Most of the time, grants are performance-based financial vehicles. You have to do something in order to get paid. In growing numbers, funders are also looking to how well you do that something. So why are organizations still viewing grant management as a finance function?
Don’t get me wrong, there is still a financial aspect to grants management. Someone, hopefully with expertise in accounting, must manage the coffers. There are many regulations and nuances to managing the dollars and cents of a grant award that cannot be ignored.
That said, there is more to grant management than just the money. Just ask any grant program manager how much time is spent on managing the budget versus everything else that has to be accomplished.
1. There has to be a relationship with the funder.
Think of your program accountant. What do they do? How do they interact with others? Would you have them be the face of your organization? Would you rely on them to deliver an eloquent message as to the status of a not-performing-as-you-expected program?
If you answered yes, I want the name of your accountant!
No offense meant to any accountant. The reason there are stereotypes is largely because there’s some truth to the description.
The biggest responsibility in grant management is establishing and maintaining a positive relationship with your funder. They not only hold the checkbook, but they are also an investor in your program/organization. They buy-in to your success. You have to demonstrate that you are competent to deliver as well as committed to the mission. This takes a good communicator with impeccable interpersonal skills and a high degree of savvy in message delivery. Yes, schmoozing!
In general, schmoozing is not in the finance department repertoire.
2. Program outcomes are not (usually) dollars & cents.
So yes, you have to show how you spent the money. But, is that what funders are really looking for? Not in my experience.
Funders are looking for outcomes that are mission focused and relevant to the advancement of a program and an organization as a whole. Measures in new learning, a shift in attitude or perception, skill advancement are sought. These metrics are evaluated based on data captured in the implementation of the program, not in the ledger of debits and credits.
3. The workplan and timelines are promises to the funder (and the budget too).
Let a group of toddlers out into the backyard and tell them they have promise they will only take 10 minutes to play and they must come back in to tell you what they did. How many toddlers will come back in 10 minutes? How many will you have to round up, capture, entice, bribe, chase, hogtie to come back in? How many will be able to say what they did?
Yep! the life of a grant manager when it comes to workplan and timeline management and reporting.
The finance department is probably used to this phenomenon when tracking down invoices or getting approvals. Are they equipped to do this for all of the grant deliverables?
Not usually. There are multiple milestones, reports, and metrics to track and analyze. Any deviation from what was committed to in the proposal requires advance permission from the funder (see #1 above!). This takes a true project management mindset with the budget only being one element of the commitment that needs to be kept.
4. Mission drives everything ‘grants’.
From the initial search to identify a potential funder through close-out of the grant, the entire grant cycle is about meeting the funder’s mission with a project or program that is furthering the organizational mission. This mission-centric cycle can only be achieved through strategic alignment and intentional delivery. While financial considerations are a part of this pursuit, they are just that – a part – of a bigger whole. Financal considerations alone cannot deliver on mission-focused activities.
5. Every grant-funded program is multi-dimensional
Make a list of all of the components of your grant-funded program. All of the pieces.
In my experience, you will see that a grant program has at minimum:
- Program mission & plan
- Program staff
- Physical stuff (supplies, instruments, location, etc.)
- Participants or a target audience
- A message to convey
- Contract with the funder
- Funds to manage
Looking at that list, you can extrapolate that each element could be construed as the responsibility of a different organizational department:
- Senior Leadership (ED, CEO, etc.)
- Public Relations/Community Affairs
- Stockholder Relations
Each element is critical to the success of the grant-funded program. Successful grant management requires one point of contact to orchestrate all of these elements. That’s not the role of an accountant!
If not Finance, where?
Where the grant operation should live is a debatable subject. Some say there shouldn’t be centralized grant operations, that individual departments can handle it all. Others (my camp) say that grant operations need a central hub. Any one of the organizational departments would work. Some entities have grants sections in finance, some in legal, some in marketing, some in the President’s suite, others in a special projects office. The grant office needs be placed where it can thrive to meet the multi-faceted demands of grant management.
My opinion: It is easier to coordinate (wrangle? herd?) equals than superiors. Reporting directly to the highest leadership position will poise the grant function to serve the organization in strategically sourcing funds and managing all aspects required of grant management. This would then require the grant office leader to be an equivalent to the finance department leader, not subservient to the finance leader. With access and equal communication to the department heads, the grant office leadership is empowered to deliver the best service to the organization and funders.
That’s what we all want, right? The best outcomes for the organization and the funder!
Stacy Fitzsimmons is the Founder and CEO of SNF Writing Solutions, LLC