Sarah Ott, Grants Consultant, Hanover Research 

With the influx of post-secondary institutions adding research to their strategic plans, many grants officers and administrators are interested in building their capacity to apply for and receive research grant funding.  Many of these institutions understand the need to assess and build upon their institutional capacity, but fewer understand the value and importance of building their “individual capacity:” the capacity of their faculty and staff to write winning proposals and manage funds post-award.

“Organizational silos of non-communication lead to capacity mismatch. Organizations that do not balance institutional capacity with individual capacity are on a course for some choppy waters at best and a Titanic experience at worst,” says Becky Jascoviak, Grant Writer for Kidsalive International.
number84In our experience at Hanover Research, the best approach to take toward building a stellar research grant funding portfolio is to assess where your institution stands on both the individual and institutional capacity continuum in the here and now. After you have a general idea of where you stand in relation to your peers and in relation to your past, your next step should be to work on building capacity in five core areas: grants infrastructure, individual research expertise and experience, facilities and equipment organizational research culture, and partnerships. Of course, the timeframe and success of capacity building will be influenced by your current level of capacity, the size of your organization, and the age of your organization, among other factors.

Below we offer some ideas on building capacity; some require small changes, while others may require organization-level policy decisions. It is most important for an organization to choose those building activities which they can undertake at this time, whether small or large, and set an action plan in place to implement changes. Once capacity building has been successful in one area, it should serve as incentive to build other areas, and perhaps, work toward shifting your organizational research culture.

Grants Infrastructure

Assign staff within the organization explicit responsibilities to manage research grants and/or contracts with an external organization to take on some responsibilities. The role of these individuals should include: identifying funding opportunities and disseminating information about these opportunities; assisting with all aspects of grant proposal preparation; and, managing the grant process from planning to submission. While reassigning duties or creating a new position may seem difficult from both a financial and resource standpoint, organization’s must keep in mind the increased likelihood of securing funding when staff and/or contracting agencies assume these responsibilities.

Individual Research Expertise and Experience

Select an experienced PI (mid-to-senior level of career, with 5-30 years of research experience). He/she will be most likely to have success at garnering additional funding. It is important that the PI have experience leading projects and have a modest amount of publications. Choose individuals who intend to stay with the organization throughout the duration of the funded project. If the organization does not have an individual on staff that meets these criteria, they may want to consider partnering with a senior PI at another organization. This arrangement will still allow your organization to receive the amount of funding needed to carry out the project on your side. In addition, your organization can help less experienced staff work towards becoming a PI by structuring a research project to be supported by a senior PI (internally or at a partner organization) and a more junior Co-PI. Other ways to help less experienced staff work toward becoming a PI include: helping the individual to publish manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, supporting professional development around research, providing assistance in connecting them with mentors, offering small internal grant support to get a pilot research project off the ground, and by assisting in identifying grant opportunities that are specifically geared toward early investigators or, at least, do not discourage them as applicants.

In addition to identifying appropriate individuals to serve as PIs, you will need to acquire or identify existing research support staff. Staff may include biostatisticians, research assistants, graduate students, and technical writers. They can assist with study design, managing data, conducting analyses and writing sections for proposals. You might hire a new staff member, use project funding to support an existing staff member’s time, or contract with an external employee.

Facilities and equipment

Do you have enough physical space and the physical tools required to carry out research projects? Organizations should consider:

  • Repurposing or using existing space where a team of researchers can assemble
  • Purchasing or loaning hardware and software necessary for collecting, storing, and analyzing data
  • Developing data safety policies and procedures
  • Providing access to online peer-reviewed journal databases by purchasing access or sharing with a partner

Organizational Research Culture

Fostering a research culture can be a complex undertaking. The first step is to obtain departmental and leadership buy-in. After doing this, your organization can work to develop formal policies around research. Leadership buy-in can be facilitated by informing the leadership when applying for external funding, asking for support letters from leadership that will be submitted along with grant proposals, and keeping leadership abreast of capacity building activities and grant progress along the way. Formal policies and organizational level implementations that may address research culture include: inclusion of research verbiage in mission statements and strategic plans, creation of research-based staff positions or committees, policies regarding compensation for staff time devoted to proposal production and conduct of research, recognition for community impact of research, and performance evaluations with research incentives (raises, promotions, and/or tenure).


Develop and build upon existing partnerships. Partnerships can be intra- or inter-organizational. Inter-organizational partnerships can both help to meet an immediate need to secure grant funding and to build an organization’s capacity to receive grant funding in the future. For instance, if one of your partners has a staff member who can serve as a PI on a research grant, you can use this to your advantage in securing funding in the short-term. A long-term benefit is that your staff person who serves as a Co-PI and your organization by serving as a co-applicant both gain needed experience to attract future research funding – increasing your own capacity. Partners can help with production of manuscripts, mentoring, resource sharing, access to data, providing expertise, and serving on an external advisory group.  However you use a partner’s services, you should always ensure you set clear expectations and work to encourage future partnerships.

“Individual capacity is what any one person can do themselves, while institutional capacity is what an entire organization can do or accomplish,” continues Becky Jascoviak. Institutions can better position themselves to secure research grant funding by expanding capacity across both of these verticals – establishing a process-driven infrastructure and developing a funding support team of capable faculty PIs.

