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What is a Grant Professional?


I did not know I was a grant professional for more than a decade. How could I be a grant professional but not know I was a grant professional? I identified with a specific technical project rather than identifying as a specific professional category - that is until I found an association for grant professionals.


Identity Crisis in the Grants Profession


I am not alone. Many of my peers have had the same experience in not realizing they are a grant professional and, like me, came into the profession as an ‘accidental grant professional.' In a study by the by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that, before 2010, federal employees responsible for carrying out a managerial and administrative task related to grants classified employees under a variety of other job series that did not focus on grants. A new job classification, grants management specialist, was established in 2010. However, there has been limited adoption of this classification due to the various grant management approaches. The agencies who have not adopted the new classification had program specialists (e.g. engineers and social scientists), who have subject-matter knowledge and degrees/certification in the grant program area carry out the functions of grant specialists. 


According to the GPA Journal article Key Skills and Behaviors of Successful Grant Professionals by J. Dillehay and S. Skinner, the routes into the grant profession are as diverse as the number of grant professionals. 


Long History


Granting money for the purpose of impacting society has been around for thousands of years. Rudimentary foundations in ancient Egypt and Babylon granted money to make a positive impact within their communities. 


Three Sectors


In the US, our three sector system consists of government, for-profit organizations, and nonprofit organizations. Our tax laws provide incentives and structure for philanthropic projects from the for-profit sector. Over the past couple of decades, there have been more tax incentives and opportunities to address societal issues through public-private partnerships that include all three sectors. Grants are made in all three sectors: federal, state and local government grants, corporate giving programs, and non-profit grant programs.





Professionalizing the Grants Profession


The Tax Reform Act of 1969 affected private foundations and was considered as the most far-reaching legislation affecting private philanthropy in the prior 200-year history of the United States. The operating requirements imposed on private foundations under the Act, including the requirement for private foundations to make ‘qualifying distributions', increased the demand for professional services, including legal, accounting, grants management, and administrative services. 


Professionalization of Faith-Based Social Service


In 2001, the government introduced ‘Faith Based Initiatives' to grant public funds to religious institutions to provide social services. In 2010, Amendments to Executive Order 13199 were instituted to strengthen the constitutional and legal footing of social service partnerships involving religious and neighborhood organizations and to provide greater clarity to these organizations.


When a faith-based organizations(FBO) or other neighborhood group decides it wants to be eligible to receive government grants, they set up a separate non-profit, most often 501(c)(3) organization, to administer the grant to ensure that services paid for with Federal Government funds are provided in a manner consistent with fundamental constitutional commitments.


Professionalization of the Federal Grants Workforce


Between 2004 and 2011, a workgroup within the Grants Policy Committee of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) studied the issue of training and certifying the grant workforce. In 2011, OMB formed the Council on Financial Assistance Reform (COFAR). In 2012, COFAR identified the need to develop a qualified and professional workforce as one of five priorities to guide its work on grants management reform. To accomplish this, COFAR set five goals:


Establish core competencies for grant managers

Develop a baseline body of knowledge as a shared source

Create a government-wide resource repository for federal grants professionals

Provide training for core competencies

Establish certification standards


Creating standards and best practices for the grants workforce comes with significant. In 2013, the GAO Report to Congressional Requesters on the Grant Workforce identified challenges and provided recommendations for federal grant-making agencies develop the federal grant workforce. 





What Is a Grant Professional? 


A Grant Professional has proven success in being awarded grants. We possess essential competencies including crafting effective proposals, designing effective programs, developing the organization as a whole, practicing recognized ethical standards, managing grant-funded project, developing relationships, and promoting  the professionalism of grant developers. 


Critical skills and behaviors that support an individual's ultimate success in the field include experience, ongoing professional development, strong team building and collaboration skills, knowledge of the fundamentals and best practices in the field, persistence, tracking success, and being an active member of a professional organization (J. Dillehay and S. Skinner).


So, Who is a Grant Professional?


When I held positions such as Director of Policy and Program Development, I imagined I was like a mild mannered Clark Kent most of the time. Then that big federal grant application would open up or that large foundation grant opportunity would be announced and under that business attire and Director title was my super identity, Grant Professional! Like a superhero, we carry on our ‘regular' jobs while charging forward with our specialized skills to build new bridges, create new services or to save a threatened program. 


Do you work on grant applications, grant program design, and or grants management?  Do you possess the skills, competencies, and behaviors of a grant professional? If so, you are a grant professional!  You may be the Executive Director of a small nonprofit or a Program Manager of a government program, and you are a grant professional. 


Celebrating the Grant Professional


Well, we are celebrating all of the super grant heroes - grant makers, grant seekers and grant project managers - on March 14-18 during the week leading up to International Grant Professionals Day on the 18th. Encourage your organization to become a partner of the International Grants Professionals Day.