Creating a Grants Office from Scratch (Part 5): Establish Grant Goals

Now it’s time to establish the office and launch. The main objective at this stage is to have a plan in place that is executable and that can be measured for success and return on investment. For strategy junkies and those that enjoy the development of the grant workplan (goals, objectives, outcomes, activities), this is the fun part. If you are not one of those, seek someone to help with the development. Sometimes the perspective of an outsider can be a grounding voice in the process.

Establish Grant Goals for the Organization

You created goals for the grants office in the strategic plan. Here you want to establish grant-related goals for the organization. The goal(s) should be directly correlated to the strategic plan. Given the complexity of organizational goals, it may be appropriate to have only one organization-wide goal.

The goals for the organization should be closely related to those of the office; in some cases, the goals could be the same. Work closely with organization leaders to determine the overall goals for the organization—there are more players in the success of a grants office than just those working in the office.

I hesitate to tie the goals for an organization or grants office to the percentage of wins or total dollars awarded. Be careful! You are not in control of many factors that come into play with funding decisions. As a grant professional, these metrics are out of immediate control: You can influence the results with great proposals, but ultimately award decisions are made by others. If a program needs a specific level of funding, plan to apply for about three times as much money as you need.

In developing the goals for the organization, consider the following questions:

  • For what purposes and from what sources will grant funding be sought?
  • How many funding sources or programs will be identified?
  • What types of funders will be sought?
    • Will you go after the first federal award for the organization?
    • Are there specific foundations that are closely aligned with your mission?
    • Are state funds available?
  • Will trainings be offered by the office?
    • Can you train stakeholders in the grant-cycle functions?
  • How will deadlines be met?
    • Will responsibilities be divided or assigned to one person?
    • Who has to approve and when will they be approached before the submission?
    • How far in advance do budgets need to be approved?
    • For submissions, will you submit 48 hours in advance, as recommended, or will you submit on the deadline?
    • When will letters, forms, and attachments be started?
  • What other grant-related needs have been identified as part of the discovery?

With these ideas in place, generate an overarching goal for the organization to achieve. Then have 2-3 supporting objectives to the goal.

Establish the Scope of the Grants Office

It is extremely important to know exactly what the office is and is not responsible for doing and achieving. Have a formal scope document that outlines the duties of the office and have the document approved by the stakeholder group. In some cases, the Board of Directors or Civic Council may have to approve the formation of the office, in which case the scope will become part of the organization’s record.

Below is an outline of possible components of the grants office scope. While not exhaustive, this list should give you a fair starting point to scale the office duties to the needs of the organization and the reasons the office was created.

  • Finding opportunities
    • Locating
    • Decision to pursue
  • Application
    • Writing narrative
    • Budget development
    • Technical assistance for applications
    • Reviewing applications
    • Application package preparation
      • Coordinating attachments
      • Coordinating letters (support, commitment)
      • Coordinating bios/CVs/resumes
    • Signature routing
    • Electronic submission
      • System registrations
      • System user maintenance
    • Mailing
  • Management
    • Budget management
    • Timeline & deliverables management (project management)
    • Time & effort tracking
    • Scope/budget changes
    • Subrecipient monitoring and site visits
    • Activity reporting
    • Organizational reporting
    • Continuation/renewal application
  • Accounting/financials
    • Vendor invoicing
    • Subrecipient payment
    • Cost capture
    • Indirect cost allocation
      • Agreement negotiation
    • Draw-down of funds
    • Financial reporting
  • Audit
    • Annual audit
    • Subrecipient audit monitoring
    • Final audit
  • Close-out
    • Forms
      • Inventory
      • Inventions
    • Financial report
    • Progress report

Establish Policies, Procedures, and Processes

With a firm understanding of the scope of the office, determine the policies, procedures, and processes of the office. This is where you will determine how you will operate, get all of your responsibilities done, and achieve the goals for the office and organization. When creating these policies, keep in mind the external requirements of the funder and federal and state regulations. Here are some questions to get you started: (Hint: For every “how,” also consider the “who” and “when”/“in what time frame.”)

  • What are the governing regulations at the funder level? Federal? State? Foundation?
  • What are the organization policies that must be followed?
  • Is a board or council resolution required?
  • Are there statutes in place that limit funding pursuits?
  • How will approval be granted for the application?
    • Decision to pursue
    • Budget
      • Allocation of personnel resources
      • Allocation of tangible resources
      • Match
      • Narrative
  • Application package
  • How will funding be identified?
  • How will applications be developed?
  • How will applications be submitted?
  • How will registrations be managed?
  • How will award notifications be communicated?
  • How will post-award reporting be completed?
  • How will you track progress against project timeline, goals, and spending?

