Seven Habits of Highly Effective Grantees

Hoorah! Whether you are a first time applicant or a seasoned veteran of the grant application process, that feeling of success on receiving a “thumbs up” from the NHPRC, or any funder, never gets old. You competed successfully and the funding for your project is secured. Take a well deserved bow!MoneyBag

Now that you have the resources to make your project a reality, there is the next challenge – to advance from successful grant applicant to awesome grantee. As you roll up your sleeves and get to work, here is my own personal list of the attributes that successful grantees/project directors demonstrate, in no particular order of importance.

1. Be able to make a new plan, Stan. It’s all about having an effective, yet flexible, project plan. Every NHPRC applicant is required to submit a work plan as a part of the application process. Well thought out plans are critical to funding success – no surprise there. But flexible project plans that can adjust to unexpected circumstances, conditions, roadblocks, etc. – these result in really successful projects despite snafus. They require not only having your project’s goals and objectives carefully crafted, but also having a handful of ways to achieve them, just in case surprises occur – like you don’t receive full funding and must adjust accordingly, your project staff departs midway through the work, etc. Bottom line – creativity and flexibility in planning will help tremendously when you face the proverbial monkey wrench.

2. Keep your eyes on the prize. Before officially making an award, we review all project goals and objectives with each grantee. We put these goals in writing, and there is a reason for this – they are important. They demonstrate the ultimate value of your project well beyond your own institution. Successful grantees/project directors keep these goals front and center throughout the life of the project.

3. Grant projects are a team sport. Who’s on your project team? The most effective grantees think big when they think about team. They know it’s more than the individuals listed in a grant application budget. For example, the Development/Sponsored Office staff at your institution is essential – they need to know about your project, and you need to know what they bring to the table (often it’s the details of your project budget). The Public Affairs staff is handy, as they will assist with any press and outreach efforts, often including your web and social media presence. Do you have a boss and/or an advisory committee? They can be important reviewers of your work, as well as advocates for it all along the way. And how about the NHPRC staff? We want every project to be a total success, and we are here to help. Ask us for assistance, ask us questions, and work with us on budgets, particularly if revisions are necessary.

4. Communicating – across, up, down, over, out and beyond. Directors who share project information as the work proceeds attain circles of fans, followers, and public support. And they include the project staff in carrying out  the communications work plan. In fact, some of the most compelling project communications come from project archivists, technicians, interns, and volunteers who are making the discoveries, testing the methods, preserving the items, etc. It’s relatively easy (and immediate) these days to communicate in real time with blogs and a host of social media options to choose from, along with more traditional communications tools such as listservs, newsletters, etc.

5. Observe, analyze and report “reality”. The best directors make a habit of telling it like it is with their projects, and they do it in some detail. Comparing progress against objectives can be a sobering experience. Analyzing the challenges and shortfalls associated with a project may not always be pleasant, but it pays off in the end. You learn from successes as well as mistakes, and so does everyone else, including us. This is a rather huge part of the post award process, so we really encourage grantees to share their project stories, warts and all.

6. Celebrate those milestones! So many of us genuinely enjoy the work we do, but we forget to (A) tell others about it and (B) stop and celebrate accomplishments as they occur. You cannot believe how successful your celebration event can be until you try. We’ve seen everything from press and exhibition events, hosted by parent institutions, to stopovers from elected officials to alumni or friends groups’ gatherings. These are all good ways to mark the project’s achievements, give thanks to the staff, and generally make some noise. Work it, folks, as the benefits will far outlast the grant period.

7. Thinking beyond the grant project. Individuals who are in the habit of placing their grant-funded projects into the larger context of what they want to accomplish overall with their programs deserve the highest praise. This takes vision, analysis and planning, communication, team building, and, yes, leadership. They make the most of these opportunities and bring vision to the entire enterprise.  Kudos in particular to those who make it look easy! Anything I’ve missed, misstated or confused you with? Let me know! Share your ideas on what’s on your own list.

About Kathleen Williams

Executive Director, National Historical Publications and Records Commission, US National Archives
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One Response to Seven Habits of Highly Effective Grantees

  1. Fynnette Eaton says:

    What a great post! I particularly liked the points about thinking broadly about the stakeholders and the absolute need for communication.

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