker phone. Not a great way to build a partnership. Starting with “Hi, we really appreciate the good work you’ve done with XXX, can we explore expanding?” is a nicer way to start.

Here are some examples of how to shift your thinking as well as your approach and some examples that highlight what this work looks like when done the right way.

1. Understanding everyone’s mission. Is the mission of each organization aligned? If it’s not, then stop here. You should not even be considering applying for a grant together. Collaboration implies we share similar goals for our work.

2. Do we have a history of collaborating in the past? What was the outcome of the project? What did you learn that could help inform future work together?

3. If you have no history of working together, what have you done to intentionally learn more about their work and more importantly the communities they serve that make it all possible?

4. What are the responsibilities of each agency? Is the project mutually beneficial?

Sealing the Deal – Marriage via a Grant
Equitable grant relationships are like panda bears – all shriveled with squinty eyes and tiny bits of fuzz, but when nurtured and fed a rich diet of bamboo and trust, they grow into cute and strong equity minded pandas. Part of growing a baby panda into a bear is knowing who is in charge of the feeding versus the licking the bear clean (or whatever you have to do to keep a panda alive). We’ve partnered together on several projects and a few grant funded projects. What made the grants work well was having a great working relationship to start with, we’ve also developed several short hand codes: “Hey can you do the outreach to your folks, and I’ll work with the coalition.” We also talk openly about race and push each other to do better. Since our early grant marriage has led to a genuine like of each other we can now partner on other things – like this blog and fighting fakequity.

Posted by CiKeithia Pugh and Erin Okuno