The answers to these questions then need to be translated into policies, procedures, and processes. Create a flowchart showing how each process relates to the next with interactions of different groups of people. This visual will aid you in creating processes that flow well and limit excessive hand-offs or roadblocks. I had the excellent opportunity to examine the grant process as a Six Sigma project. This experience was an excellent one for fine-tuning processes and examining the rationale of a process. I fully recommend a Six Sigma approach to reviewing grant processes for any grants office that is reaching the end of a planning cycle, rebooting or reorganizing.

For the documentation of the policies and procedures, use the format required or used by the organization for other procedural documentation. Be clear in the documentation as to what needs to be done, by whom, in a timeframe relative to application due dates or another common milestone. Having documented policies and procedures is important not only for managing processes, but also in light of the new requirements under the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) “super circular” (Uniform Guidance on Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards (2 C.F.R. 200)).

In the final installment of this series, I’ll discuss human and technological resources and the launch of the office.

Originally published on the eCivis blog August 6, 2014

Creating a Grants Office from Scratch (Part 4): Evaluating Culture

In previous posts of this series, we assessed the need for a grants office, established next steps, and talked strategy. In order to establish a strong grants office, guiding leadership and grant directors must also look to evaluating culture—the focus of this article.

I hope for everyone reading this and looking to establish a grants office encounters few if any obstacles. That’s not always possible, so this post is intended to provide you with some pointers to determine early how your road is paved:

  1. Meet with program leaders to discuss current funding, funding needs, and processes they have followed in pursuing funds in the past. This will give you a sense of where they have been, where they are, and where they need to go.
  2. Determine the climate of the organization. The tone of the conversations will give you the understory. If you find resistance, determine what the pain points are.
  3. Determine who the proponents of the grants office are. Are there people in the organization that are opposed to the grants office?

Work to understand the reasons why those that do not support the office hold their position. Many times, there needs to be more communication about the purpose and scope of the office. Clarity can help your cause.

In my final posts on this topic, I will address more details on establishing grant goals and launching your grants office. Stay tuned!

Originally published on the eCivis Blog August 4, 2014

Creating a Grants Office from Scratch (Part 3): The Strategic Plan

Welcome to part 3 of the series guiding leadership and grant directors in the quest to establish a strong grants office. (See parts 1 and 2 of the series in case you missed them.) Now that we have support for the office and know the reason for its being, let’s talk strategy.

To make sure that you and all the parties involved have a clear understanding of the purpose and direction for the office, develop a strategic plan for the office. Where are you going to be in 2-3 years, what is the vision and mission of the office (tie it to the organizational level), and what are the critical objectives the office must fill?

This does not have to be a complex document; the entire plan can be about 5 pages. This phase is key to establishing the direction of the office so that all other phases, tasks, and decisions can be executed with direction and reason. Once you have a draft together, review the plan with the office champion and then share the document with all of the office stakeholders for feedback. If the comments coming back are aligned, adapt the plan accordingly. If the feedback is contradictory, regroup the stakeholders for a face-to-face discussion about the point in question. This is the time to work out the concept for the office and make sure everyone is on the same page. It is excessively late when you are starting the hiring process for other positions and then you find out that there was not a common understanding of the direction and purpose of the office.

In my experience, this is the part where I was forced to skimp on time and effort, and that was a challenge that ultimately proved to cause misunderstanding among the contributing parties. If there were anything I would do better next time, this would be it.

Here are the suggested components of the plan:

  1. Introduction that includes an overview of the history of the office and why the office is being created.
  2. Vision and Mission statements for the office – tied, of course, to the organizational statements.
  3. Statement of the future status of the office (2-3 years out for the first plan).
  4. Two to three goals for the office in years 1-3 to be able to meet the future-state.
  5. One to two objectives tied to each goal. Think of these as milestones toward the goal. Make sure they are measurable so you know how you are doing. Identify a timeline for the objectives – are they year 1, 2, or 3, or do they have other timing?
  6. Activities to meet the objectives. Create your to-do list.
  7. A schedule to report against the plan, revise the plan, and to create the next strategic plan.

In the next couple weeks, I’ll cover the subjects of evaluating the culture, establish grant goals, and the launch.

Originally published on the eCivis Blog July 15, 2014

Creating a Grants Office from Scratch (Part 2): We Need One – Now What?


For grant directors and other executive leaders focusing on assessing the viability of establishing a grants office, this article is the next installment in my series on creating a grants office from scratch. (Here’s the first part of this series.)

This next part of the series continues to focus on figuring out what your organization needs are, and expands on the topic of establishing buy-in from leadership for grant office directors.

