0 comments on “Grant Management is Not a Finance Function: 5 Reasons Why”

Grant Management is Not a Finance Function: 5 Reasons Why

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
  • Funder
  • 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.)
  • HR
  • Procurement/Facilities
  • Public Relations/Community Affairs
  • Marketing
  • Stockholder Relations
  • Legal
  • Finance

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!

With Grantitude,

stacy sig jpg

Stacy Fitzsimmons is the Founder and CEO of SNF Writing Solutions, LLC

0 comments on “Still working on your Development Plan?”

Still working on your Development Plan?

It’s that time of year when organizations are finalizing their development plans for the upcoming year.
Whether you’re a development officer or a non-profit CEO, writing a development plan can be a daunting task, especially if it is the first time you’re going through the process.  I’ve been involved with organizations that had no plan document, just budget goals to achieve, as well as with some who had lengthy plans with a lot of narrative to go along with their goal numbers.  Why have I seen such a variation in plans (or lack thereof) over the years?  The simple answer is; every organization is different.  Organizations have different needs, different boards, and different sized development offices.  The key to putting together a development plan is creating one that works for you.
It may be January, but if you still want to craft a plan for 2017 and are afraid you’ve already missed the boat, fear not – you are not alone, and the exercise is still worthwhile.  My goal for this post isn’t to provide you with the answer of what your plan should look like, but to provide you with a few questions you should ask yourself as you move through the process in an effort to guide your plan.

1. Why am I doing this crazy thing?

If you are a seasoned development professional a lot of what you’ll do this year is natural to you, you do it every year, you know what goals you need to hit.  Even if you are a 1-person development office and your boss and board are exactly the same as last year, there is still merit in putting your plan on paper.  It doesn’t have to have an accompanying narrative, it can look similar to a GANTT chart, showcasing the major tasks, when they happen and your goals.  Even a document as simple as this would be extremely beneficial to your boss or board should you unexpectedly have to take leave, or get hit by the proverbial bus.

Think of it like an evaluation plan.  While you may have just rolled your eyes after reading those words, your development plan, at its core, is a type of evaluation plan.  It lays out your tasks, your outputs, outcomes, and goals.  If you are in a situation where you feel like your board doesn’t quite get what you spend your time doing, or you are gearing up to ask for an additional staff member for your department, your development plan could be your key to showing what you’re currently spending your time on, and the results you’re experiencing.  This is part of your case statement for going after additional resources if you can show an increased ROI with some additional investment.  Bonus: when you get that new staff member, your plan will serve as a great on-boarding tool!

2. Who is my audience?

This will dictate much of how you structure your plan and how detailed it will be.  Is this plan just for your team?  If so, are they new to the field, or seasoned professionals?  Is this plan for your leader or board?  If so, how much do they know (or want to know) about the pieces and parts of what you do throughout the year?

3. What should be in my plan?

So, thinking about your answers from questions #1 and #2, let’s think about the major pieces that should be in your plan…

Overall budget

What are your expected to raise this year as a whole?

Personally, I have two major buckets I build my plan toward – my unrestricted dollar (greatest need) goal and then my goal/projection for funds raised toward my current capital campaign.

Even if your major ask phase of your capital campaign is over and you are primarily concerned with making sure pledge payments are coming in, there is still work there on sending reminders and stewarding those donors so they continue to pay their pledges – don’t let folks forget that!

Your major budget buckets

  • Breakdown your overall budget into common chunks based on your sources of revenue – grants, special events, direct mail, major gifts, planned giving, earned income (if that falls under you), etc.

Activities

Now, highlight the major factors of what you’ll do to hit those budget goals. Make your high-level to-do list for the budget period.

Measurements: Lead & Lag

Consider using lead measures and lag measures.

If you have a new team, or really want to let your board have a deep dive into what you do, detail the lead measures (the calls, the lunches, the number of proposals you want to write, etc.) that will lead to the lag measures – the dollars that show up.  We know these things don’t magically happen, so talk about it.

Lead measures can also include mini-goals within your plan, such as securing 6 new corporate sponsors, 2 new foundation funders, or having X% of donors increase their giving over last year.  If you put it out there, you have something to measure against.  This also shows that you’re thinking of way and have small goals for increasing your donor base.

Stewardship plans

I’ve had some interesting chats with colleagues about where and how to put donor stewardship activities into development plans.  If you’re lucky enough to have a staff member dedicated to stewardship, they are most likely stewarding donors based on the buckets you outlined above.  So, if possible, divide up those pieces and talk about them within those buckets – what did you do with your direct mail folks, or event attendees, foundation funders, or capital campaign donors?  If this is difficult, the beauty of there being no one single development plan template means you can talk about these activities as a whole, and how they should influence the various goals.

4. Measure throughout the year

Look at your progress toward your goals.  Depending on your revenue mix, you will most likely have months with high dollar goals and some with lower goals based on when you’d expect grants to come in, or when special events are held, or direct mail is sent.  But looking at your progress quarterly will allow you to make course corrections if needed, or to content with the fact that everything is on track.

5. The year is over, now what?

Create your year-end wrap up.  If you’ve been monitoring your progress toward goals throughout the year, most of your work is done.  But a Year-End Wrap-up is a great piece to show your leader or board, you can explain any deviations and what you tried to do to fix them (if things were below goal) as well as what made the last year so successful (if you were above goal).  It certainly looks better to your board or leader if you can explain it, than to be surprised at the end of the year and say, “I don’t know why….”  Even if there is no smoking gun, you have a hunch, don’t you?  Sure you do!

6. Here’s the new plan, same as the old plan

Our field and what we know about grants and donor behavior is always changing and you’ll want your plan to keep up with the times.  However, try to make sure you’re looking at year-over-year progress toward goals, don’t just throw the old measures out.  If you need to tweak them or calculate them differently, do so, but denote this in your plan.  This will help keep your team on the same page about “how” you are measuring things, and will reassure your leader or board that you’re keeping an eagle eye on trends over time, even if the “how” it is being measured changes.  An * and an explanation will usually do the trick!

Remember, there is no one right way to craft a development plan.  It should be the right plan for you and your team, based on your organization’s needs.
Best of luck!
AmyL_w initial