In this Hero Highlight, we sat down with eCivis’ Customer Success Manager, Kailee Wolterstorff. At eCivis, her role is to advise clients on how they can save time and hassle when it comes to finding and managing grants through their grant management systems. And as a former city grants administrator, no one better understands the challenges new grant professionals endure than our very own in-house hero, Kailee.
Life as a Public Servant and Grants Administrator
When government clients come to her, citing pain points in standardizing their grants processes or finding funding for their respective localities, she knows exactly what it’s like to be in their shoes. Having been thrown into grants management herself with little to no guidance, Kailee was charged with the enormous task of figuring out how to establish standard grants management policies and procedures for the City of Suffolk, Virginia. Not only did she help the City adopt an enterprise grants management system to help more departments, but she also enabled more grants administrators across several departments to find more funding that was vital to revenue.
Specifically, she led the charge in helping the City expand pre-and-post-award functions in eCivis’ grants management system as well as data integration capabilities. By the end of the implementation, the City went from two users on the system to 15 users across 12 departments. Now, each department has a designated grants official to find and manage funding. Ultimately, Kailee helped the City empower other fellow grants administrators so they could save time searching and applying for grant opportunities. As a result, the City was able to be more aggressive in pursuing competitive grant funding and relieve the use of taxpayer dollars to fund major projects.
One notable project that the Public Library won was the American Dream Grant to support English learning as a second language. The library was able to offer classes for non-English speakers, which (til today) continues to bring the community together. Additionally, the Parks and Recreation department won a $100,000 grant through a local foundation that enabled the department to build an American Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant playground in the downtown area.
Now, as a trusted advisor for many government clients, Kailee spills her secrets to success as a former public servant and grants administrator.
Plan for the Long-Term
When it came to deciding on a grants system, Kailee brought in a variety of vendors for consideration–focusing on who could help save time finding grant funding, managing awarded funding, and reporting on performance. For Kailee and her team, planning for the long-term of managing the closeout of any awarded funding was essential.
“When looking at competitors, they all had a research function of some type, but it wasn’t as functional or robust as eCivis,” Kailee said. “Other systems were also unable to integrate as well with ours and couldn’t be as flexible as we needed.”
The ultimate goal for Kailee and her team was to find a system that would not leave them stuck in Excel sheets managing a software platform at the same time, which would seriously hinder collaboration for the City. It was a priority for Kailee that she and other grants administrators would be able to easily collaborate with the finance and accounting departments. “eCivis had the entire package of everything we needed,” she said.
Get Buy-In Early On
As a new grants administrator, Kailee had to do a lot of pitching to her supervisors to expand the City’s current grants management system. The key to convincing leadership was getting them excited about the efficiencies and benefits early on.
She was able to foster that excitement once she was able to demonstrate what the system could do in finding grants faster as well as its ease of use. What particularly sold leadership on the system is that it enabled the right staff to take ownership of the grants process, leaving less of the burden and responsibility to them. She would even send them grant opportunities summarized by eCivis so the leadership team could see how many more grants the City could pursue.
Additionally, Kailee advised that those championing the grants system assess the needs of users and determine who absolutely needs to be in the system itself. “Consider what your major grant programs are and who’s required to keep those running,” She said. “Once you narrow that down, those people can be your users and champions in the system.”
*Pro Tip: Get Input from Diverse Stakeholders
The most important piece of advice for fellow grants administrators is when selecting a grants management system or tool, make sure to get insights and input from a diversity of stakeholders–not just fellow grants administrators.
First, Kailee recommends bringing stakeholders together through grant town halls to hear top concerns and challenges–and allow other staff to ask questions. Then, once determining who needs access to the grant system, make sure to bring in representatives from as many relevant departments as possible.
“Get finance involved from the get-go,” she said. “For us, we also knew that Parks and Recreation and the Law Enforcement departments would be using the system. Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) had many different communities they served and also needed to be involved.”
Having all these different perspectives is essential to making a decision on a grants management system. “If you have an all grants administrators team, you’re going to see everything the same way,” Kailee said. “You need to include all stakeholders when assessing software so you can make the most informed decisions based on a variety of needs in terms of grants.”
“No two grants are the same,” Kailee concluded. “That can be the biggest frustration because each grant program, application, and even receiving an award is different. I’m still learning even as I advise my clients.”