What Do We Need?

Ideally speaking, what would your grants office do? Determine the scope of the office you have in mind. Does the office find opportunities, write the applications, manage the awards, and manage the finances? Just one or two of the pieces?

If you need help in both proposals and management, this requires two or more people. The creative process for developing proposals and the analytical nature of management are generally not found in one person. (Read more on that topic here.) There are a few grant professionals that have a whole-brain approach that can successfully fulfill both roles; however, this is generally the exception. Can you afford two or more people?

If not, consider outsourcing one of the functions. The costs of hiring, training, salary, and benefits add up quick; outsourcing may be a less expensive option with the assurance of expertise. When hiring a consultant, look for some of the same attributes you would in an employee: skills, experience, and fit with the team.

Once you know the functions, you need to hire the director. If the office is going to cover both writing and managing, the ideal director would have experience in both (yes, the rare bird). If just one function will be located in the grant office, the director will be an expert in that function. Professional associations such as the Grant Professional Association (GPA) and National Grant Managers Association (NGMA) are good resources for advertising openings and sourcing candidates for these positions.

Having this preliminary work done will ease conversations about the office with stakeholders and potential candidates.

For the Grant Director

Now that you are on board and you’ve been tasked with developing the grants office, where do you start? First you need buy-in from the leadership.

Establishing Buy-in

Have a conversation with the critical leadership involved in the grant process. Depending on the type of organization the titles will vary, but in general you want to have the C-suite: CEO, CFO, COO, HR, Legal, and the head of the department in which the grant office is located (if none of the above). If you work for a city/town with a planning commission, a representative is encouraged to be a part of the conversation. Everyone being in on the conversation will provide for better understanding and smoother implementation. Without this united conversation, different agendas and perspectives may derail the process or, at minimum, evolve into scope creep for the office.

In this conversation, determine who is the champion for the office. It may or may not be the person you report to, so be sure to find the true champion. In my case, it was the equivalent to the CEO and COO, two levels of management above my supervisor, and subsequently out of reach for most conversations – an obstacle I had to address carefully. Where the catalyst for the office is can determine how you approach the office creation.

In this meeting, take excellent notes, and distribute to the group for comment/correction. Having all parties acknowledge the direction of the office is key in the planning and implementation. Continue the conversation regularly. Provide weekly updates on progress.

In my experience, this communication was absent and created many problems, including misunderstanding of the function and authority of the office, resulting in many different views of how the office should function.

Set up a planning session after the initial discussion to vet out the specific tasks and milestones for the planning of the office. This is a big undertaking; if budget is available for a consultant, the investment is worth the return. One of the immediate tasks I had was to research other grant office structures and policies for similar organizations and those successfully competing for the same dollars. To get all of this information together I made several inquiries, which I strongly suggest:

  • Put a request out on a listserv for input on office organization and policies.
  • For those that respond, look into dollars awarded and national rankings to evaluate success of the office.
  • Call other grant offices for similar size communities for their organization chart, policies, procedures, and best practices.
  • Research grant offices online: Many larger organizations publish information on how their grant offices are structured and the policies of the grants office.
  • Determine similarities and differences of all of the programs to get a sense of what successful offices looked like.

Questions to Ask

There is a lot of information you need in order to put all of the pieces together. Most important, you need to determine the reasoning for the office and why the office is being put into motion. Here are some questions to ask at the beginning and during planning:

  1. Why is the grant office being formed now? (Part 1 of this series outlines this thought process.)
  • Has something changed in the organization?
  • Have funding streams or patterns changed?
  • Has there been an increased need for outside funding?

This information will give you clues as to the goals (agenda) of the leadership and the reason why you are there. The reason why you are there translates to the scope of the office.

  1. Is there a strategic plan in place for the organization? Are there points in the strategic plan directly related to grant funding?

The strategic plan is the starting-point for all grant activity (that’s a completely different article, for later) and if there are already specific points regarding grant funding those will most certainly be part of the office goals.

  1. What successes have there been in applying for and managing grants? What challenges have there been?

Successes and challenges regarding funding is insight into where you need to go with the office (goals) and any strategy for implementation. If there have been problems, this can be politically charged conversation, so tread lightly. There will be time to drill down into problems. If there have only been successes, trust, but keep a skeptical eye as well. How many grant programs have you encountered that didn’t have any stress points or problems?

  1. What are the current levels of funding? From what sources?

This is your baseline for goals for the office. Also provides a glimpse into the grant experience of the organization: experienced or novice, organized or ad hoc.

