The Million Dollar Question: How to Staff Grants Management?
Are you a new grantmaker starting from scratch? Is your organization’s grantmaking changing or increasing, therefore creating a need for additional or specialized grants administration staff? Does your title accurately reflect the work that you do?
These scenarios present a complexity felt by funders old and new – how can grantmakers most effectively staff the grants management function? Unfortunately, there is no right or wrong answer, but the Grants Managers Network’s Staffing Grants Management guide is a helpful starting point for tackling grants administration staffing situations. A follow-up step is to simply asking peer foundations what their organizational structure looks like, but let’s lay some of the groundwork here first before you jump on the GMN Online Community discussion board!
Perhaps the most obvious is that it is important to understand the size and scope of your organization and its grantmaking activities. Is your organization large in asset size yet your programs very straightforward with clear applications and guidelines? Is the Grants Management function centralized or decentralized? Does the Grants Management staff fulfill a programmatic role at times? Are you a small organization with a small grantmaking program? All of these circumstances paint a very different picture in terms of staffing. The Staffing Grants Management report provides an outline of typical grants administration responsibilities and illustrates how your organization might consider structuring this critical function.
A simplified approach for new, smaller grantmakers is having one grants management staff person – presumably a Grants Manager or Grants Administrator, depending on experience and responsibilities. Similarly, a medium-sized organization may add Grants Associates or Grants Assistants to help support the data entry and ingestion of funding requests. And some grantmakers may need all of the positions described in the guide.
But what about the “atypical” situation? Let’s take a look at Foundation A, a large-asset foundation with a healthy annual grantmaking budget of $50 million, but without an unsolicited funding request process. The average grant size is $160,000 so the number of grants in need of processing is a few hundred. Within Foundation A’s grantmaking programs, all grants management staff are required to go on some site visits, whereby increasing their responsibilities within the due diligence process. It’s situations like this where staff size could stay relatively low and unique titles could be considered – Grants Specialist or Grants Officer come to mind – in order to reflect the programmatic work being done.
On the contrary, very large grantmaking organizations with complex programming may need to consider all of the roles and titles mentioned in the Staffing Grants Management guide, in addition to others. Some funders develop departments and use Program Operations or Program Management in the respective titles to reflect certain grants management-related responsibilities that aren’t necessarily assigned to a Grants Administrator or Grants Manager. Or, take for example, large funding organizations that decentralize the grants management function and assign a Grants Manager, and possibly other grants staff, to each programmatic area “team.”
There are many, many options for how to structure a Grant Management department or function. The key is to find one that is the right size, arrangement, and can most effectively support the work of the organization. However, once all seems neatly into place, and over time, grantmaking organizations may need to restructure this function as roles can change or activities shift.
For grants management professionals who have been in the same role for a long period of time, it can be helpful to conduct periodic audits of each staff person’s job responsibilities. This is a way to analyze and assess whether designated roles in the organization are properly reflected in the titles within the given job family. In many cases this is a necessary task if the work of the organization has evolved or changed since filling the position(s).
Typically this is done in concert with the Human Resources department, but as a consequence, this type of exercise can result in a more streamlined process as inefficiencies can emerge from such work. In addition, this might be welcomed by employees as it can be a very empowering activity – it creates an opportunity for input and can shed light on professional development possibilities.
At the end of the day there is not a perfect, one size fits all structure. The hope is that if you and/or your organization are battling with staffing issues, you understand that you are not alone – we’ve all been there at some point. I encourage you to read the Staffing Grants Management report first, if you have not done so already. And last, but definitely not least, ask your fellow grants management professionals – you’ll be amazed at what knowledge and information is literally at your fingertips.
The GMN Examiner Editorial Team
The GMN Examiner is published three times a year through the dedicated efforts of GMN members and volunteers.
Ericka Novotny – Editor
Allison Gister – Associate Editor