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Top 5 Takeaways from the Connective Impact Sub-Grant Workshop

Sub-grants can be an excellent way to quickly secure funding from and build relationships with large donors. But it takes time, effort, and networking to be prepared for the right opportunity. How can small organizations prepare themselves effectively? Connective Impact recently hosted a workshop on this topic featuring speakers from Blumont, DevWorks International, RTI International, and Tetra Tech. Here are the top five lessons we took from the discussion:

1. Focus on Your Organization’s Mission

One of the best things you can do to prepare yourself as a sub-grantee is to measure and share your outcomes. By measuring your results and sharing your work, you establish yourself as an expert in what you do. When primes look for sub-grantees, they look for organizations that have niche skills and experience. As Jennifer Park of RTI International put it, “Local organizations are certainly the experts.” Whatever your mission is, double down on that and share your results. Then, when opportunities arise to partner, you will have the skills and reputation necessary to do so.

2. Build Your Administrative Systems

Sub-grants can be worth a lot of money and can be very helpful as you further your organizational goals. But as your organization grows, you may encounter challenges that a larger organization is more accustomed to dealing with. For example, you may encounter more administrative requirements. Jennifer notes, “Do you have an operations manual? Do you have timekeeping practices?…that’s the make or break.” You need to have the operational systems in place necessary to manage the incoming grant funds.

3. Pursue Scalable Growth 

There may also be such a thing as too much money too quickly. Drew Drozynski from DevWorks International said, “One thing you don’t want to do is give an organization whose operating budget is $50,000 per year [a sub-grant of] $5 million over 5 years.” But, as Roman Ponos from Blumont pointed out, a $500,000 sub-grant could be a perfect growth opportunity for an organization of a smaller size. In fact, using the money strategically can help propel a smaller sub-grantee into a larger implementer that partners with organizations like Blumont. Use these opportunities to grow over time and sustain your organization.

4. Network, Network, Network

Start meeting with prime contractors and donors to share your expertise and story and to build relationships with global organizations in your field. As Roman shared, “I never say ‘no’ to a meeting…I have to know. I want to know. And I also want to share what I know.” All of the panelists agreed that even if the right opportunity is not currently available, it may come up in a few years. If you have taken the time to meet with primes and keep them apprised of what you are doing, they will think of you when the time comes.

5. Don’t Stop Communicating

When asked about make or break skills sub-granting organizations need, the panelists agreed that reliable communication was the most important. “There is no such thing as over communication,” Jennifer shared. Drew agreed, saying that if there is a problem, the prime organization can help address it. “Don’t try to hide it. That makes the problem worse.” Keep this in mind as you network with potential primes. By demonstrating communication skills and transparency early on, you illustrate what kind of partner you can be.

The Takeaway

Positioning yourself to be a subgrantee takes work. But if you do it effectively, it can be transformative for your organization. Jen Peterson of Tetra Tech summarized the panel’s advice well when she said, “Feed your passion, develop your systems, and try to carve out an hour every week to focus on networking.” When the right opportunity comes, you will be ready.


About Connective Impact

Connective Impact regularly hosts webinars for its members and guests from the public to learn about how to identify and partner with organizations in the international development community. Sign up below for the free Connective Impact newsletter, which includes weekly funding updates and resources. In addition, learn how membership in the Connective Impact community can support your fundraising and partnership needs.




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