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Creating a Grants Office from Scratch (Part 1)

by Stacy Fitzsimmons on June 11, 2014
Stacking of riverstones representing building a grants office from scratch

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.

Topics: Grants Management Articles