As I mentioned in class, I began working for the Alabama Humanities Foundation as their grants director about three and a half months ago. As such, I spend almost the entirety of my 40+ hours a week at work dealing with grants and grantees. I manage our application process and grant software, work with potential applicants by answering questions and helping craft applications, process submitted applications, and handle all necessary paperwork (which is often a lot). AHF regrants funds provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), giving approximately $200,000 annually to support organizations across the state with public humanities projects.
Since AHF grants are funded by federal dollars, we must follow federal regulations and procedures throughout our grant process. This complicates our process and often overwhelms the organizations we work with, who may or may not apply for grants regularly. In our readings, Kenning Arlitsch (2013) did a wonderful job explaining the typical federal grant process, and I thought it might be interesting to explore how AHF’s grant process compares to his description.
HOW IT BEGINS
Arlitsch writes that “a grant proposal typically begins with a need” (2013). This is certainly true for AHF grants as well, and we hope for most grant applications, though I won’t assume. While we do not fund research, AHF does fund community organizations implementing humanities projects, including public discussions, lecture series, teacher workshops, interpretive displays, exhibitions, etc. in the fields of history, literature, philosophy, anthropology, and more. AHF typically funds up to $7,500 for most projects and up to $10,000 for documentary films.
ORGANIZING A TEAM
Since our grants are relatively small, most of our applications are completed by one person. We do, however, require applicants to name all the personnel that will be involved in the projects and supply their resumes. Grantees must also have at least one “humanities scholar” involved in the project (mostly to offer advice and guidance) and a separate fiscal agent, not the project director, to handle all financials.
RESEARCH ADMINISTRATION (SPONSORED PROGRAMS)
Research administration at universities is an interesting topic for AHF. AHF gives grants to many universities across the state, and every school’s grants department is different. Some I work with closely, while others deal only with the project director. In the worst-case scenario, we have several universities that we receive no applications from because the department refuses to deal with the “hassle” of $7,500 grants when they have bigger fish to fry.
THE PARTS OF A GRANT PROPOSAL
Narrative: Fairly spot on for our applications, minus the research and publication aspects.
Management Plan: We don’t necessarily call it this, but we do ask for the roles of project personnel and a general time frame of how the project will proceed.
Budget Justification: We do not require this, but we do expect all budget items to be self-explanatory based on the narrative. If our grants committee isn’t sure what a budget item is for, it will be cut.
Evaluation: We don’t ask for this separately, but it is noted that project evaluations are required and will be included in the final report.
Dissemination: We don’t fund research, so we don’t ask for this.
Sustainability Plan: We do not ask for this in the grant application, but it often comes up in discussions with the grantee. AHF does not want to fund the same projects every year and has rules to prevent doing so.
Advisory Boards: We also don’t require these, though the humanities scholar often fits in this role.
Letters of Support: We do not require letters of support, but they can be included in grant applications. They’re often helpful, especially if the organization is relatively new or the project personnel is not well known in the humanities community.
The budget is easily the most important part of the grant proposal, and the most difficult to complete. AHF has detailed budget guidelines, and any misstep can result in a decrease of funding. During the review process, I would estimate that 80% or more of the time spent on any application is spent reviewing the budget. AHF requires a 1:1 match (either cash or in-kind) on most of our grants, and a 2:1 cash-only match on documentary films. We do not fund indirect costs, but we do allow up to 15% of the total project cost to be calculated into the grantee’s cost share.
GRANT REVIEWERS AND REVIEWER COMMENTS
This is perhaps the best part of my job and the most beneficial to applicants. AHF values the benefits of helpful feedback and allows me to offer lots of it. We require all applicants to submit a preliminary narrative and budget early in the process, allowing me to offer feedback, and I offer to review the entire application before submission. By working with the applicants so closely, most of our applications reach the grants committee with few issues. More feedback is offered in the instances that grants are denied or not funded fully.
We do not require regular reporting, only a final report at the completion of the project. However, we may check in at any time and often perform site visits as well. To “encourage” adequate reporting, we only release a portion of the awarded funds up front. The remainder is disbursed when we get the final report.
In conclusion, working with grants can seem overwhelming, and it’s certainly a lot of work. But the process is easier when you take it step by step and take advantage of all resources, including helpful grants directors!
Arlitsch, Kenning. (2013). Committing to Research: Librarians and Grantsmanship. Journal of Library Administration, 53:5-6, 369-379. DOI:10.1080/01930826.2013.876828
Alabama Humanities Foundation. (2018). Grants. Retrieved from http://www.alabamahumanities.org/grants/