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Grant Proposal Staffing Plans: Payroll Titles vs Proposal Titles vs Real-World Duties

We’ve written about proposal staffing plans before, but staffing plans seem to confuse many of our clients and, presumably, many others. As we’ve explained previously, staffing plans are intertwined with other proposal elements (e.g., project description, budget, budget narrative, organization chart, job descriptions, etc.). Like all aspects of proposal writing, these elements—which are in a state of flux as the proposal moves from conceptualization to final draft—must be internally consistent in the submission package.

This makes the basic staffing plan the backbone of the entire proposal, which is frequently overlooked in the pressure-cooker days leading up to the submission deadline. One issue that often creates a strong potential for internal inconsistencies is the difference between payroll job titles and proposal job titles. All public agencies, and many larger nonprofits, have standardized job titles that are linked to salary steps and formal job descriptions. But those job titles may not match proposal job titles—and they don’t need to match.

For example, I was hired to work for Mayor Tom Bradley as a 22-year old long haired acolyte of Saul Alinsky* in 1974. I actually had two titles, neither of which had anything to do with my actual duties. My payroll title was “Administrative Assistant,” which didn’t impress me until I learned that “Administrative Assistant” was actually a fairly high level pre-management position in the LA City personnel system—not a coffee fetcher, as I’d first imagined. It turned out that many LA City lifers toiled for years before finally rising from Junior Admin Assistant to Admin Assistant to the ne plus ultra of Senior Admin Assistant. A friend worked for the City of LA for 33 years, starting as a Junior Admin Assistant, but never made to Senior Admin Assistant.

In LA I was actually being paid under a large federal Office of Community Services (OCS) grant. The OCS grant was being used in part to fund a visionary but ultimately pointless program called the LA Volunteer Corps, which was housed in Mayor Bradley’s office. My working title, “Evaluation Specialist,” was included in the original OCS proposal, and I was hired to supposedly evaluate the Volunteer Corps.

In reality, I got the job through a connection who wired the interview for me (I know you’re shocked to find corruption in a big city mayor’s office), even thought I know nothing about evaluation. No one actually wanted the Volunteer Corps evaluated, however, so that didn’t matter. The Evaluation Specialist position was included in the proposal to impress grant readers, and someone had to be tagged with it.

Suddenly I was the Evaluation Specialist, with a payroll title of Admin Assistant. But I din’t do either on the job. Instead, once my boss, Deputy Mayor Grace Montañez Davis, learned I knew how to write grants, I mostly wrote proposals for nonprofits interested in City of LA funding. I’d get a call from Grace and we’d go to see Mayor Bradley, who would introduce me to some nonprofit Executive Director. I’d interview them and write their proposal, which the City would then fund. It wasn’t all that different from our approach at Seliger + Associate, except that our proposals aren’t usually wired.**

When you develop proposals, don’t worry about your organization’s formal job titles—just pick titles that more or less match the imagined job duties in the proposal and that have the right salary ranges for the grant budget. Then dream up proposal job titles that match the project concept. Make sure the proposal job titles are consistent in all proposal elements but that the budget reflects the actual salaries tied to real organization job titles. After funding, none of this really matters, since the nominal Outreach Coordinator might end up doing case management in the real world.

* My training in Saul Alinsky community organizing is the only thing that connects me to Hillary Clinton, who is quite a bit older than me, and President Obama, who is quite a bit younger.

** Some proposals we write are wired, like the reprogrammed funds proposals Jake recently wrote about.