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Considering Subcontracting as a Grant Professional? You Better Be Prepared!

This year, I celebrate my 30th anniversary as a grant professional and 12th anniversary as principal of Scala & Associates. As I reflect on the years past, I remain grateful for the success I continue to experience in this field and pleasure I derive from my work. One way in which I've developed my business is through subcontracting.

It's been an excellent opportunity for me to expand my reach, revenue base, and professional network, but subcontracting has not been without its challenges.
I like to teach by example. I was once hired as a subcontractor by another consulting firm to assist their clients in developing grants mostly to the federal government. During the first year, I noticed a pattern emerging, one that spoke to a lack of grant readiness among the firm's clients. One after another, their clients complained about entering a grants process they didn't fully understand and preparations they didn't know they needed to make. Signs of the firm's lack of consideration for their client's grant readiness were everywhere. Clients didn't know that it was their responsibility to develop the program for which they sought grant funding and not mine; they didn't know how to describe their vision for the grant initiative; they didn't know the importance of the documentation required for the grant; and they didn't know the level at which they needed to engage in the overall grant process. I was now fully entangled in an escalating problem that seemed inconsequential to the firm, yet very important to me. My frustration was two-fold; first I felt the anguish of the firm's clients and second, I was frustrated at an issue I knew could have been avoided.
One of my mantras in business is ‘preparation is everything'. My lesson learned in this subcontracting scenario is that it's imperative to thoroughly screen the other firm. In this case, I did not assess the firm and its grants process deeply enough. So, I've since put into action a 16-point case statement document and a 38-point grant readiness checklist for ALL my grant projects, including those where I serve as subcontractor. Any prospective partnering firm that doesn't want to engage in this level of preparedness for their own clients is not a group with whom I will work. It's that simple.
In addition, I've established guiding principles that I use with my own clients. These principles have become an integral part of my continuing (yet more selective) subcontracting work.
  • If potentially engaging as a subcontractor, I make sure the firm that wants to hire me is totally scrupulous.
  • I ask the firm for a list of at least five references each from clients and other subcontractors who have worked with the firm, and question them about the grant readiness process.
  • I ask the firm to define how they prepare their clients for success and if applicable, to provide documentation of the grant readiness process they employ.
  • If the firm does not have a grant readiness process, they must allow me to utilize my process with their client.
  • I determine the type of data and documentation the firm gathers upfront from their client and how it will be disseminated to me as the subcontractor.
As you progress in your career as a grant professional and consider, or sustain work as a subcontractor, I encourage you to think about your interest in client preparedness and the principles that guide you. After all, when working as a subcontractor with another firm's client, we cannot care more about their client than they do.
What are your guiding principles that help ensure a client's grant readiness, especially when working as a subcontractor?
Scot Scala, M.Ed., GPC, and GPA Approved Trainer, has been a fund development professional since 1989. He is President and Senior Consultant of Scala & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in providing resource development services to nonprofit organizations. With offices in Hartford and Fort Lauderdale, the firm provides expertise in grant funding research and proposal design, nonprofit training and education, fund development planning, and capacity building. 

GPC Competencies: 
06. Ethical Practices and 07. Professionalism