  1. Is the formation of the office known throughout the organization?

This seems like a weird question, but it is one that I will always ask going forward! If the leadership has not shared that a grants office is coming, the road ahead will be drastically different than if the concept has not been shared throughout the organization. Why? When the grants office is established, things change in the organization. As humans, we all react to change differently, but secret change does not allow for the processing we need to come to accept the change before us. By being open, sharing information, and managing the change pro-actively, you can help the organization to grow through the change rather than to be fearful of the change. This process differs by the size and scope of the organization, but in any organization change must be purposefully managed.

  1. How will change be managed as the office is implemented?
  • How will information and progress be shared throughout the organization?
  • Who will disseminate information?
  • When will information be shared, how frequently?
  • What are the messages that will need to be shared?
  • What positions/people will be affected by the office?

Being thoughtful and diligent in managing the change will make for a smoother implementation and transition. Revisit the plan frequently as the plan will need to be adapted as the change unfolds.

  1. What resources will be made available?

While resources is a phase in developing the office, knowing their thoughts on the resources that they know will be made available – or at least their thoughts on resources, it will help in developing the plan. Resources are human resources, technology, budget, training, and all other types of items you might include in a program budget in a grant application!

  1. How often and in what manner does the leadership need to be updated as to the status of the grant office?

My recommendation is for weekly updates, but if the leadership wants or expects something else, meet their needs. I would encourage at minimum a touch-base with the office champion and/or your supervisor weekly as a check-in on progress and direction. Don’t attempt to create the office in a vacuum.

From these questions, you can get a sense of why the organization is looking to create a grants office, why it is being created now, and provide a foundation for the next steps in evaluating the current climate and setting the tone for the future of the grants office.

In the next article in this series, we’ll take a look at developing the strategic plan for your grants office.


Originally published on the eCivis Blog June 24, 2014

Creating A Grants Office from Scratch – Part 1


The grants office is strategically linked to the leadership and financial goals of the organization. The decision to create a grants office is a nod to the importance of properly managing the phases of the grant cycle from program planning, to application, to award management, through close-out. Creating a grants office from scratch takes diligence in maintaining a balance of the ethics of the profession and the goals of the organization.

I have lived the experience of creating, and then evolving, a grants office for a state agency. While sometimes overwhelming, this experience has provided me with a scalable template for how to go about creating the office, and how not to do certain things in the process. I offer the following basic elements as a starting point to help you in establishing (or rebooting) a grants office.

Executive buy-in

The decision to move forward with a grants office is one that will require resources (human and capital) as well as diligence in execution. Without the unconditional, unanimous support of the organization’s leadership, the office will not flourish. As a bridge between the organization’s goals/strategy and program funding, the office must be given the backing and authority to carry out the assigned duties and responsibilities. Without both, the office cannot function to the degree desired, will not produce the expected results, and will ultimately fail. Conversely, an office that is given the authority and backing will flourish, meet expectations, and prove to be a great investment. With the grants office, you will reap what you sow.

When weighing the options to start a grants office, consider the following questions:

Why do we need a grants office?

Identify the underlying reason for establishing a grants office. Think through the rationale to create the right office with the right scope. Why do you think you need a grants office? If you can’t put the reason on paper, think through the following question set:


Is your organization experiencing growth or reduction?

Reduction      1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10       Growth


How well are you prepared for the reduction/growth?

Panicking       1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10       Strategic plan in place, activities funded


Do you have enough funding to operate organizational programs?

Not at all        1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10      Year of operating expenses in the bank


How well are you managing the funding you have now?

In trouble       1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10      Extremely well


Are all leaders in support of a centralized grants office?

No support     1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10      All on board


Are you meeting stakeholder needs with the funding you have now?

Not at all        1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10      All needs met; no requests in last year


Have you successfully obtained grant funding in the past?

None              1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10      Win everything, and there’s been many

The closer you are to a 10, the better off you are with your current systems. If you are hanging out in the lower ranks, it’s definitely time to evaluate your strategies and put more focus on funding streams. If you are in the middle, and that’s where most will be, there’s some evaluation you must consider in determining the grant functions needed for the organization.

  • How much money do you have to pay for people in the grants office?
  • How many Full-Time Equivalents (FTEs) will this fund? (Note: Salaries vary by locale; expect that you will need to hire a director (management-level) or higher experience level for the person overseeing your grants office.)
  • Do you need more help in the writing of proposals, or the management of awards? Both?

Now that you have formalized your thought process, what do you really need?

In part 2 of this series, I go into more detail about evaluating needs, establishing buy-in, and creating a strategic plan for the grants office.


Originally published on the eCivis Blog June 10, 2014

%d bloggers like this: