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PEAK Grantmaking

Championing Career Development


Championing Career Development

When I came into this field, people didn't even know what the heck we were talking about when we said ‘grants manager’ or ‘grants management’ or ‘grants associate.’ … We knew that there was a lot of work that needed to be done to evolve how we were positioned within our organizations.

PEAK Grantmaking President and CEO Satonya Fair

Grants management professionals wear many hats and hold just as many job titles: manager, coordinator, specialist, director, administrator, technologist and even C-suite officer. With so many career pathways available, it can be hard to find your footing. It can be even more difficult to find your professional community and communicate your unique value to colleagues in the philanthropic sector.

For 25 years, we have helped our peers navigate career changes and hone in on their unique skill sets. We authored articles about advocating for new and expanded roles for grants managers, how to demonstrate your market value, and how to advocate for a seat at the table. We even dedicated an entire Journal issue to Career Journeys in Philanthropy.”

The evolution and professionalization of grants management has evolved alongside PEAK Grantmaking. To understand how grants managers first carved out our niche, we turned to PEAK community members to learn from their experiences.

How Far We’ve Come

Even before the Grants Managers Network (now PEAK) was founded in 1996, grants managers were doing a lot more than administrative work. Many were streamlining and reducing the burden on grantees, while others were auditing their organization’s financial records.

Former PEAK board member Suzanne Shea remembered when our network first advocated on behalf of grants managers. “When [GMN] started … it was trying to tell people that grants management is important. It is a career. The first time I heard that, I was like, ‘Oh, you’re right. It is,’” said Suzanne. “This is a professional position and a career path and portable skills and all kinds of things.”

Having a robust network of peers that could share insights and resources with one another helped grants managers professionalize the field. When UpMetrics Chief Strategy Officer Annie Rhodes worked as a grants administrator for the Ford Foundation, she knew her fellow administrators were doing more than processing grants.We were working to empower our internal systems,” she said. Annie went on to management and director roles at Blackbaud, where she helped develop grants management systems that streamlined processes across the sector.

Several members of our PEAK Grantmaking staff, too, advanced their careers while working as grants managers. When PEAK Chief Operating Officer Dolores Estrada joined the program staff at the California Endowment, she was still learning about philanthropy and was even less familiar with grants management. After discovering the role of grants manager, she quickly pivoted to her true passion.

“If you’re a data nerd, a compliance nerd, the calling is across the aisle into the grants management space. After helping that [California Endowment grants management] team with one project, I was sold that grants administration … was my special space in philanthropy. It was really a place where you could see both policy and change happening,” said Dolores.

She made the shift, not least because grants management provided her with greater opportunities and more responsibilities, including managing a team of her coworkers at the California Endowment.

Did you know? In 1999, the first all-day workshop of the Grants Managers Network focused on educational and professional development.

Sharing Knowledge and Resources

PEAK has  created resources over the course of our history that helped our members advance their careers and deepen their knowledge of grants management. In 2003, we launched the Salary Survey, which helped benchmark pay scales for the profession. We continue to release the survey, now known as the Salary Report, on a biennial basis to provide new insights into pay inequities that exist within the sector, including the continuing gender gap and difference between how programmatic peers are compensated compared to operations-level staff with similar responsibilities.

We also issued numerous publications, including Best Practices in Grants Management (2001) and Staffing Grants Management (2008). The latter was a booklet identifying the range of tasks grants managers fulfill so that organizations could better staff the role. It listed a number of competencies, ranging from administrative to strategic as we still know is true today, including the “ability to monitor and apply governmental regulations related to foundations” and the “ability to think and act decisively about program and operational issues.” These publications also made the case for hiring grant management staff.

Our most recent publication, the Grants Management Professional Competency Model (2018), builds on our legacy of professional resources. Grants management professionals can use the Competency Model to define and communicate their role, develop their professional skills, enhance collaboration within their organization, and foster better recruiting and hiring practices. Human Resources staff, too, could use the Competency Model to become better advocates of grants and operations staff. At PEAK, we’re using the Competency Model to focus on advancing  the future of the field. We plan to refresh the Competency Model in 2022 and launch a Fellowship in 2023.

A shot of the Best Practices in Grants Management, which features brown-red and cream background designs. The cover reads "Best Practices in Grants Management. A Project of Grants Managers Network. Council on Foundations."

The cover of one of our iconic publications: Best Practices in Grants Management

One of our most iconic resources is Grants Management 101. “For a lot of people, that’s their introduction to grants management,” said MacArthur Foundation Associate Director of Grants Management Steve Casey. The class, which is available at our annual conference or as a virtual course, provides students with lectures, group activities and relevant resources that allow them to immerse themselves in the world of grants management, which is constantly evolving as is the materials we present.

Interested in developing your grants management skills? Sign up for our upcoming conference here.

Recognizing Your Work

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the vital role grants management professionals play within philanthropy. For Steve, that means getting dollars—millions of dollars—into the community in a time of crisis. “We are now front and center to moving another $120 million worth of bond money. That’s not part of our normal corpus. That wasn’t planned when we started,” he said. “And so to move that and now another $80 million by June [2021] on top of the normal grantmaking … is a new role for grant management writ large.” At PEAK, we’re continuing to have conversations about the changing nature of our work and what that means for the future of grants management professionals.

As we look to the future of the field, our CEO Satonya Fair reflects on how far the sector has come and how far it still has left to go.  “We put out a 2020 salary survey that still reveals how women are underpaid in this profession. Hence, more data that reminds us there’s still a lot of work to do,” said Satonya.

Our progress to date gives hope to the next generation of grants managers, who will undoubtedly work to make philanthropy a more equitable place. As Satonya reminds us, that’s something worth celebrating:

I think about Dolores and myself having been grants managers and gone through our own cycle and time in these operational roles. We have achieved so much as a group and it's so important for us to be able to recognize all of you. … Every person I see in the community, I watched your careers change and transition.

Read more PEAK stories, illuminating milestones in our 25-year journey.