Communicating Effectively with Non-Grants Managers
By Emily Judice-Hodges
Grant Coordinator, Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office

Communicating effectively with non-grants managers has been a major hurdle in my career. When I began, I was not confident in my ability to accurately explain grant rules and regulations to my peers or the chain of command. The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) seemed like an alien language. How could I explain requirements to my bosses when I couldn’t fully grasp them myself?

To adequately portray your requests and generally communicate grants-related information to peers/bosses/clients, here are a few tips and tricks that have helped me.

Keep It Simple

I was slightly disappointed to learn not everyone in my organization was a grant nerd like me and they didn’t know the meanings of the endless acronyms I used. As grants managers, we have created a language- just look at the giant acronyms list in the Grants Management Body of Knowledge (GMBoK) Guide!

When speaking to others outside of the grants world, keep it simple. A few tips to accomplish this:

  • Don’t use acronyms. Spell everything out.

  • Repeat yourself.
    Yes – you read that correctly. Grants conversations very often cross topics from financial to programmatic to legal and more. You may have to repeat yourself to get your points across. When you are repeating yourself, use synonyms and different formatting. This can help others understand you.

  • Use a few different formats especially when you are speaking to a mixed group.
    When you are crossing topics or speaking to a mixed group of individuals, it is important to remember that not everyone learns the same way. There are three main cognitive learning styles to be aware of: visual, auditory and kinesthetic (hands-on). I incorporate graphs, flow charts and pictures into my presentations for the visual learners and use alliterations and repetition for the auditory learners. I haven’t quite figured out how I can fully engage the kinesthetic learners, but it is in the works.

Be Honest with Deadlines

When I first entered this job, I was committed to being the greatest, non-nagging coworker there ever was. My deadline was their deadline. I would work late to meet deadlines so I didn’t have to “bother” or inconvenience anyone else. I learned this was not sustainable for me.

I started communicating with others that my deadline was on a certain date, but I would need four days to review, request further information and input the data to submit. Since incorporating this honest dialogue, no one has pushed back. Coworkers have told me that they appreciate the honesty and transparency.

If you need further support to gather data for your reports or applications, be clear that all requests come from the funder or pass-through entity. If you as the grant manager are asking for something, it must be important to the funder and could affect the funding.

Be Thoughtful when Using URGENT Tags

Don’t be the grant manager who cried wolf. There are times that funders need a report for Congress and only have a few days to prepare - that is the proper time for an URGENT tag.

Other items, like scheduled, standard quarterly reports shouldn’t be sent just a few days before the deadline with an URGENT tag. Set reminders to send out your information requests and reminders with plenty of time to complete them.

Remember, if every email you send is categorized as URGENT or PRIORITY, eventually, those words attached to your name will mean nothing. When you truly have an urgent request, you will be scrambling and begging your coworkers, project directors or finance staff to meet your deadline. Use those URGENT tags thoughtfully!

Get Organized

This should seem simple enough – grants only come with a few deadlines and a little bit of paperwork, right?! Ha! Recently, I had to request a second portable hard drive for my grant files. My Outlook calendar is full of reminders, deadlines and alarms. How can one person possibly keep so many items straight?

Organize your work in a way that makes sense to you. The better organized you are, the more effectively and efficiently you will be able to communicate your needs to others. We have to be aware of deadlines to request information from others. There is no “correct” way to organize grant files and deadlines. Paper calendars, iCal, Google Calendar, Google Docs and grant software can all be helpful resources. Reach out to fellow grant managers if you need specific ideas or tried and true methods. It has been my experience that grants people will share what works for them.

Sensible organization will look different for each person and could differ between grants, funders and projects. Keeping things in order will also aid you in my next tip on answering questions.  

Prepare for Questions

If you have time to prepare before you present grant information to non-grants managers, brainstorm questions that may come up. Questions can be scary. When I started in this position, I was terrified that someone higher up than me would ask a question I was unprepared to answer. Would it jeopardize my position if I was unable to answer? Surprise – it didn’t.

Even though we are super cool, super smart grants managers, we aren’t super magical, walking grants encyclopedias. It is okay to say, “I am not sure how to correctly answer that question, I will research it later today and get back to you.” Being open to questions and honest with your answers will ensure everyone is on the same page.

Use your Resources

Cite the CFR, funder guidelines, Notice of Funding Opportunity, GMBoK Guide and any other resource you have access to. Often, I will have copies of the resources I am citing on hand if anyone wants to review them. This helps my confidence particularly if I am delivering “bad” news.

It can be both intimidating and exciting to delve into a topic you love in front of your peers, bosses, or clients. I always take a moment to breathe deeply and begin my presentation calmly. Remember – you are an asset to your organization. You were chosen for your position because you’re knowledgeable, resourceful and capable. And please, let me know if you have other tips for communicating with non-grants managers!

Emily Judice-Hodges is a grant coordinator in the Support Services division of the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office in Lafayette, LA. She currently serves on NGMA’s Education Committee. Emily may be reached at [email protected].