Several years ago, when I started in my new position as intergovernmental relations manager for the City of Raleigh, my boss handed me a HUD Economic Development Initiative (EDI) grant for a streetscape project and told me to manage it. Having zero experience with grants management, I was tasked with working with the construction manager, who was the project lead on rebuilding the streetscape. Each quarter, the project manager of the streetscape effort was late with the details that I needed in order to complete the programmatic report. I submitted those reports to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and I worked with the finance contact to ensure that the financial reports were submitted in a timely fashion.
My experiences with the EDI grant inspired me to make some changes in our grants management policies and procedures. I was working for a large local government with no one stewarding the grants management process. Something had to change.
I asked permission from my city manager to pull together a team to revamp and revitalize the way the city managed grants. We updated our policy (which had not been revised since 1979) and we created a grants team. We worked together to increase the number of grant dollars that we brought into the organization, gearing up to apply for competitive funding in addition to the formula funding we had won in the past.
As I was the intergovernmental relations manager, my primary goal was to bring the organization additional dollars, including ARRA stimulus funding. Back then, I didn’t have a full grasp of dependencies, but I quickly learned with the finance director and my new buddy, the fiscal grants manager, that with increased wins came increased reporting responsibilities. Our finance director knew that these reporting requirements would stress our staff resources, so we revamped our processes and created a more centralized structure so that we could gear up our grantsmanship.
A New Leaf Turned
Before any grant could be submitted in the organization, it had to come across my desk. We also developed a form that allowed us to ensure that things like the match source and other impacts to our organization as a whole were considered before allowing a department to apply for a grant. So, I went from managing my one HUD EDI grant to providing oversight for every grant application in our organization—we applied for about 30 grants per year. We put a structure in place to make sure that reporting was done correctly, especially on the ARRA grants. In 2009, the city brought in over $27.5 million in federal funding.
I was the point of contact for all grants. If a report was late, it was my responsibility. In order to avoid late reporting, I worked with my grants team to develop an internal review process: Before any report was submitted to the federal government, it had to be reviewed by myself and our internal review team. Each report documented the programmatic as well as the financial progress.
The results: better-trained staff members who were able to work as a cohesive grant-seeking team. Moreover, the centralized process prevented multiple departments from applying for the same grants—an issue we had faced before. The success of this reorganization allowed me to hire a contract grant writer to further build on our success.
People often say that winning the grant is the exciting part of the grants lifecycle. That's understandable. People also tend to view grants management as the homework that no one wants to do. The reason I write these articles is to help grants managers who struggle to figure out what to do next. As my experience has shown, it’s not as hard as it might seem starting out. My final piece of advice is to read everything you can get your hands on and seek professional advice on how to move the process along. Do not get stuck in analysis paralysis. Although grants management may not be intuitive, it's not rocket science. With a few good policies and procedures in place, you and your organization can accomplish much.
About the Author
Angel Wright-Lanier is the Director of Grants Management Consulting for eCivis. Before joining eCivis in 2011, she served as Intergovernmental Relations Manager for the City of Raleigh, helping to improve the city’s grants line of business and establishing policies and procedures that helped to drive the city’s grantsmanship. Her articles on grants management, parts 1 and 2, offer tips on managing the post-award phase.
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