We have just put Slack through its paces as a collaboration platform for applying for a couple of grants. We had a distributed team of three core team members:
- The brain (BR) (who wrote most of the narrative parts of the application)
- The numbers guy (NG) (who vetted the budget documents and provided updated balance sheet and income statements)
- The grant slave. (GS) (who managed the online submission process)
Like all grant applications these days, the application is online. The grantor uses Foundant as their online platform, which provides a pretty good interface for the applicant.
Text-based attachments are usually PDF files, so you need some way to create these and combine them. Native Macintosh apps like Numbers can create PDFs. It also turns out that you can combine PDFs using the Mac Preview program. You can’t do this with the free Adobe Reader which I found out to my chagrin, loosing an hour or so in the process of trying.
Since we were working from home and from the office, with both Windows and Macs, we needed a common place to store source files that we were adding to the online application.
OmmWriter on Windows and is now available for the Mac and iPad. (I used the Mac text utility.) OmmWriter can export directly to PDF if needed, but usually I’d copy and paste directly into the online application. OmmWrite provides a critical function…it counts both words and characters so that you can stay within those restrictions if they exist. In our applications they did…and I spent considerable time editing the Other People’s stuff. Death to adverbs!
Numbers on the Mac, Excel on Mac or Windows. Both create PDFs.
How we set up Slack
Each contributor is set up as a member of our Slack Team, so it is possible to send direct messages between each other.
We have a single Slack channel called #fundraising where we place all of the items that we have under discussion. If I had to do this again, with simultaneous applications, I might consider creating one channel for each grant application, however we shared a lot of data between the two applications as they were from the same funder.
The core team members are members of #fundraising. The rest of our non-profit board are also members but weren’t active during the creation process. Obviously, anything published in #fundraising is “public” or open for inspection to the team and the members.
The Work Flow
Grant Slave (GS) establishes account with the funder’s system, and downloads a PDF of the blank application.
GS posts the blank application to Slack in #fundraising.
Discussion within #fundraising, about who takes what for the writing.
As BR and NG prepare their text files, GS starts filling in the online application with the routine stuff; name and address of the our organization, our mission, etc. .
As the application becomes filled in, it gets printed to PDF and the PDF is posted in the #fundraising channel.
Team members view the PDF from within Slack and make suggestions for changes. They also post their new text in the channel. This is easiest if it is posted as a simple Slack message, as opposed to a Slack snippet or Slack post.
GS enters updated text in the online application, usually by copying and pasting text that the others have provided in #fundraising.
Iterate. As each new version of the application PDF is generated, it gets posted to #fundraising and the earlier versions are deleted. The idea here is that people are always looking at the most recent version of the application PDF.
Note a couple things:
- Only one person touches the online application.
- Everyone works with and edits the most recent version of the application. This is effectively a version-control system.
- This system allows creative people (BR and NG) to be creative, without having to worry too much about the mechanics.