Five Questions With Casey: Satonya Fair on Grants Management’s Mission-Critical Work

Posted September 21, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog fivequestionswithsatonyafair 2016

As Casey’s direc­tor of grants man­age­ment, Satonya Fair over­sees the admin­is­tra­tion of more than $100 mil­lion in grants and con­tracts annu­al­ly. She leads the Grants Poli­cies and Pro­ce­dures Com­mit­tee and is a mem­ber of both the Foun­da­tion’s com­mit­tee of man­agers and bud­get devel­op­ment team.

Before join­ing Casey, Fair served as a senior grants man­ag­er at Citi Foun­da­tion, where she over­saw the organization’s North Amer­i­ca Com­mu­ni­ty Grants Pro­gram. She holds a law degree from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cincin­nati and a bach­e­lor’s degree in psy­chol­o­gy and polit­i­cal sci­ence from Mia­mi Uni­ver­si­ty in Ohio.

In this Five Ques­tions edi­tion, Fair talks about the role of grants man­agers and how her work helps advance the Foundation’s mis­sion of secur­ing bet­ter, brighter futures for America’s kids and families.

Q1. What is grants man­age­ment? How is a grants man­ag­er dif­fer­ent from a pro­gram officer?

We all work to ful­fill the Foundation’s mis­sion to ensure brighter futures for vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren and fam­i­lies. Pro­gram offi­cers do this by man­ag­ing their des­ig­nat­ed body of work, and they are account­able for the results asso­ci­at­ed with this work. Grants man­age­ment staff oper­ate across units to help the Foun­da­tion admin­is­ter funds in a way that is pro­gram­mat­i­cal­ly savvy and oper­a­tional­ly effi­cient. As part of this work, we col­lab­o­rate with the Foundation’s finance depart­ment, lead­er­ship and pro­gram staff to ensure that we are estab­lish­ing and fol­low­ing poli­cies and pro­ce­dures that best sup­port our grantees and Casey’s over­all mission.

Q2. You’ve worked on the pro­gram­mat­ic side of phil­an­thropy in the past. What prompt­ed your shift to a dif­fer­ent role behind the scenes?

I like to think that I have a cor­po­rate mind­set with a phil­an­thropic heart. I start­ed my career as a child and fam­i­ly advo­cate. There were many orga­ni­za­tions in my local com­mu­ni­ty that want­ed to make a dif­fer­ence for chil­dren and fam­i­lies. Most were small orga­ni­za­tions with great pro­grams, but their staff often lacked the time or skills to fundraise.

I was real­ly good at mak­ing the case to get indi­vid­u­als and cor­po­ra­tions to invest mon­ey, time or resources to sup­port promis­ing pro­grams. When I tran­si­tioned to cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ty rela­tions, I saw an oppor­tu­ni­ty to lim­it the hoops non­prof­its jump through to get even small grants so I focused on stream­lin­ing process­es and using tech­nol­o­gy. So work­ing in grants man­age­ment made sense because I under­stood how the right poli­cies and tech­nolo­gies could make the sys­tem work for the peo­ple on the ground who are try­ing to make life bet­ter for kids and families.

Q3. What are some focal points of your work at the Casey Foundation?

Grants man­age­ment staff mem­bers are always work­ing to sup­port the Foundation’s pro­gram­mat­ic inter­ests and rep­u­ta­tion. We have to con­sid­er how grant require­ments impact orga­ni­za­tions dif­fer­ent­ly depend­ing on their size and type. For instance: a large insti­tu­tion and a two-per­son non­prof­it are very dif­fer­ent in terms of their capac­i­ty and how they can man­age our funds. We work to strike the right bal­ance and make the process less bur­den­some wher­ev­er pos­si­ble. We also play a key role in our annu­al bud­get devel­op­ment process, which is dri­ven by our grants technology.

Q4. Tech­nol­o­gy has helped trans­form how phil­an­thropies oper­ate. How has tech­nol­o­gy altered grants man­age­ment at Casey and the sec­tor as a whole?

At Casey and oth­er foun­da­tions, grants staff and direc­tors are becom­ing more skilled in using tech­nol­o­gy and data to improve cus­tomer rela­tions and dri­ve bud­get­ing, report­ing and grant­mak­ing. You have to be com­mit­ted to chang­ing the way you work in order to be more effi­cient and bet­ter serve your phil­an­thropic mission.

Since I came on board in 2010, we have com­plete­ly rebuilt our grants man­age­ment sys­tem using more advanced tech­nol­o­gy. I led the devel­op­ment of a cus­tomized sys­tem that man­ages all grant activ­i­ty through an online por­tal. We’ve become real­ly smart in cod­ing our sys­tem to max­i­mize its effec­tive­ness for staff, grantees and lead­er­ship while gen­er­at­ing data to improve and inform our work. By dis­burs­ing funds more effi­cient­ly, we have sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced the amount of time it takes to process grants. This helps grantees accel­er­ate their work so that peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties can reap the benefits.

Q5. How do Casey’s grants man­agers help the orga­ni­za­tion achieve its mission?

Every­thing we do is about help­ing the Foun­da­tion achieve its mis­sion. Our goal is to ensure that non­prof­its on the ground have the resources they need to car­ry out their work. Achiev­ing our mis­sion is not only about how quick­ly and effi­cient­ly we can get mon­ey out the door. It’s also about being able to work seam­less­ly and effec­tive­ly with our pro­gram­mat­ic peers. We are two halves of the same thing.

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