Tips for Creating an Organizational Chart for a Grant Proposal

An organizational chart can show two things. First, it can be an easy, visual way of showing reporting lines, or who is reporting to whom. Second, organizational charts can show communication lines, or who is communicating with whom, including who will be communicating to the donor. Although frequently included as part of a proposal's annex, organizational charts can also be included in the body of the grant proposal as part of the management section.

What's the Value of an Organizational Chart?

An organizational chart is useful to the donor for the purposes of evaluating your application. It also can help you and your team clarify your thinking.

Before sitting down and sketching out an organizational chart, you may have a loose idea of how many people your project will have or how everyone will work together. In the course of creating an organizational chart, you'll find that you become much clearer on how your project should be structured to accomplish the proposed work. You'll also discover areas where you need to do more thinking, such as how you'll work with external partners or how you'll cover different pieces of the project.

For example, before you create an organizational chart, you may plan to have everyone reporting up to a single project director. After you start working on the chart, you may find this doesn't look reasonable, that there are too many people reporting to a single person. In response, you might add a deputy director position to reduce the number of the director's direct reports.

The other benefit of creating an organizational chart is that it can help you write the management section of your proposal. Donors like to see that grant applicants have thought carefully about how many staff members will be needed for a project, what the positions will be, and how the staff will be organized to support one another. An organizational chart is a quick way to show the donor your structure for your project and how the team members will interact. Additionally,  the organizational chart can also be used to show how staff will be distributed across multiple offices, which can help the donor (and your team) get a better idea of how work across the project will be distributed.

Where Should You Put Your Organizational Chart?

Organizational charts can appear in different places within a proposal. Although frequently included as an annex, organizational charts may also be appropriate to add to the proposal's management section. If you have a choice, usually it's best to include the organizational chart as part of the proposal's annex because materials in the annex rarely count toward the proposal's page limits. In contrast, charts and tables in the body of the proposal usually do count toward the page limit.

If you want to highlight your organizational chart, you could include it in two places: A smaller version in the proposal's executive summary and then a larger, full-page version in the annex.

However, before you make any decisions around developing an organizational chart, check the proposal guidelines! The guidelines may limit your options as far as where the organizational chart can go.

Options for Creating an Organizational Chart

Organizational charts can range from basic to elaborate depending on the needs of the proposal and the limits on your budget. Below are a three options for creating organizational charts.

  • Microsoft Word: One of the easiest ways to create an organizational chart is to use Microsoft Word, Apple's Pages, or a similar word processing program. In Word, creating an organizational chart can be as simple as using one of Word's "out-of-the-box" templates, which you can access by clicking on "Insert" on the top menu bar of a Word document and then choosing "Smart Art." Clicking on Smart Art will give you a list of options including "Hierarchy." Several of designs under "Hierarchy" lend themselves to basic organizational charts. To customize your chart, all you need to do is add the names of the positions and possibly expand the chart or use color to differentiate roles and responsibilities.

Although using a template under the Smart Art option seems like it would be a time saver, sometimes it is faster to start with a clean page and create your chart from scratch by using the "Shapes" feature in Word. The Shapes option is also listed under "Insert" on the menu bar. Under "Shapes," you'll find a selection of shapes to choose from to create your own design. To use the Shapes feature, click on the shape you want--a box, circle, lines, etc.--and it will appear on your page, ready for you to scale the size, add color, or move as needed.

  • PowerPoint: PowerPoint, another Microsoft product, is often used to create organizational charts. For Mac users, the equivalent would be the Apple program Keynote. PowerPoint offers a few advantages over Word. First, many people find it faster to use PowerPoint's templates than to work with Word's templates or Word's shape options to create an organizational chart. Second, if you are working with a team, most team members will be familiar with PowerPoint and comfortable using it. This familiarity can be very helpful when several people need to review and edit an organizational chart. Third, like Word, PowerPoint is part of the standard Microsoft Office package, so no special license is required. If you use PowerPoint to create your organizational chart, you will need to take the extra step of exporting the finished slide as a PDF before inserting it into your document.

  • Visio: Visio is a software program for creating diagrams and charts. Like Word and PowerPoint, Visio is a Microsoft product. Unlike Word and PowerPoint, Visio is not included in the standard Microsoft Office software package and requires a separate license. For 2016, Visio costs $13/month per user with an annual subscription, or $15.50/month per user without a subscription. Visio takes time to master, but the advantage of Visio over using Word or Pages is that it creates more professional-looking diagrams and flow charts. Visio also can be used to create complex diagrams such engineering diagrams, website designs, or office layouts.

