The Mother Lode of all Grant Clichés (And Why It Matters)

July 11, 2011 | By Adrianne Fielding | Post a Comment

If you’ve been working with grants for more than, say, 10 minutes, you’ve undoubtedly been subjected to some of the field’s folksy aphorisms.  It gets to the point that you can be sitting in a training or presentation and you can start to hear one coming. And then when the presenter breaks it out, the participants practically join in to say it with them, in a kind of ritual chant.  We may not be able to resist chiming in with a voice like the teacher in Peanuts and rolling our eyes.  However, to riff on those purveyors of modern-day wisdom (The Simpsons), they’re clichés because they’re TRUE!  Let’s take a look one of them.

If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.  The grant world’s equivalent of “If a tree falls in the forest…,” this saying is borne out of a completely reasonable unwillingness on the part of funding agencies to reimburse costs that haven’t been documented and thus can’t be tested against the foundational principles of allocability, reasonableness and allowability.  Documentation ends up being an easy mark for auditors – a softball way for them to identify findings. The irony is that documentation is easy – probably one of the easiest activities related to having a grant. However, unless you’ve a certain type of personality (and a lot of “program people” aren’t), administrative documentation and recordkeeping can be boring. But what’s the good in winning a grant if you can’t access some of those dollars for project costs because they haven’t been documented?  Or if you manage to draw down the funds but your audit findings force you to give some of them back and make you a riskier applicant in the future to funding agencies? Get someone on your grant team who loves (or at the very least, is dedicated and held accountable to) documentation!

When we hear this and other clichés so often, the risk is that we zone out and let them wash over us – losing sight of what they really mean and why they’re important.  Of course, that can end up perpetuating the cycle of needing to be reminded of those issues.

Sometimes things do come down to supply and demand, and the good news is that you can be part of the solution!  The less we needed to be reminded of basic practices (which are, in fact, “best practices”), the less that trainers and presenters may feel the need to trot them out at any gathering of more than 3 grant professionals.

What other grant-related clichés do you hear at every turn? Are there recent buzzwords or phrases that threaten to evolve (or is it devolve?) into the grant world’s new clichés? What about “improving transparency and accountability” or “preventing waste, fraud and abuse”? Share your best examples and we’ll take them on in a future post – or better yet, let us know which ones you’d like to write about!

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