What can your institution accomplish, and how can Hanover Research Grants Consultants help you achieve this goal? Learn more about the tiers of grants consultant support by clicking on the document image below.




About the Author:

Sarah Ott, Grants Consultant, Hanover Research

Sarah has ten years of grant writing experience. Prior to Hanover, she worked at two large academic health sciences centers (WVU and UTHSCSA), collaborating with faculty and physicians across different specialties in interdisciplinary community-health-related centers. Sarah’s expertise lies in post-secondary education and health and human services, predominantly writing grants for NIH (R21, R01, R37, and U54), HRSA (R40), CDC, AHRQ, and the Dept. of Education. Sarah also serves as a peer reviewer for PCORI and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Education at West Virginia University. 


BeckyExpert Insight Q&A

Becky Jascoviak, Grant Writer, Kids Alive International

Becky Jascoviak is Grant Writer at Kids Alive International, a global non-profit dedicated to rescuing orphans and vulnerable children.  Drawing from over twenty years of experience  helping non-profits grow capacity, operate strategically, and become more professional, Becky recently spoke with Hanover Research about the importance of, and need for, developing both institutional and individual capacity in organizations that wish to strategically appraoch grantseeking.

Hanover Research: How would you define individual vs. institutional capacity?  

Becky Jascoviak: Individual capacity is what any one person can do themselves, while institutional capacity is what an entire organization can do or accomplish. Capacity building is a buzzword often found in the non-profit sector, especially in grant writing. It is often used in the context of adding facilities, adding staff, or adding programs in order to provide more services, impact more people or just generally grow larger. Capacity building, for the sake of growing larger, or in order to justify seeking grant funding is never a good idea. Building capacity, whether a facility, program or staff, must be the outgrowth of a focused strategy and plan. Not every organization should grow, not that they should be stagnant, but having more, serving more, doing more, is not always the best solution. In some cases pursuing partnerships is a better solution or streamlining services keeps the non-profit on mission. In any case, following Aristotle’s advice, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” should be the aim of organizational capacity, since an organization is made up of individuals.

Hanover Research: In your experience, what typically happens when organizations fail to make the distinction between the two?

Becky Jascoviak: Organizational silos of non-communication lead to capacity mismatch. Organizations that do not balance institutional capacity with individual capacity are on a course for some choppy waters at best and a Titanic experience at worst. Adding programs and responsibilities to a staff that is already overworked and overwhelmed will only lead to resentment and burnout, even if they serve in their passion. Institutions that incorporate individuals who can expand their own capacities will benefit from innovative and creative problem solving solutions. However, organizations that fail to recognize underutilized capacity of certain employees/volunteers will surely learn too late upon that person’s departure from the team.

Hanover Research: What is the best way to develop institutional capacity?

Becky Jascoviak: Institutional capacity is best developed as part of an overall strategic plan of managed growth. In many organizations growth is structured on people first, programs second, facilities third, and the cycle repeats. A person-first growth strategy will lead staff and volunteers to invest more deeply in each person’s life whether through longer engagement, breadth of experience, or more frequent encounters. These individualized investments naturally lead to program outgrowth when paired with other individual capacity development. There is usually some way to develop new programming without a significant facility investment up front. In some cases it is split use, in others it is repurposing what is already at hand. Finally, as these programs mature and develop, the need for designated facilities becomes apparent. By having already created the program and having operated it for a while, the true needs arise versus what is simply ‘in the plan.’ This cycle repeats regularly as individual and institutional capacities continue to align.

Hanover Research: What is the best way to develop individual capacity?

Becky Jascoviak: Individual capacity development should be a collaboration between the individual and the organization. Individuals can choose to grow their own capacity through further schooling or training on their own, but the organization will benefit most when that training is in-line with the employee development plan. Non-profits would do well to learn from some of the well-known for-profit companies that have really mastered this collaboration. Apple’s Blue Sky program is a good example of allowing employees to work on pet projects. Not only does it develop creativity, but also generates employee loyalty.

Hanover Research: Who in the organization is responsible for this development? Why is it important?

Becky Jascoviak: The entire team, from President to program staff, accounting to administration, is responsible for organizational development. Too often organizations utilize only executive or senior staff to generate strategic plans. In many cases, however, it is the front-line employee or daily volunteer who has the best grasp on their individual piece and what can change and grow easily in that component. It is then management’s responsibility to determine where and how the programs are given resources for growth. Finally, it is the executive team and board who lead when it comes to facility planning and staying on-point and mission-focused. It is critical to every organization’s success to have all parties, including those being served, have input into the growth plans of an organization.

Hanover Research: How can grants consultants advance the strategic aims of an organization?

Becky Jascoviak: Grant writers are in a unique position when it comes to strategic development. They are often neither a part of the executive management team nor part of the program delivery team. They exist separately, yet wholly integrated with both. In finding grants, they must be aware of long-range program plans, while at the reporting stage, they are engrossed in the minutia detail. They can find themselves in the unenviable position of playing counselor and detective at the same time. 


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