There are alternatives to Visio that have similar features, are easier to use, and less expensive. One is Lucidchart, which offers several subscription packages starting at $4.95/month. Lucidchart can be exported to Visio and works with Google apps.

Another Visio alternative is SmartDraw. Like Lucidchart, SmartDraw is supposed to be more intuitive than Visio, is Cloud-based (so no software to download), and can be used across multiple devices. SmartDraw is $12.95/month, billed annually.

A third option is Creately. Creately, like the other programs, offers options for creating a variety of diagrams including mind maps, flowcharts, Gantt charts, and infographics.  For organizational charts specifically, Creately has a large library of templates and a helpful video tutorial. If you're not sure where to start, there's a good chance you can use one of Creately's many templates as-is or with only minor modifications. Pricing for Creately is similar to Lucidchart.  An individual user can purchase a desktop version for $75, which includes a year of free upgrades, or subscribe to the online, Cloud-based version for $5/month ($49/year). Of the options listed, Creately has one of the best selections of tutorials, which is something to consider if you're a beginner at using drawing tools.

Additionally, you can also use graphics tools such as Visme, Piktochart, and JSCharting to create organizational charts.

5 Tips for Creating Organizational Charts

Creating a decent organizational chart requires you to apply logic and basic graphic art skills. Your chart needs to reflect a logical plan for a team structure that will ensure the proposed work will get done in an efficient, effective way.  In addition, the chart should be designed in a way that is easy to interpret, which brings in the design element.

Below are a few pointers on developing your chart so it is has a clean design and is easy to interpret:

  • When in doubt, go black and white: If the donor says it doesn't want "elaborate" applications, think twice before color-coding your organizational chart, especially if you have to submit your proposal in hard copy. It is more expensive to print in color, so if a donor tells you they don't want to see a fancy application, that's an indication the donor doesn't want to see colorful charts. If you create a black-and-white organizational chart, you can distinguish positions and partners by using different geometric shapes to signify roles or partners. If you submit your application electronically, it's still good to avoid color because the donor may print a black-white-copy of your application for review.

  • Avoid crossing lines: When you are trying to depict reporting lines, it's confusing when one reporting line crosses another. Sometimes it isn't easy to get around crossed lines in a complex organizational chart, but with patience, you can almost always find a way around the problem. Often the best workaround is to consolidate the chart into as few boxes/shapes as possible with multiple people/positions grouped in a single box.

  • Organize by reporting lines and function: When an organizational chart works well, the reader can see at a glance the number of senior-level staff on a project and the number of people reporting to each senior person. It also helps to organize by function--for example, a single box grouping all staff in a certain area--rather than creating a chart that shows each staff person in a separate box, which can create a cluttered chart that is difficult to read.

  • Indicate reporting relationships and lines of communication: One of the functions of the organizational chart is to show who is reporting to whom (direct report). This type of reporting relationship can be shown by a solid line between the supervisor and the direct report. However, sometimes there is a relationship between two people on a project, but it isn't a direct reporting line. For example, maybe you want to show that a staff person has a supervisor at the organization where she works, but also receives day-to-day technical guidance by someone based at a partner organization. In cases like this, where you want to show a connection but not a supervisory relationship, a dotted line comes in handy. A dotted line can also be used to show that two people (or two organizations) will be in regular communication with one another.

  • Provide an interpretative key: If your chart is color-coded or uses different geometric shapes to distinguish roles, organizational affiliation, office location, etc., it is essential to have a key that explains the design. It may seem obvious to you that everything shaded blue means "headquarters" and everything shaded red means "field office," but it may not be obvious to someone viewing the chart for the first time.

Get an Outside Opinion

One of the goals behind the organizational chart is to create something that is easy to interpret. If your organizational chart is difficult to decipher, the donor may wonder whether you have a solid plan for how you'll run the proposed project. A good rule of thumb is that the reader should be able to understand your graphic in 30-seconds or less.

The chart should be self-explanatory. To make sure it makes sense, it helps to have someone look at it who has not been part of the proposal process. If she can interpret the chart correctly without your walking her through it, that's a good sign you're on the right track. If she comes back to you with questions like, "I don't understand, is the coordinator reporting to the project director?" or "Is this person going to be employed by us?" then you'll know the chart needs further work.

Find Inspiration

Need inspiration for organizational charts?  You can find samples of organizational charts on Slideshare and Pinterest. Type "organizational chart" into the Pinterest search bar to pull up sample designs and templates.  You can also find examples of organizational charts on the websites of companies and universities.