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The Sponsored Programs/Institutional Grants Process

Lately, on several of the grants-themed forums there has been a surge in the number of requests for information related to policy and processes associated with grants offices. That question is difficult to answer because every grants office tends to serve different needs at different size institutions catering to different types of support.

Over the last fifteen years, I've collected what I feel are the best practices associated with operating an efficient and successful Sponsored Programs/Grants Office. These tidbits are continuously updated and refined as I try to stay as current as possible. Friends, colleagues, conference workshops and other sources that continually strive to improve the grants process have provided much of what you will read.

To start, let me address a question that I am frequently asked: What is a sponsored program? Sponsored programs are organizational programs that will be undertaken with the full support and backing of your organization regardless of the level of funding acquired. These programs include research, construction and training projects involving funds, materials, or other compensation from outside sources under agreements that include any of the following:

1. Terms that bind your organization to a line of inquiry, research or construction specified to a substantial level of detail. Such specificity may be indicated by a plan, by the stipulation of requirements for orderly testing or validation of particular approaches, or by the designation of performance targets.

2. A line-item budget is involved. A line-item budget details expenses by activity, function, or project period. The designation of overhead (or indirect costs) qualifies a budget as "line item."

3. Terms that require interim, annual and financial reports.

4. Terms that require the award to be subject to external audit.

5. Terms requiring that unexpended funds must be returned to the sponsor at the conclusion of the project.

6. Terms that provide for the disposition of either tangible or intangible properties that may result from the activity. Tangible properties include equipment, records, and reports. Intangible properties include data, copyrights, or inventions.

Next I am generally asked what does Sponsored Programs do? Sponsored Programs is your organization's bridge to extramural funding opportunities in both the public and private sectors. It researches funding opportunities to fulfill your organization's strategic mission. The following list details the responsibilities of Sponsored Programs Offices:

1. Sponsored Programs works at the behest of the president and the Board of Directors of your organization to secure extramural funding to support programs identified in your organization's Strategic or Business Plan.

2. Based on the known Strategic or Business Plan, Sponsored Programs will research and identify extramural funding opportunities to support organizational programs.

3. Sponsored Programs is your organization's liaison to local, regional, state and federal government agencies and departments, and to public and private foundations. For many government agencies, Sponsored Programs is the single point of contact.

4. Sponsored Programs works closely with your organization's Development/Fund Raising Office and the Government Relations Office, which in some organizations are all in the same, to inform and steward your local, state and Federal representatives on extramural funding programs and legislation that affects your mission.

5. Sponsored Programs writes the Grants Update, an online reflector that informs subscribers of research oriented grant opportunities that might be of interest.

6. Sponsored Programs manages the Sponsors section of the organization's web site.

7. Sponsored Programs assists organizational staff and members with writing proposals and program budgets in accordance with specific extramural guidelines.

8. Sponsored Programs provides extramural funding sources with interim, annual and financial reports as outlined in the grant guidelines.

9. Sponsored Programs reconciles grant management payables and receivables on a monthly basis with the Business Office.

10. Sponsored Programs manages all pre- and post-grant administration programs.

Finally, I am occasionally asked what makes Sponsored Programs successful? Sponsored Programs is a team effort that requires everyone to fulfill their responsibilities in a timely, efficacious manner. Through its Strategic or Business Plan, organizations need to identify programs that extramural funding is needed to make possible. Total communication is imperative and can be accomplished through the following:

1. Senior Management must identify and prioritize organizational programs that are eligible for extramural funding.

2. Long-term planning is essential especially in the private sector. It can take from six months to a year to fully research an opportunity and cultivate a funding source. Funding is more likely if Sponsored Programs can operate from a one and three year Strategic or Business Plan.

3. Participation in scheduled Action Plan Meetings or some similar vehicle. Aside from discussing potential grant opportunities, the Action Plan meeting is a vehicle for organizational staff to update the Director of Sponsored Programs on current or potential programs and to discuss any changes to the list of programs currently considered for extramural funding.

4. Timely follow through on Action Items from Action Plan meetings.

5. The Director of Sponsored Programs must be brought in at the beginning of any discussions related to the research, identification and pursuit of extramural funding opportunities. This is especially important with collaborative initiatives.

6. Any member of the organizational staff that is targeting extramural funding must keep the Director of Sponsored Programs current on all programs under discussion.

7. Any changes in organizational, strategic, or product direction, operations, and staffing need to be provided to the Director in a timely manner especially when extramural support is involved.

8. The Director needs to be a participant in all discussions related to current or possible funding cycles.

9. Compliance with the Sponsored Programs Grant Process Guidelines on all funding efforts is required.

If you can put in place many of these processes and consistently abide by your policies, then your grants office will be very successful.

Good luck and feel free to contact me with questions or request more details about policies and procedures for your grants office.


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