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Adriana Ercolano

About Adriana

The Grant Writer's Conundrum: How to Avoid Becoming the Program Manager

In October 2003, my CharityChannel colleague, Larry Trachtman addressed the transition from grant writer to program manager -- how someone who writes and submits grants can easily morph into the role of program manager. It can be a fluid, almost imperceptible transition that is welcomed, as in the case of Mr. Trachtman. Or it can leave some grant writers frustrated, anxious, and pulled in too many directions unrelated to the task at hand -- to write a grant proposal.

This is not to deny the collaborative nature inherent in grant and proposal writing. Grant writing professionals immerse themselves in all the details related to a program or project in order to effectively represent their client's cause to a foundation or government agency. This can mean the grant writer is second only to the primary investigator in factual knowledge about a particular program. Very often, this acquired level of expertise and the grant writer's initiative to get funded translates into conferring upon grant writers the role of program manager. Grant writers, like Mr. Trachtman now find themselves convening the meetings, directing the conversation, and intrinsically involving themselves in the evolving program matrix. For grant writers working in large organizations, such as higher education as I do, or for consultants to a number of diverse clients, this is a difficult role to assume.

Clearly defining my role as the one who writes the grant and facilitates funding the program, and not management of the program is key. By nature, higher education is a highly discipline-diverse environment. One grant writer in a central development office may be called upon to write a proposal for an endowment, a biology lab, nursing scholarships, and research on DNA sequencing.

The way to avoid becoming the program manager is by educating your clients about the process of grant writing and grant funding and by helping them articulate their own projects. As I tell my "clients" -- the faculty -- "no one knows your project better than you do, so help me to help you." Faculty may approach your office with wonderful and noteworthy plans. After spending a few minutes telling you their idea, they walk away content that they have done their part and assured in their mind that you now have all you need to go get the funds.

To avoid this misperception, I have devised an outline that asks for a summary of a proposed program. It can be used either "mentally" to start a conversation, or can be reproduced into an actual document to be completed. The purpose of the outline is to introduce the collaborative process and the notion that as the grant writer, my role is to extract as much key information as possible in order to present a coherent and complete picture of their project in writing -- in a proposal, and in person if my role is to also find the funding.

For a professional grant writer, the one or two word answers jotted down on this form, or generated in conversation will spawn enough language to draft a proposal. If a faculty member or project director is having difficulty completing this outline, or discussing the details, it may be that the program is not yet ready and needs time to fully develop. Beginning the conversation with this summary outline weeds out projects that may not yet be viable, or well enough organized to submit a grant. This avoids the pitfall of trying to cajole and lead principals to a grant, when a program may not yet exist.


Part I. Program DescriptionSubmitted By:__________________________________________________________

Academic Unit:_________________________________________________________

Title of the Project:______________________________________________________

Primary Investigator(s):___________________________________________________

Project Summary (attach additional sheets if necessary)_______________________



Population Served:______________________________________________________


What need will this project fill?:____________________________________________


Outcomes: What will your program accomplish?:_____________________________


Part II. Funding

Anticipated Costs: ______________________________________________________

Name of Potential Sponsor (if known): ______________________________________

Is this a ___ government agency; ___ corporate sponsor; ____ foundation?

Please indicate if assistance is needed in securing funding sources: ___ yes; ___ no

Have you received grant funding in the past? ___ yes; ___ no

If yes, what was the name/source of your funding?_________________________




Certainly, this form is not all-inclusive and areas relevant to one's own particular circumstances and organizations can be included. I have found, however, that by asking for a brief summary, the grant writer can flesh out the big picture as well as the details. But more importantly is has helped me steer clear of the program manager hazard.


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