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Rebecca Vermillion Shawver, MPA, GPC

About Rebecca

Do you know how to value your grant office?

Having been a grant professional for more than twenty years, I have often grown weary of all the hoopla associated with how much money is raised by my nonprofit agencies’ foundations. No doubt about it, our foundations do great work. They raise money through capital campaigns (which are all agency team projects I might add). They host special fundraising events that net profits (although oftentimes minimally). They “friend-raise” funds to support operating expenses and endowments (which generate funds to ensure program future sustainability). And they are publicly praised over and over again for the great work that they do.

But wait! For many of us (including me), our grant offices secure far more in financial resources than those raised by our foundation counterparts. And typically, we do it with far fewer staff member. So inquiring minds would like to know why general fund developers and foundation staff members receive the overwhelming majority of internal and public kudos. I think that the answer is relatively simple. Most grant professionals haven’t learned to toot their own horns.

If you’re one of the countless grant writers who don’t know quite how to shout out your accomplishments to the world (or even your bosses), I would like to suggest some evaluation measures that you may not have considered before. Each will help you document the value of your office’s overall accomplishments. Some will focus on money (as in your Return on Investment). Others will document your efforts and their impact upon your nonprofit’s ability to serve your community and mission.

So let’s explore ways that you can quantify and qualify your achievements beyond simply the dollar value of new grant funds raised each year.

Measurement #1: Return on Investment

To compute your office’s Return on Investment (ROI) is easy. Simply divide the dollar value of grant funds raised in a given year by the grant office’s budgeted expenses. This will document your agency’s return on its investment in grant development. This is certainly not my favorite measurement but it does have value in judging a grant office’s ability over time.

Why isn’t it my preferred measurement? Because many grant opportunities are offered in cycles that can vary from two to five years. Thus, if your grant office secures a five year contract in 2012 for $2 million, ROI will place all of these funds in the calculation for operating year 2012 only. Given that most grant offices also provide oversight and are responsible for monitoring grant contracts, your office will receive no “credit” for its ongoing support of this contract in years two through five.

Additionally, ROI calculations can lead administrators to believe that if you raised $5 million in one year (due in large part because of one or two very large, multi-year, and cyclical grant competitions), you should be able to sustain this level of success every year. Not only is this not possible, it is not preferable. Every organization has a limit to the number of grant contracts it can successfully implement based on staffing and facility limitations. Additionally, the size of target populations will also limit an agency’s ability to expand programming through additional grant contracts.

For example, at this time my college has multiple grant-funded developmental-math initiatives for incoming freshmen college students that are not yet prepared for college-level math classes. Our faculty’s time and efforts are at maximum capacity. So while we’re finding much success with our new implementation strategies, if another grant opportunity for expansion of developmental-math programs landed on my desk tomorrow, we wouldn’t compete for additional funds. We would not want to risk our current success with our new program efforts to simply raise more money.

Measurement #2: Percentage of Agency Operating Budget

To compensate for the cyclical nature of grant competitions and awards, your office should consider reporting the percentage of your agency’s operating budget that is grant funded. By considering the dollar value of grant funds received each year in relationship to your organization’s overall operating budget, you will be able to explain the ongoing impact that grant contracts are making. In other words, you aren’t basing your office’s value only upon the amount of new dollars raised each year. Rather, you are documenting the ongoing impact that multi-year awards make.

Measurement #3:Number of Contracts Monitored Annually

Monitoring grant contracts takes expertise—and time. Never underestimate the value of this very important task. When presenting your annual grant-office report, don’t forget to remind your administrators that your office is responsible for more than writing proposals.

You and your staff members, if you’re lucky enough to have some, must keep abreast of the latest guidelines and regulations, read and ensure compliance with all grant contracts, and work hand-in-hand with your accounting office to ensure that grant funds are expended in accordance with stated purposes and are properly documented. Additionally, you might want to remind your supervisor that your office is responsible for maintaining all program files in accordance with funder rules, federal regulations, and applicable laws.

Measurement #4:Number of Grant Proposals Submitted

Have you ever noticed that federal and state grant opportunities are oftentimes due during the summer months or around the December holidays? I have, and while I have no proof, I must admit that I believe it is an intentional measure designed to limit the number of proposals that are submitted. After all, it takes a very dedicated staff to work overtime during the holidays or to postpone their summer vacation because a grant application is due. So take credit for your dedication. Tell your supervisors what you achieved—and when.

