Herding Cats: Training Program Staff to be Grants-Wise

*This post originally appeared on Grant Professional Association's blog

Money doesn't grow on trees—so why do our program staff think we can magically produce non-federal grants? You know, one of those foundation or corporate things. You're so good at that!


Whenever a grants person hears this, there's usually a bit of steam coming out of their ears… some grumbling behind closed doors… and a twinge of resentment that the team just doesn't understand what they do. As grant writers, we know how much planning and hard work goes into a grant. Yet we often forget that we didn't used to be experts in the grants process.

We have the benefit of long years of experience and learning—our program staff compatriots often do not. They may be completely inexperienced in the grants world. They may have some experience, but not in a long time or not very much. They are probably not trying to be obstructive or obtuse: they just need some education.

Here are a few ways that you can train program staff to be more understanding of the grants process.

  1. Appeal to the Analytical with Data. Share the details of your grants office with your program staff. How many proposals go out? How many result in a grant? What's the average wait time for a response? How often do you never get a response? This is great to know for your own organizations or clients, but you can also get broader data from The State of Grantseeking, produced twice a year. This can provide benchmarking statistics at the national, regional, and state level, as well as by organization size or focus area. 
  2. Offer Passive Opportunities to Learn. Many people new to grants are intimidated by what they don't know. For these people, learning may happen best when they can passively absorb information and ruminate on their own. Find webinars or create informative handouts and share them broadly with your staff. Make these readily available—and let staff know that you're also available for any questions they might have. 
  3. Engage Them Directly in the Process. This takes a significant investment of time and energy, but with the right person you will reap tremendous benefits. Ask a program staff member to write the narrative to a proposal, or parts of one. Walk them through the process step by step and share feedback along the way. Ask them the same questions you would be asking yourself to strengthen the proposal. They will gain essential skills and a hands-on understanding of the process and will be more invested in the result. You might even gain a writing partner!Program Development Insights: Learning to juggle machetes and other necessary evils
  4. Highlight Success—Yours and Others. Share big wins or new relationships built, especially those made possible by collaboration between you and program staff. Having a ready example of great teamwork and successful fundraising helps program staff see the possibilities and realize just how much goes into getting the grant.

What are some of the ways you've brought program staff into the fold?

Kat Champigny works at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to support its work in middle school science education, marine research, and coastal communities.  

About the Author

Kat Champigny

Kat Champigny, GPC is the Grants Officer at Maine Farmland Trust, a nonprofit that protects farmland, supports farmers, and advances the future of farming across the state of Maine.

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