Reflections from our newest Grants Strategist, Luc Knight.
Every grant seeker wants to think they are capturing all the funding opportunities relevant to their organisation.
It’s the holy grail – every project scheduled for delivery has a corresponding grant program that can fund it, either fully or partially.
Not-for-profit grants managers will tell you they are sometimes the last people to know about a project, but we still want to pride ourselves on knowing what is “out there.” By “out there”, I mean the thousands of grants making up the Australian grants landscape, both government and trusts and foundations.
For anyone confronting this landscape for the first time, it can feel daunting; sometimes overwhelming. Like any journey into the unknown, the grants landscape can be full of obstacles, unknowns, and constant change. You regularly need to make hard decisions with minimal information and, quite often, very limited support.
What any grant seeker needs is a foolproof system that identifies every grant well in advance of closing dates. A system that enables perfect record-keeping, along with easy access to applications, files, and communications. The reality is, for most not-for-profits, management of their external grants can be a lower priority. Sure, organisations might employ a grants manager, writers, and administrators, but how many invest in software or resources to ensure their grant-seeking meets their needs?
Particularly after recent global financial pressures and the COVID-19 pandemic, many charities and local councils began to recognise grants as a viable source of revenue. However, only some took the necessary steps to develop the administrative structures, (in some cases) invest in suitable software and, perhaps most importantly, educate staff across the organisation to keep grants front-of-mind when planning projects and budget forecasts.
I thought I could be the grants database….
Recently when talking to a Strategic Grants colleague about the benefits of the Grants Expertise Management System (GEMS), I mentioned how useful it would have been in my previous role with a large local council. Describing the pressure I felt to be across every grant opportunity, I (somewhat dramatically) declared, “I was trying to be the GEMS portal!” Dramatics aside, it does speak volumes for the difficulties facing anyone responsible for generating revenue through grants.
When I started the role with the council, I assumed there would be an established external grants management system. I assumed I would walk into an environment where grant-seeking was central to meeting the bottom line and there would be administrative structures and processes in place reflecting this. The reality though, was very different.
Life without a grants system for support
The first question I asked on day one: “where are the historical grants filed?”. When faces were blank, I could tell there was work to be done before I could even think about finding grants and supporting teams across council to submit applications (mostly to State government). This was a challenging (tedious!) process, involving:
- creating the internal grants approval portal to ensure oversight by Finance and the executive
- implementing the first centralised filing and records management system (through a TRIM database)
- formulating the first grants officer administrative tool capturing all communications and records (using a Fluxx-based software program)
- re-drafting the council policy on external grants.
- approval and implementation of an updated grants application process incorporated into project development, business planning and financial reporting.
Phew! Sounds straightforward, but this took the better part of 12 months!
Within this complexity, I was also trying to stay across all grant opportunities to support council’s diverse catalogue of projects. These included, but were not limited to, council’s Infrastructure, Environment, Planning, Community Development and Workplace Health & Safety divisions.
To make this possible, I registered with government grant-alert services, and became a regular visitor to the NSW Government grants page. I was also receiving ad-hoc grant alerts from some NFP-specific grants lists, but this generally meant more time and searching. I actively encouraged the practice of Council staff sending their own updates and alerts to me to ensure I covered all bases.
Despite having all these processes in place, I was never completely confident I was across “everything”.
Every grant seeker dreads that question, “have we started an application for GRANT NAME?” or “are we aware of GRANT XYZ?” In most cases, I could confidently say the application process had started, either by recall or by referring to the database I had created. However, there have been a handful of occasions over my career as a grant-seeker where the opportunity just slipped through the net. When there are thousands of grant opportunities floating around, this is inevitable.
GEMS would have been a godsend
For this reason, I can’t emphasise enough how comprehensive and reliable Strategic Grants GEMS portal is. While I was aware of Strategic Grants and its work before joining the company, I soon realised what an incredible source of support and information the GEMS portal would have been in my previous role. What a godsend – up-to-date grants details that suited my projects, options to filter and target specific types of grants, and a chance to create a living history of the council’s grants program.
The moral of the story? GEMS would have been a lifesaver. A reliable sidekick, giving me invaluable peace of mind, the confidence I was across everything, and the one-stop grants tool I was looking for!