On a side note, if your administrators are the type who want to know what your percentage of successful proposals is, remind them that taking risks is part of your job. So if your success rate if less than 80 percent, take a proactive approach when discussing the number of grant proposals you submit and your success rate. Remind them that most grant writers can achieve a 90 to 100 percent success rate by writing and submitting only those proposals that they are confident they will win. But it takes a true grant professional to strive to achieve more by submitting applications to extremely aggressive competitions for which they may or may not win a contract. And as we all know, if you don’t apply for the grant, you will definitely not receive one and those that compete have a chance of coming out a winner.

Measurement #5:Different Types of Funding Sought

You should also consider reporting to your supervisors the different types of funds that you have competed for in the past year. Remind them that diversifying your funding streams is extremely important. No agency should ever be dependent on any one type of funding—especially federal grant monies. Remind them that you are knowledgeable and skilled at writing a wide range of applications, including federal, state, local government, foundation, and corporate giving programs.

Measurement #6:Number and Dollar Value of Grant Applications Pending at Year End

I think it is also important to share with your administrators the number and dollar value of your grant applications that are still pending at year end. By reporting this information you will be providing a more comprehensive picture of your office’s efforts.

Measurement #7:Training and/or Certification of Grant Director and Staff

The qualifications and expertise of your grant director and staff members are assets to the department and your agency as a whole. Share with your administrators your professional achievements. If you have earned your Grant Professional Certification (GPC), be certain to tell them. And as any of us who attend professional conferences know, these training opportunities require us to work more than our regular eight-hour days. We work evenings when we attend networking events. We work weekends when the conferences include sessions on Saturdays. And we travel at night and on weekends. Make certain that you document your commitment to perfecting your professional skills—even if it means that you’re working overtime for free.

Measurement #8:Number of Workshop Presentations and Publications

Most grant writers that I know work closely with their agency’s staff members. Some of us provide formal in-house workshops and trainings. Tell them what materials (such as training manuals) you have developed to specifically meet the needs of your agency and staff. And if you have published an article in a professional journal, share with them the exposure and free publicity that your efforts have garnered for the agency.

Measurement #9: Number of Staff Trained to Serve on Grant Teams

If you provide in-house training sessions, tally the number of staff members that you train each year. After all, part of your job is motivating and facilitating the direct involvement of staff in the development of new and enhanced grant programs. How better to document your success at getting staff involved than to share with them the number that have attended your trainings?

Measurement #10: Number of Community Partnerships Developed/Ongoing

As more and more grant funders are requiring collaborative partnerships as an integral part of their funded programs, your ability to facilitate these partnerships greatly enhances your agency’s probability of winning grant contracts and its reputation with funding agencies. Again, this is part of your job as a grant professional, so don’t forget to toot your own horn about the number and types of community partnerships that your office has played a key role in developing and maintaining.

Measurement #11: Number of Programs Actively Seeking Funds

Most of our agencies operate a large number of individual programs. Finding funds for each and every one of them is important. Thus, if you are actively seeking grant contracts for a full range of your agency’s efforts, make certain that you remind them that you are seeking contracts from funders that have diverse interests.

In Conclusion

Below you will find a table similar to the one that I recently prepared for my supervisor. Note that it contains columns for you to compare your performance to that of other similar nonprofits. By comparing your performance to that of your professional colleagues, you will be able to gauge your own performance as well as document your successes in comparison to others.

So toot your own horn. Tell the world about your successes and determination. Then maybe (just maybe) all the kudos won’t go to your foundation office.

Valuation Measures for Determining Impact of Grant Offices
Your Agency Comparable Agency #1 Comparable Agency #2 Comparable Agency #3
Dollar Value Calculations
Dollar value of new grant contracts signed in past 12 months
Dollar value of grant funds expended in past 12 months
% of agency budget that consists of grant funding in past 12 months
Non-Traditional Impact Measures
# of contracts the Grant Office monitors annually
# of multi-partner contracts the grant office oversees and reviews
# of grant proposals submitted
Different types of funding sought (i.e. federal, state, local government, foundation, corporate giving programs
# / $ of grant applications pending at year end
Training and/or certification of grant director and staff
Workshop presentations and publications
# of staff trained to serve on grant teams annually
# of community partnerships that have been developed or are ongoing
# of programs actively seeking grant funds
Other factors (specify)
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