“You Don’t Look Good in Orange” by Whitney Gray, GPC

During my years as the staff grant writer/developer/manager at a small liberal arts university, I had the privilege of working with exceptionally talented faculty members who were passionate about developing their programs with grant funding. I also had the privilege of working with executive level administrators skilled at driving the strategic plan and maintaining the daily operations of the university. Neither stakeholder group had the time or inclination to wade through the minutia of funder requirements. That was my job. Described below are some of the strategies I found effective for educating key personnel and organization administrators about the “shall” and “shall not” of funder requirements.

Know the Funder Requirements in Advance

In most cases, whether we were applying to a private foundation or the federal government, the funder’s pre-award and post-award requirements were usually documented. Before sitting down with faculty to develop a grant proposal, I made it my business to know exactly what we could and could not propose to do, from both the programmatic and financial perspectives. For a truly competitive proposal, we needed to check every. single. box. on the “the grantee shall” list of programmatic and financial requirements. These requirements were pre-filled into the appropriate spaces of our planning documents and were posted prominently during our brainstorming sessions. Then, I listed all the “shall nots” on a big piece of chart paper and posted it right alongside our wall of post-it notes of ideas. When one of the stakeholders offered an idea that was clearly on the “shall not” list, my standard response was, “Consider me the orange jumpsuit prevention police. I’m here to tell you that you don’t look good in orange, so let’s make a different choice here.” The first time I pulled out this line, I got stunned silence then some laughter. After hearing this from me a few times, faculty and administrators alike knew I could be trusted to know the funder’s requirements and to steer the proposal planning in a direction that clearly followed ethical practices in grantsmanship, followed the law, and adhered to the funder’s requirements.

When in Doubt, Document, Document, Document

During my time at the university, there were some transformative grants awarded that required the university to adopt new policies and procedures to ensure grant programs were managed and grant funds were expended according to federal guidelines. I had several phone conversations with program officers during which I took detailed notes. I then emailed these notes back to the program officer and kindly asked for him/her to confirm my understanding of our conversation or correct any misunderstandings. These emails and the program officer’s replies were saved as a PDF in my policy and procedure file for future reference and to further educate the grant’s stakeholders.

In some cases, I found it helpful to cite specific federal funder requirements as footnotes in a new policy or procedure. These footnotes sometimes included the emailed confirmation of one or more conversations with a program officer. The president of the university once remarked to me that he slept better at night knowing I had thoroughly reviewed the guidelines and regulations to the extent that I could provide an exact citation.

Reference and Adhere to GPA’s Code of Ethics

Grant Professional Association (GPA) Code of Ethics (https://www.grantprofessionals.org/ethics) is designed to promote best practices among grant professionals and to foster ethical planning, decision-making, and administration of grants. I have encountered a few situations where funder requirements and the applicable law were silent on a particular use of grant funds or on the implementation of a proposed program, but the GPA Code of Ethics offered valuable guidance. This is especially true of situations involving an organization that has close ties with the funder and/or a service provider; think in terms of a funder who is also a board member or a service provider whose company is also a donor to the organization. In my experience, the relationship between the organization and the funder/service provider usually trumps any established procurement guidelines, so it is helpful to leverage the GPA Code of Ethics to bring more objectivity to the situation. After all, as a grant professional, you don’t look good in orange either!

Ultimately, as grant professionals, part of our job is to know the funder requirements. We need to know the “shalls” as well as we know the “shall nots.” But we can’t keep this information to ourselves. It is our responsibility to find effective ways to educate key stakeholders about these requirements in a relevant, applicable way. Let’s face it, “funder requirements are the favorite part of my job,” said no one ever. So, take a line from me next time you’re educating your stakeholders: “You don’t look good in orange.”

GPC Competency 3: Knowledge of strategies for effective program and project design and development.  Skill 3: Identify strategies for educating key personnel about financial and programmatic accountability to comply with funder requirements.