Roughly three years ago when I first started overseeing my first grant management project, I was helping to implement what I now consider as “passive grant management.” This type of grant management is a very common starting point. I facilitated communication between the grant recipients and the donors. The NPOs submitted quarterly reports and I completed site visits bi-annually to ensure the organizations were fulfilling the requirements of the grant and that their reporting was accurate. In many ways, my role seemed to be as a representative on behalf of the donor to ensure the grants were being properly used as opposed to an agent on behalf of the organizations.
Last year, I was exposed to a different type of grant management that caused me to reflect on my role and responsibilities as a grant manager. After six months of observation, I realized grant dissemination could be more than just distributing monetary funds. Investing in an organization can translate into investing in the people who make up the actual organization. The efficacy and efficiency of the work being done by an NPO is directly related the quality of the implementing team.
Our grant management programs now provide more comprehensive support through capacity building training for the staff. We encourage our partnering organizations to delegate part of their budgets toward capacity building through attending trainings and workshops and less formal cross-sector gatherings where individuals can freely share triumphs and concerns and problem solve together. We also help organize exposure visits where NPO teams can visit other organization to meet a different cross section of beneficiaries and experience first-hand the program implementation.
In addition, we have started providing additional components to our grant management programs:
- Third party Insights. Often times, NPOs become too focused on the checklist of requirements for each grant instead of spending time to evaluate the more holistic outcomes that affect their beneficiaries. Thus, we have added a third-party to provide a more objective evaluation. These evaluators have and will continue to provide intermittent feedback between report submissions and bi-annual site visits.
- On-the-Job Training for Reporting and Communication. We have found that when partnering organizations give donors and stakeholders updates, they write about minute details revolving around budgets and the infrastructure of the organization. The main reason as to why the organization exists such as how they are making a great impact and how the lives of beneficiaries have been positively changed, sometimes are not highlighted. We have been working with organizations to improve the communication in their reports starting with understanding who the audience is. Many of the donors and others reading these reports are from outside of China where the structure and flow of a report is quite different than in China. We hope that after several one-on-one trainings, organizations will be able to effectively tell the stories of their beneficiaries and how their lives have changed.
- Advocating on behalf of local NPO. When we first started grant management at a more passive level, we felt like donor representatives instead of speaking on behalf of the local NPOs. In recent years, we have found that our role has changed. While we do report to the donors, we have since realized that there has been mutual trust and respect developed between the SVG team and the grant recipients. This is rare within the social sector in China. This is because when we identify a grant recipient, we believe that to ensure the grant is being effectively executed, we need to support the organization as a whole. Regardless of the NPO’s experience, there is always more potential to help it grow. We believe more relationships such as these will help grow a stronger and better sector.
- Academic Support to Encourage Donors. We have invited several academic partners to evaluate the effectiveness of our grant dissemination programs compared to other domestic and international programs. We believe that many local organizations will be open to being part of this research as it will be important for the long term development of grant management programs in China.
While we are still in the early phases of implementing these improvements to our grant management programs, we believe this type of investment in the individuals and organizations within the sector are crucial. We look forward to evaluating these added components to see their efficacy.
Contributed by Sherry Chen