Creating and maintaining a positive relationship with your grantees can be a tough job. Not only is there an inevitable power imbalance between any given grantor and grantee, that partnership can become even more tense when grantees are working with a Federal entity. As a Federal entity, you have two overarching responsibilities. First and foremost, you have to confirm taxpayer money is being used in accordance with the law. In addition to that, you’re tasked with making sure grant money is used to produce desired results. You want the biggest bang for your buck! If you don’t have a positive relationship with your grantees, what should be a cooperative endeavor can easily devolve into an unproductive and even adversarial back-and-forth. It doesn’t have to be that way! Here are three ways Federal entities can ensure effective monitoring of grant programs by improving their relationships with grantees:
- Communicate, communicate, communicate! While it might be a buzzword in the consulting world, stakeholder engagement is vital to any effective grant program. From before the grant is awarded, through the life of the grant, and even after the grant is closed, the grantor and grantee must communicate effectively with each other. Expectations should be clear, requirements should be known, and the tone should be respectful. Site visits shouldn’t feel like interrogations. Even though grant reviews are meant to prevent, detect, and correct errors, the grantor shouldn’t focus solely on flaws. Instead, try a peer-to-peer discussion of what works and what doesn’t. After all, the grantor and grantee, should have the same end goals.
- Stay Predictable. Nothing frustrates and demoralizes more grantees, than a lack of predictability from the grantor. Too much communication, if lacking predictability and direction, can be just as detrimental to the grantor or grantee relationship. Confusing, contradicting, and generally unhelpful advice not only damages the relationship, but discourages the grantee from doing more than simply meeting the bare minimum compliance requirements. With the Uniform Grants Guidance in full effect in 2016, Federal entities now have just about all responsibilities codified. From audit obligations, to remedies for non-compliance, to standardized forms, it might seem difficult for a Federal entity to not be predictable. However, consider interactions with the grantee. If multiple Federal Program Officers interact with a recipient, make sure they’re on message and don’t give conflicting information or advice.
- Empower your grantees. As a Federal entity, it should be your goal to develop a trusting, honest, and authentic relationship with your grantees. What better way to do this than entrust the recipient with some self-monitoring responsibilities? The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has shifted emphasis to strong internal controls and reduced specific compliance requirements. By emphasizing “performance” over “compliance” you can achieve accountability without the grantee feeling like they are perpetually under the microscope. This means the relationship should be more goal-oriented and collaborative than compliance-focused and paternalistic. If you don’t trust your grantee, it will show and the grantee will be less forthcoming in the end. Make sure recipients know what the expectations are, but allow them enough flexibility of meeting their responsibilities in their own right.
By using these three tips, a federal entity can both make their own job easier, and ensure grant programs are properly monitored. Grantees can be intimidated by Federal entities, but they don’t have to be. If you engage stakeholders about what issues matter most to them, it will make grantees feel heard, and it gives them some control over the process. You will end up with a more cooperative, collaborative, and trustworthy relationship.