In 2019 I attended my first National Grant Management Association Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. If federal grant management is one of your duties, then this is the conference for you. I submitted a workshop session entitled “I Survived an OIG Audit” that was added to the session lineup. As I stood in front of my fellow grant managers, I realized that nearly half the people in the room worked for a federal agency. That’s when it hit me: I wasn’t preaching to the choir, I was preaching to the preachers.
Since that day, I’ve found myself coming to terms with one simple fact. If grant professionals are ever going to fix this crazy mess of a system we find ourselves in, we are going to have to start preaching to those in charge. Today I’m taking aim at our state agencies, and I’m talking about every single one of the fifty states that make up these United States of America.
Most local organizations – whether cities, counties, K-12 school systems, or nonprofits – access a significant share of federal funding after it has been passed through a state agency. Money is passed to your state’s transportation, education, health, emergency management, and other departments before it is sub-awarded to local agencies. While the federal government has a one-stop shop for grant prospect research, known as grants.gov, most states lack a single search engine. Instead, grant seekers must troll each state agency’s website to find out what money is available through grant programs. And trust me when I say that not all agency websites are created equally. Some make it easy to find what you are looking for in a matter of seconds, and others leave you wondering if the word “grant” is even listed on one of the thousands of pages you have clicked through.
That’s just the beginning of the problem. Each agency has their own method of application systems, some still requiring a printed version being mailed or hand-delivered by the deadline. The ones that have an online system vary from site to site. We all know how fun it is to remember the varying websites, usernames, and passwords for each agency, not to mention how user or un-user-friendly each site can be.
Then, there’s the grant management. The rules and regulations seem to wax and wane with the wind, depending on who is in charge which day. What flies with one agency may be against the rules for the next. Managing programs administered by varying state agencies is like throwing a bunch of working chainsaws up in the air and then remembering no one ever taught you to juggle.
For the longest time, I simply tucked my head down and did the work, because I did not realize there was a better way. Then I attended the Silver State Grant Conference back in 2019 in Reno, Nevada, where Carol Kraus was the keynote speaker. I barely ate a bite of my lunch that day because I was so enthralled with what she had to say. The State of Illinois, through a lot of hard work and heartache, created the Grant Accountability and Transparency Unit. A group of stakeholders took comments and suggestions from end-users and state agencies, and together built a streamlined system: a one-stop-shop for grant prospect research and grant applications. They even decided upon a universal set of regulations, based on the federal governments 2 CFR, Part 200 regulations – how genius is that? If you want to hear more about the process, directly from Carol herself, check out Season 4, Episode 10, of the Fundraising HayDay Podcast: You Want a Statewide, Streamlined Grant Department? Move to Illinois! (podbean.com).
Now that we know it can be done, thanks to Illinois, I challenge grant seekers to start talking to the powers that be in your home state. And when your state legislators ask why, here are a few good reasons.
- The State of Illinois saved $106 million dollars a year by streamlining the process – and that is a conservative number. Think of how much good that funding can do to meet other needs across your state.
- Through this process, they discovered mismanagement and fraud. Finding it is the first step to removing it. And once it is removed, you have better projects that better serve the people in need.
- It saves so much time for grant administrators across the state. Their online system allows agencies to upload all the traditional standard attachments. Imagine only having to share your DUNS number, EIN number, latest audit, list of elected officials, in-direct cost rate letter, internal controls checklist, lobbying affidavit, and so forth one time. That frees up grant administrators to write and manage more grants.
- The best part is no one has to start from scratch! The State of Illinois laid the groundwork for the rest of us. You can find access to all their reports, forms, uniform grant agreements and so much more on their website: grants.illinois.gov.
- Illinois is not the only state leading the charge. The State of Nevada created the Nevada Grant Office in 2011. Their website shares grant training opportunities, grant funding opportunities, data across the state, and so much more: grants.nv.gov.
If the idea of a centralized process and place for all state grants doesn’t get your motor going, then you clearly have never navigated that mine field that is state grant funding. Illinois figured it out. It’s past time that the rest of us did too.
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