A Tale of Two Federal Program Officers

May 9, 2024 | Grant Writing

Two people holding up sheets of paper in front of their faces - one has a drawing of a smiley face and one is a sad face

It was the best of responses; it was the worst of responses…

A grant professional’s workload often centers around application deadlines. I have been tracking a funding opportunity for a client for over a month now. The 2023 application was released in early-April, and I expected the same to be true for 2024. Since nothing new has been added to the federal agency’s website or grants.gov, I decided to reach out to the main contact listed on the grants.gov website.

While he responded in less than 24 hours, his words were less than helpful and downright condescending. It started with “please be advised” and went on to tell me how he had no way of knowing what I was looking for because on that day there were 2,605 current opportunities in the grants.gov database. He suggested that “Questions with reference to a specific program should be addressed to The Program Manager for said Program in Said Program Office.” Yep, that’s a direct quote, capitalizations and all.

What I wanted to say is that I know there are over 2,000 current and forecasted opportunities in the grants.gov database daily, and when you consider closed and archived opportunities, you’re talking about tens of thousands of grant programs. That is why I gave him the name of the program and the Assistance Listing (formerly CFDA) number so he’d know the specific opportunity I was referencing. Also, he was listed as the contact in grants.gov, so if he is the wrong person to turn to for questions, how was I supposed to know that?

Instead of making a snarky reply (though that was my knee jerk reaction), I dug deeper, found another contact listed in the 2023 announcement, and sent the same email. This response could not have been further from the first – she was kind, helpful, explained what she knew, and gave me multiple ways to track the funding opportunity that was delayed this year and expected to be released sometime in the summer months.

This was a reminder that not all program officers are created equally. I’m sure you’ve had the same experience if you’ve spent enough time in this profession.

I am all about building relationships with my funders, especially the individuals that I’m sending regular narrative reports, reimbursement requests, and other paperwork to. I tend to call and introduce myself shortly after an award is made. If I have a complicated question or weird scenario, I will pick up the phone and talk through the situation so we can come to a successful conclusion together.

Program officers can make or break the success of your grant programs. Here’s a handful of ways they have greatly helped me over the years:

• When the one and only item on our budget could not be purchased because our selected vendor said a part was currently out of production, the funder talked me through our options and helped me determined the right course of action. Because our project ended up being delayed, the program officer went ahead and gave us a time extension so it wouldn’t be a problem later.
• Because our agency was always quick to spend our public safety equipment grants, twice my program officer asked if we wanted additional money another agency couldn’t spend. All we had to do was submit a budget and spend the funds in six months. Of course, we said yes!
• The first time I met a particular program officer for a grant training I was heavily pregnant with my first child. For the next 15 years, every time we spoke, she asked about my son. Her kindness always made my day.

People like the ones I mentioned make my job and life so much easier, and I hope they can say the same about my work as a grant manager. So, to each program officer out there, remember that grant seekers don’t have the same knowledge you do, and when we turn to you for help it’s because we’ve run into a wall and need your insider’s assistance.

I want to give a shoutout to all the helpful program officers out there. I see you, and I gratefully appreciate you! And to my unfriendly email fella, sorry if you were having a bad day. Maybe this week is better; I certainly hope so. But if that’s how you normally operate, maybe you’re in the wrong profession.

Amanda Day
Fundraising HayDay

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