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Grants Administration: When You’re Stuck with a Bad Decision

By Kate Caldecott

We’re adults. We know we don’t get to have things our way all of the time. If you are a grants administrator, there may be times when you don’t agree with the decision that the final approving body makes. What should you do? What are your choices?


First you need to determine if you have a problem with the decision or the decision-making process. If the process is dysfunctional, it could lead to poor or ill-informed, decisions on an ongoing basis. However, if the approving body has a thorough process for considering options, access to appropriate expertise to answer questions and vibrant debate, then it is the decision itself that you have an issue with.


So what are your options if you feel that the board, authorising committee or assigned person is making the wrong call?


Grantmaker Decisions



Object, But Respect

The course you take will depend on the gravity of the situation. If you believe that the action being taken could jeopardize the organisation, or may not even be legal, you have an obligation to act.


On the other hand, there are times when there is nothing explicitly wrong with the decision, you just don’t believe it’s the best choice. In this case, you should voice your objection, and move on. Good people can disagree. And they can disagree specifically because they’re all trying to do the right thing.


If the outcome does not jeopardize the organisation or its mission, then state your case and respectfully carry out the decision that’s been made.


Advocate for Future Change

Sometimes groups make decisions that do not threaten the health of the organisation, but that lead the organisation away from its mission. If these choices are allowed to accumulate over time, the organisation may find itself powerless to have any impact on the issue(s) it was created to address.


On other occasions, decisions may be motivated more by personal and political connections, than by the designated evaluation criteria. This not only dilutes the mission, it erodes the organisation’s credibility and the community’s sense of trust.


Unfortunately, as a grants administrator, you may not have the authority to correct these situations. In these cases, you have to commit yourself to a longer, more strategic course of action. In addition to stating your objection as described above, look for opportunities to influence the direction the organisation is going and to change decision maker’s perceptions. Do what you can to ensure that the group understands that for the current round, the decisions need to align with the criteria and priorities that were published in the Guidelines. Refer to agreed upon best practices and federal guidance for grantmaking. Use statistics, examples and documentation to support your point. If the intention is indeed to take the grantmaking program in a new direction, you may need to revise the Program Guidelines.


Documentation – Your Best Friend

Your best defense in these situations is a solid body of documentation. While it may seem time consuming and bureaucratic, making sure that your public documents (such as your Program Guidelines and the Terms & Conditions of your contracts) align with your internal documents (your policies and your procedures/operations manual) will help prepare for these situations. The objective is to have evidence drive decision making and to create a culture of compliance and transparency.


Your policies should include a description of the decision-making process. Ideally, elected officials do not directly participate in the selection process. Rather, they follow Management recommendations. Documentation of how the decision-making process is supposed to work can remind people of their roles and help keep everyone in line.


Finally, regular audits are an important tool. Sometimes the powers that be need an outside authority to remind them of what’s appropriate. Regular audits help keep the process on track.


State, Escalate, Resign

If the decision making body is taking a turn that puts the organisation at risk, or that is not inline with their legal or fiduciary responsibilities, you may need to take measures to protect yourself. State your objections and ask that they be recorded. Make sure that your concerns have been delivered to the more than one member of the decision-making body, and if possible to the full group. Recommend that they get legal advice, or perhaps a second opinion, before making their final decision. If all else fails, you may want to resign.


Hopefully, it will never come to this, but we grapple with some tough decisions in trying to build a better world. Grant program administrators are closely connected to the ins and outs of grants management while members of the decision-making body are more focused on the big picture for the community. Decision makers may also be subject to political pressures that impact their choices. There may be times when you find yourself having to manage a poorly thought out project that you feel should never have been approved in the first place. Consistent communication with decision makers will help minimise these incidents. If you would like support or guidance for communicating with your committee or board or revising the decision-making process, please contact me at Kate@katecaldecott.com.au or 0447 227 598.


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  • Kate Caldecott worked with me on Australia Post’s Our Neighbourhood Community Grants program. She assisted with the grant process design and SmartyGrants grant management implementation.

    In working with Kate, I would describe her as being: passionate, knowledgeable, dedicated to community with a willingness to going the extra mile, above and beyond. It is always a pleasure to work with Kate.

    - Erin McKenzie, Community Events and Partnerships Advisor, Community Relations Australia Post
  • This is the perfect opportunity for me to thank you, in particular, ….. for the outstanding customer service you have all provided. You have not only helped us use SG effectively, but kept the panic at bay. There is lots more to learn about what SG can do and I’m sure we will be in regular contact …….

    Thanks to you all – you are fabulous!

    - Debra Slater-Lee, Programs Manager State NRM Office (WA)
  • Being a complete newbie on all aspects of Smartygrants I was daunted by the task of being completely responsible for the outcome of a major grant funding round at the Shire. I did the training and it still did not make much sense to me until I had my first session with Kate. The way in which Kate was able to clarify, explain and help me understand the rationale and functions of the system was brilliant, her manner always patient and professional, and her willingness to transfer knowledge and information commendable. Thanks to Kate I am now a confident user of Smartygrants

    - Marilyn A Gippsland VIC
  • Kate’s involvement in the final stages of the major review of two of Sunshine Coast Council’s funding programs added significant value to our work. As well as identifying additional sources of information for analysis, and suggesting enhancements to data presentation, Kate provided a professional critique of the review, validating our analysis of the review findings and the options identified in our report to Council.

    - Margaret Cattanach Team Leader Community Connections Community Services Sunshine Coast Council