In February of 2016, I was offered a position as Program Analyst in the Office of Grants Management for the City of Detroit. As an aspiring young professional who wants to make a difference, I happily accepted the opportunity. Grant management is a meticulous process, requiring detail-oriented professionals who are willing to work collaboratively through the rigorous challenges of grant applications, agreements, and amendments. Successful grant management is certainly critical to any organization seeking to sustain operations and meet organizational goals.
My Views on Grant Management in Detroit
Following the bankruptcy in 2013, the City of Detroit was presented with a particular set of challenges—one of which related to grants. The Office of Grants Management was created by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer in order to better manage grant funds and meet all grant guidelines and requirements awarded to the City. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to not only provide oversight for various federal, state, local, and private grants, but to do so within a newly established department and at a time of great change for the city. While Detroit is unique, I believe that the public sector as a whole is changing and undoubtedly will continue to change. As pressure increases for more efficient government operations and policy changes to improve operations, grant management will require more specified skills to accommodate to this changing environment. Grant management requires the ability to adapt to change.
Life on the Job
A young professional working with grants can build their brand as one of integrity and establish and demonstrate skills in both program and accounting analysis. Communication is critical as grants require cooperation between various stakeholders. The stakeholders may include the recipient department, any sub-recipients, the grantor, the pass-through agent, private philanthropy, private co-applicants, and internal city departments responsible for budget and audit maintenance. I work to establish and maintain relationships with the departments that receive grant awards and those involved in the grant life-cycle and approval processes. Working with grants allows me to experience a number of environmental work settings and learn about different government and nonprofit standard operating procedures.
Meeting the Challenges
After starting the new job, one of my first challenges was modifying my work style. I had to learn how to fully digest information and understand each grant in detail. I had a tendency to gloss over things initially, thinking I understood or could infer what the document contained. Small details can make a world of difference. As millennials, we are used to instant gratification by completing tasks quickly in the workplace. This position has certainly humbled me as I learned to appreciate the need to be more meticulous. It has pushed me to further develop and hone that skill. As millennials, we tend to seek answers and solutions fast. While these qualities have their advantages, they can also lead to a lack of attention to detail and frustration when one does not see immediate results. All that being said, the pressure of managing hundreds of millions of dollars requires nothing less than committed patience and a willingness to work within the system of checks and balances. We need these checks and balances to provide a high degree of oversight and ensure public trust. A young professional can also develop skills in identifying and recording measurable outcomes while working in this system of checks and balances. I have gained a new appreciation for how government and private philanthropy operate while working in this position. It is important to note that while I found it best to slow down to avoid errors, our work environment does not slow down. There are always new and outstanding tasks. Furthermore, when it comes to searching for grant opportunities and establishing strategic partnerships with funders and donors, we need to be more creative and entrepreneurial, so working with grants allows one to cultivate those skills as well.
Grant Management for Millennials
In light of the changing nature of government and the so-called "silver tsunami" that many government organizations are facing, I believe that now is the perfect time for millennials to enter the grant management sector. As millennials, we have been documented to volunteer more hours than the generations before us; we clearly want to change the world. If we are serious about changing the world, we must enter the grant management and public sectors in order to shape these institutions from the inside out. This is a great opportunity to give back to your community, contribute to program development, develop critical professional skills, and take on many new responsibilities in an ever-changing, challenging, and exciting work environment.
For more information about millennials in grants management and public sector work, please see Peter Viechnicki’s study about millennials in the public sector.
Bashar is a program analyst in the Office of Grants Management for the City of Detroit. To read his complete bio, click on his name at the top of the article.
Photos courtesy of Bashar Dimitry