Program Start-Up Demands

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When you win a major grant award, a tsunami of demands roars in with the money and all too often your buoyant “we won” high sinks beneath the stress. Project start-up is tough, and careful management is critical. The first step in avoiding mistakes is to fully grasp the importance of this stage in the life of the grant. Experienced administrators know start-up is a make-it or break-it time. Here are a few tips for a full-throttle blast off to a successful grant-funded program.

  • Submit a realistic timeline. The timeline included in the grant proposal should provide adequate time for initial meetings, re-engagement of community partners, setting up offices or other facilities, bringing on new staff members, and other project-specific demands. For example, purchasing, equipping, and staffing a mobile medical clinic will take serious time. Don’t submit a too-tight timeline hoping your enthusiasm will impress the funder. If you fear the realistic timeline looks lethargic, justify it—explain why it’s critical for solid project start-up.
  • Establish systems. Some of the most crucial start-up tasks are overlooked or delayed because they aren’t included in someone’s job description or aren’t required by policies and procedures. If you’ll be hiring a new program manager, immediately appoint an interim leader to spearhead the effort until the new manager is on board. Identify the crucial tasks then systematize them—create checklists and establish policies.
  • Re-read the grant proposal. When your organization accepts a grant award, it is bound to deliver what the proposal promised. But the time between submitting a request and receiving an award can be significant. All too often a grant award produces a flurry of activity based on staff members’ lingering memories of the program plan. Then, once start-up pressure has subsided and the first report is due, it turns out that some parts of the program plan haven’t been put into place. The first step for successful start-up is to study the original grant proposal, and to make sure that all staff members who will be involved do the same.

The well-managed start-up of a grant-funded program lays a solid foundation for success. When you win a grant award, celebrate the achievement. Enjoy the feel-good moment. But quickly get down to the serious business of starting the program off right.


— Barbara Floersch, Chief of Training & Curriculum


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