Managing your grants staff

Grants staff have a tough gig - they are often pressed for time and juggling numerous roles. They might have all the right policies and procedures in place, but still they frequently have to negotiate uncharted territory. Perceptions of your grants staff strongly affect perceptions of your organisation. To set your grants staff up for success, and for the good of your grantees, you should refine job descriptions, make good hiring decisions, invest in developing your team's expertise, and have a succession plan.

Refining the job description

Whether you're writing a job description for a new role or you want to take a step back and consider how various grantmaking roles fit together, GrantCraft offers a useful tool. The tool Roles@Work assigns names to 29 roles commonly undertaken by grantmakers. GrantCraft suggests using the tool to start conversations among colleagues about what you do and what you should be doing more or less of.

Another useful resource, published by the Grants Managers Network, is Staffing Grants Management: Designing the Standards for Philanthropy. It lists position descriptions for four roles: grants management assistant (entry level); grants management associate (analyst level); grants manager (departmental management level); and director of grants management (senior management level).

The guide goes into enough detail to make it comparatively easy to draw up position descriptions and job ads. It notes that all functions will have to be assigned to someone, so in a small organisation with only one person allocated to grants management, that person will have to carry out the tasks of the director as well as those of the entry-level assistant, and everything in between. 

At least one Australian grantmaker has a grants facilitator role . This role provides support to community groups wanting to apply for the organisation's grants, and it also seeks grants for the organisation. It's a big role for one person, but it effectively funds itself. 

Hiring, training and evaluation

Your grants staff - as the face of your organisation - have a significant impact on the way your organisation is perceived by grantseekers. If grantseekers find that your staff are unavailable or disrespectful at best, or incompetent at worst, it reduces their ability to achieve the goals you are funding them to pursue. So it is in everyone's best interests for grantmakers to pay more attention to the hiring, training and evaluation of their project officers, according to the Centre for Effective Philanthropy.

The centre's research found that the most common complaints about program officers were that they offered too little contact with grantees; their communication was unclear and inconsistent; their interactions were negative; and they had too little understanding of the grantee's program or organisation.

The centre suggests that assessments that compare grantmakers to each other, as well as program officers to each other, can help grantmakers understand what is working and what is not. 

The Grantcraft guide Personal Strategy: Mobilizing Your Self for Effective Grantmaking suggests that your role isn't just your job specification, but also the parts of the job that the written outline leaves up to you. It provides a framework for reviewing rules as well as your intuitions. It suggests that grantmakers explore how their personal strengths can help them perform their role effectively, and how their weaknesses can interfere with effectiveness. 

The ideal grantmaker, according to GrantCraft, has both strong role awareness and strong self awareness. Grantcraft recommends reflective practice: analysing frustrating incidents to see how you approached them, for example, and reflecting on personal strategies that served you well or badly. 

The Foundation Center, another group of giving experts, emphasises the importance of creativity in effective grantmaking. Experienced Grantmakers at Work: When Creativity Comes into Play identifies five paths of development that result in creative grantmaking:

  • A motivating belief (a very basic template against which grantmakers judge themselves and their work)
  • Cognitive skills (including sifting information, translating between different contexts, seeing patterns)
  • Interpersonal competence (highlighting the importance of relationships with grantees, grantseekers and people working in the community)
  • Crossing boundaries and mixing worlds (the ability to work with diverse individuals and groups)
  • A sense of journey (because creative programs take time, flexibility and an ability to change course when necessary).

The Foundation Center believes that effective philanthropy can be learned and taught and has published a whole series of Practice Matters publications.


Too often, all of an organisation's grantmaking knowledge lies with one staff member, and when that staff member moves on, all of the knowledge is lost.

The consequences can be costly for the grantmaker, who has to invest time in developing the expertise of a new staff member, but also for grantseekers. In one example, a grants officer gave a grantee the impression that the grant they had been awarded the previous year would be repeated. However, the officer left their role and the grantee was told that the repeat application had been rejected because it had not met the necessary criteria. 

Put plans and systems in place to capture critical corporate knowledge and ease the transition from one staff member to the next, and take particular steps to ensure that grantees are not disadvantaged.

SmartyGrants has the capability to record interactions with grant recipients. Grantmakers can create file notes and upload attachments, to contact cards and applications to ensure that accurate retention of corporate knowledge.

Sign-up to our newsletter