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Why You Need a Grants Nerd On Your Team

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If you don’t know her at this point, you’ve probably heard her on one of our many webinars breaking down the ins and outs of government grants. 

Maria Howeth, eCivis’ Senior Customer Success Manager, has over 13 years of grant management experience in tribal government, is a proud member of the Choctaw nation, a Certified Grant Management Specialist, and a board member of the National Grants Management Association (NGMA). However, those who know Maria well know that she proudly identifies as a self-proclaimed “grants nerd.” 

In this latest hero highlight, Maria shares how she started learning about grants, the impact of tribal grants on surrounding communities, lessons learned navigating funding during times of crises, and the keys to grant management success. More importantly, she reminds us why every organization needs a grants nerd on their team.

Lessons From ARRA

Maria’s career began on the finance team at the Chickasaw nation. Her role was to help pay invoices that were grant related. The only type of grant she was familiar with at the time were Pell grants. It wasn’t until 2008 when she started working with the Office of Management and Budget for the Chickasaw nation that she attained the responsibilities of managing dozens of grants. Then, the American Recovery and Rescue Act (ARRA) was passed in 2009. 

“It was a trial by fire,” Maria said. “I lead the compliance effort for that funding. When I took over grants, I got to learn all about the federal agencies we worked with, including the Department of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Indian Health Services for the Tribe.”

During her time, she oversaw important grants that addressed substance abuse and mental health in the community, child welfare grants, and even worked on funding from the Violence Against Women Act. 

Driving Community Impact

One thing that Maria stressed is that tribes don’t just use grant funding to support tribal citizens but all surrounding communities as well. 

“There’s a lot of collaboration between the tribe, federal agency and maybe the county or commissioners of the state,” Maria said. “There’s also a lot of community involvement where we don’t just help citizens or other tribal members in the same area but we work to build true community enhancement anytime we get federal funding.”

This holistic community approach was central to the important grant programs she worked on during her time at the Chickasaw Nation, such as addressing substance abuse and helping families through the Violence Against Women Act. She described the tribal medicine wheel approach that holistically addresses every person and aspect of an issue.

“It wasn’t just to address the safety of women but also to create homes for them, house the children, and even offer counseling and help to the offenders,” Maria said. “We used the same approach on substance abuse. You can’t focus on one issue and solve the problem but you have to take everybody into account and help the whole unit.”

Navigating Challenges of Tribal Grants Management

While tribal grants are unique in the sense that they can either be competitive grants or direct set asides from the government (where they don’t have to go through state or county), the administrative and compliance requirements are no less stringent. For Maria, she sees improving grants training and transparency as ongoing issues for tribes. 

“Transparency can be an issue since you can’t have everyone in the same building,” Maria said. “There’s a need for oversight and that transparency so everyone can have their eyes on the same information. We spent a lot of time back then emailing each other to see where we were with our grant goals.”

As Maria sees it, many tribes also lack access to necessary training surrounding grants management itself. “With many grant associations, there’s not a big tribal presence,” Maria said. “So you may find fewer trainings specifically for tribes surrounding topics like 2 CFR 200 and the like.”

Having a single source of truth in an electronic grant system was a game changer for Maria and the teams she worked with. “It’s so important to have an electronic way to document everything and have that central repository,” Maria said. “That’s where you can find those documents when audit time comes around. Before, it could take me a week to pull a report. But with a system like eCivis, I could have it done in 10 minutes or less.”

The Key to Grant Management Success

Maria’s favorite part of being at eCivis is, to no one’s surprise, building relationships within the community and finding anyone with whom she can nerd out on grants. 

“My favorite part of working at eCivis is getting to help more tribes and learn about different tribes and their ways,” Maria said. 

She also loves being there for clients and encourages anyone in grants to seek out training and knowledge and keep asking questions. 

“Look for training out there,” Maria concluded. “I want everybody to remember that you’re not an island, you can reach out, and there are communities around you that are always willing to help.”

 

Ready to be the hero of your own story? Let us help you simplify your grants management so you can drive more impact in your community. 

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