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The Translation Equation: Cross-Collaboration With Finance

By: Kimberly Hays de Muga, GPC - 

During a vacation in Scotland, I stopped to ask for directions from a farmer working near the road. He propped his scythe against the low stone wall, and proceeded to relate in great detail the turns needed to arrive at the ruin of the castle. I recognized enough words to realize we were both speaking English but missed much of the message—directions I had just requested—because of the marked differences in our accents and word usage.


So if you're lost in translation between grants and finance, your eyes may glaze over when you hear the phrases “cash versus accrual,” “depreciation,” and “deferred revenues.” On the other side of the room, you may note the deer-in-the-headlights stare of a staff accountant when you talk about interim reports, supplanting, and SF-424s. As a fellow grant professional, I urge you to take the initiative not only to learn and understand basic accounting terms, but also to develop long-term working partnerships with your team members in accounting and finance. 
The first steps to creating truly effective, collaborative budgets begin when you acknowledge the differences and celebrate the similarities in grant development and financial management in the public and non-profit sectors. Think of it as speaking the same language of serving communities but using very different dialects.
Building these working relationships step-by-step, rather than waiting until a week before the proposal is due to tackle the budget as best you can, requires working ahead and communicating clearly. Here are three steps to take to keep your grant development from being “lost in translation” with your finance department.
1.   Create a shared file space (electronic is best) so regularly requested documents and information do not have to be tracked down for every new grant proposal. Examples include:
  • 990s
  • Audited Financial Statements
  • 501(c)3 Letter
  • Annual Budget – line item details shown
  • DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) Number
  • Federal grant registration information from and
  • Average position salary and benefits listings, especially for regularly requested positions (ex: program officers, summer camp staff, etc.)
  • Articles of Incorporation
  • Financial Policies and Procedures
2.   Define a grant strategy that includes finance staff. Program/subject matter experts and finance staff often have very different views on what needs the most attention. Facilitate a cross-departmental team of program, finance, and grant professionals to stack hands on funding priorities. Taking the time to plan will save you time when you're juggling multiple deadlines. Well-established funding priorities will also keep you from spinning your wheels when sorting through grant opportunities.
3. Invoke the Golden Rule. I strive to treat finance team members the way I want be treated. I don't like surprises at work—not even surprise parties (#introvert).  So I make requests to the finance team as far in advance as I possibly can. This means that once I can download a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Official Funding Announcement (OFA), I start on budget and finance documentation first thing. 
It's easy to get lost in the translation between grant development and finance, and it can frustrate all involved.  But just remember, the more we work together, the more revenue potential we can bring; and the more good changes we can help support.
What are your best practices when it comes to working with Accounting/Finance?

Kimberly Hays de Muga, GPC is the co-host of the Fundraising HayDay Podcast with fellow GPA Board Member Amanda Day. With more than 20 year of grant professional experience, primarily in Health and Human Service non-profits, she is now a Senior Consultant with Encore Nonprofit Solutions and a national trainer with Grant Writing USA.  She co-authored “Prepare for the GPC Exam: Earn Your Grant Professional Certified Credential.”
GPC Competency: 04. Knowledge of how to craft, construct and submit an effective grant application



On: 04/02/2019 16:01:32
This is so true. I have many-a-times thought to myself, "We need a hug (or fist bump or buy coffee for) your friendly Accounting Professional day!" When I began in development and grants, I had NO idea how instrumental this relationship would be. The advice in this column is spot-on.
By: Tamara
On: 04/05/2019 17:36:10
I've actually been reprimanded for talking to the finance department by leaders who had no idea how important this relationship is for grants.
By: erin
On: 04/15/2019 16:07:33
I immediately become best friends with the finance director/ budget analysts. I make myself indispensable to them during contract close outs and audits. It is a two way street.

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