Grants: Who’s in Charge

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Supervising any high-level staff member is a balancing act. Star performers need leeway, appropriate decision-making authority, and a degree of flexibility about when and how they work. Hold the reins too tight and you’ll stifle them. But if you hold the reins too loose, you can lose control of the organizational functions they handle.

Grant development is intense and detailed work, administrators often have trouble balancing their role in the process. When a rock-star employee keeps reeling in big grant dollars, it’s all too easy to abdicate oversight and adopt a hands-off approach. To keep grant development work on track administrators should allow grant specialists a degree of independence, while also maintaining the final decision-making role.

  • Develop a proposal submission calendar. Work with the grants specialist to draft an annual proposal submission calendar. Assess deadlines of foundations and corporations, consider government opportunities that are likely to appear, examine organizational priorities, then draft a workplan to guide submissions. Working with the grants specialist to lay out a plan of action provides the general marching orders that will guide submissions.
  • Have a hand in program development. As an administrator, you may not attend every planning meeting. But because the initial planning sets the course of the project, you should have a hand in it. Once you’re satisfied with the direction of the work, you can monitor progress in regular supervision meetings with the grants specialist.
  • Provide regular supervision. Administrators may check-in with the grant specialist weekly, or bi-weekly supervision may work well. Don’t let this slide. When you spend time with the grant specialist you’ll always learn important details about projects that enable you to guide the direction of the work.
  • Make course-change decisions. Unexpected opportunities pop up and deadlines are often short. You’ll need to decide whether to pursue the opportunity and whether pursuing it will mean eliminating another planned project.
  • Monitor over-work and burnout. If the grants specialist regularly works nights and weekends, step in and assess the workload. Occasional overtime comes with the job, but it’s unhealthy for the employee and the organization when over-work becomes the norm. If the workload is too heavy, distribute it more evenly. If the employee is not working efficiently, provide guidance and professional development.

Giving the grant specialist respect and a high degree of autonomy enhances the effectiveness of the position. But as an administrator, it’s your responsibility to guide the process, know what’s happening, make major decisions, and ensure that the grant proposals submitted are on track.


— Barbara Floersch, Chief of Training & Curriculum


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