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 Grants.gov 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
- Decision to pursue
- 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
- 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
- Vendor invoicing
- Subrecipient payment
- Cost capture
- Indirect cost allocation
- Agreement negotiation
- Draw-down of funds
- Financial reporting
- Annual audit
- Subrecipient audit monitoring
- Final audit
- 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
- Allocation of personnel resources
- Allocation of tangible resources
- 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.