Should Grants Be More Like a Dog Show?

February 1, 2012 | By Adrianne Fielding | Post a Comment

A year ago today, we launched this sucker. And we’re pretty proud of what we’ve done with it since then. One may be the loneliest number in a (great) classic rock song, but not here. One suits us just fine, especially since we have all of you to keep us company. Thank you so much for your interest, support and feedback. We really appreciate it.

As milestones are wont to do, it got me thinking about why we do this – why *I* do this – and why grants are so important.

Competitive grants really are the ultimate meritocracy. And when it comes to being able to access crowd-sourced dollars (which is really what it is, whether you’re talking about government funding generated through taxes or foundation funding generated through donations), competition is good.  It forces everybody to up their game.

Grants have become even more important, of course, as earmarks have been kicked to the curb.  A couple of years ago, I did some grants consulting for a local government lobbying firm that recognized the writing on the wall and knew that it had to expand its professional services. Just yesterday, I had lunch with a former colleague from there and we agreed that traditional earmarks are pretty much gonity-gone-gone.

And I’m fine with that.  The fewer “I know a person who knows a person” sweetheart deals for getting grant dollars to entities, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

Now, I can definitely appreciate the argument that earmarks ensured that funding also got distributed to newer and smaller entities (such as those in rural areas) that might have less capacity to compete against the “big dogs.”  I grew up on a dead end dirt road in a town without a single traffic light and a public school district that once had the lowest rate of per student spending in the state; no way do I want small communities, nonprofits, schools, hospitals and other entities getting left behind in the fight for scarce resources.  To me, that demands two things: (1) more resources (Whose? How? Good questions.) being put towards organizational capacity building – not just in grantwriting, but also in project management, award administration, etc. – especially for small/newer entities, and (3) more targeted competitions for specific pools of applicants to ensure that they are able to compete against their peers (think about “sporting,” “toy,” “working,” and other categories at dog shows) for much-needed grant dollars.

I also strongly support the trend toward greater emphasis on post-award measurement and oversight of the efficient and effective use of grant dollars (in terms of outcomes and so forth).  Greater enforcement of how grant dollars are spent puts the entities who receive them on notice – which is how it should be.  Again, that highlights the need for training and support – especially for newer or smaller grant recipients, who may find themselves struggling once the glow of having won an award has worn off.

(Photo credit: bugdog/stock.xchng)


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