Four Strategies for Managing Multiple Writers

Writing a proposal involves many people regardless of the proposal topic, funder, or even whether you have a lead writer.

Even for a "simple" proposal, there will be multiple people contributing to the different pieces, with some working on the budget, others writing the more technical pieces, and still others wrangling together the supporting materials. If you are lucky, you'll also have an editor on your team who can copyedit the proposal at the final stage.

It's also not unusual to have more than one person engaged in writing the proposal. When you have multiple writers, the advantage is that you have the benefit of the knowledge of multiple people. The challenge is that the contributions from each writer need to be coordinated so at the end of the process, you end up with a proposal that is comprehensive, cohesive, and has a unified voice.

Below are four things you can do to make the proposal process easier when there are several writers involved:

  1. Decide on a Strategy to Coordinate Contributions: If you are working with multiple writers, you'll need to decide how you want to collect their contributions to the proposal. Will a proposal outline be sent out to everyone and each person will enter their section directly into the outline? Will each writer be given a  writing assignment that she'll need to complete and submit to a lead writer who will combine the pieces into a single document? Will the writers be given open-ended assignments or very specific, "answer these questions" assignments? There are different ways to coordinate the input from multiple writers, none of which is the single "best" way. You'll need to consider the options and decide in advance what your approach will be and communicate it clearly to all members of the team.  
  2. Choose One Person to Be the Lead: Even in cases where there are multiple writers,  ideally there should be one person (not a committee) charged with deciding how best to bring the various sections together into a working draft. Ideally, this person will be a strong writer as well as conversant in the subject matter of the proposal so she can evaluate the writing in terms of substantive content as well as style. It can get very complicated, very quickly, if several people weigh in on how to pull together the proposal content. Choosing one person streamlines the process and reduces confusion.
  3. Have a Central Place to Communicate Information: Especially with large proposal teams and multiple writers, it's important to have a system for sharing updates about the proposal process such as updated proposal calendars and requests for information, to newly released information about the funding opportunity. While some updates may need to be communicated by email, having a central, Web-based storage site is one of the best ways to share information. Depending on your organization and team configuration, some options for central storage could include Microsoft's SharePoint, Dropbox, or Google Docs. (Of course, before using online storage, you'll want to make sure your organization allows the use of third-party storage sites.) Beyond reducing the quantity of email messages, another key advantage to a central, online storage site is that it serves as a 24-hour reference site for all team members; additionally, after the proposal has been submitted, the site can serve as an archive for the proposal materials.
  4. Communicate the Plan Early & Often:  Lastly, and certainly not least, plan on communicating to the team members regularly. The frequency of communications will vary depending on the team and could range anywhere from daily check-ins to weekly calls. The main thing is to strive to keep everyone informed about where you are with the process and any change in deadlines, responsibilities, or strategy. It's better to start out possibly over communicating and then scaling back the frequency of emails or meetings than to start out sharing too little.  

A fifth point could be "know your organization and your partners," because the best strategies for coordinating multiple proposal contributors take into consideration the values and structure of the organizations involved. For example, if you are coordinating a proposal and you know your organization, or one of the partner organizations,  has a culture where employees typically do not work on the weekends, you'll want to factor that into your plan. Respecting weekend boundaries might mean not expecting emails to be answered over the weekend or assigning due dates the depend on weekend work.

The familiar saying "if you fail to plan, plan to fail" applies very much to writing proposals. If you fail to plan and anticipate the needs of multiple contributors, the proposal process will be more vulnerable to misunderstandings. So plan ahead and communicate often to enjoy the benefits of having multiple writers and their collective experience.