Using Business Development Funnels to Stimulate Increases in Research Funding
- Saundra Evans, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research Services and Project Management, North Carolina A&T State University
- Paul Tuttle, Director of Proposal Development, North Carolina A&T State University
Thanks to our session note-taker, Lucy Deckard!
Key points from the session. We learned:
- Universities often expect to see a steady linear growth in research expenditures; however, it’s not realistic to expect continuous linear growth. Instead, RD growth is similar to small business growth: i.e., it follows an S-curve. The business starts and grows quickly as they innovate, incorporate best practices, and improve. Then they stabilize or plateau. At this point, the business will need to find a new way to grow (e.g., a new market or product or strategy), which can then kick off a stage of rapid growth. Otherwise, the business may decline and ultimately fail. Similarly, North Carolina A&T saw their research expenditures grow rapidly as they established an RD office, learned from NORDP and elsewhere, and incorporated best practices. Then the recession hit, and they saw some decline They realized they had maxed out on the old business model ; they need to break out a new one! This was especially important since university leadership had set a goal of $85M in research expenditures (from the current ~$65M) by 2020.
- NC A&T’s new business model incorporated five strategies: 1) reorganize academic units to better motivate and support research; 2) RD strategic hires; 3) diversify the funding portfolio to include more agencies and foundations, as well as contracts in addition to grants; 4) proactively pursue Federal funding; and 5) Employ business development (funding opportunity) funnels. To implement this new plan, they developed a logic model for how they would reach that $85M goal by creating and maintaining funding funnels at AT&T, following a logic model template provided by Tina Edgerly Campbell in her 2014 NORDP preconference workshop. Then, they distributed the logical model to faculty members so they understood what they were trying to accomplish. They also broke the goal down by college and provided concrete targets year by year – helped get the deans on board.
- Applying the funnel concept to RD, you look at the what the funding rates are and how much you need to put into the top of the funnel to get the dollars you need at the bottom—how do they get to $85M? If you look at typical success rates for many agencies, they are single-digit or in the low teens. So if you assume 10% funding rate, that means they would have to submit $850M in proposals! Developing funding funnels: They realized they needed to identify core funding opportunities with a higher probability of funding and ensure submission of more competitive proposals. They pursued two main strategies: 1) Take a portfolio approach, identifying recurring funding opportunities with the highest hit rates, anticipating the next cycle, strengthening relationships with the Program Officers and starting working on proposals early (before they are officially announced); 2) identify growth opportunities (e.g., new opportunities and new funders, including foundations and industry, and work with the new director of Corporate and Foundation Relations. This includes looking at contracts (e.g., DoD IDIQ and industry contracts) in addition to grants. Worked with faculty to make sure they understand expectations for contracts and that they felt confident they could deliver. Also added capacity in the Grants and Contracts department.
- Helped faculty understand what they can do – worked with them to develop an individualized strategic funding plan (following a Strategic Funding Plan Informational Template provided by from Tina Campbell in her 2014 NORDP preconference workshop). Helps faculty work though what story they want to tell about their careers over the next 20 years (framed as their current situation, emerging or future directions, and professional goals) and then identify a matrix of funding opportunities that will allow them to make it happen. They articulate where they want to end up; for example, “I hope to become one of the go-to researchers in wearable sensors and smart devices in military and civilian environments in the next 15 – 20 years.” Then they get lots of help with finding funders working with their chairs, the RD office, and PIVOT. Before doing this Saundra and Paul talked to deans to gauge their level of commitment. Some chairs use this in their annual evaluation of their faculty. Roll-out of the strategic funding plans and market business development funnel ideas was very low key. Just assistance. Framed as, “we hope this can help you.”
- Where are they now? Nearly 30 faculty now have individual strategic funding plans. Found that using the carrot approach works best. When faculty see other faculty get funded, and when they get tenure as a result of that success, that motivates them. There has been sharply increased interest and proposal activity. Looking at funding expenditures, NC A&T is on the upswing of the S-curve again, but it’s still early days. They hope to be back to report on more progress in the future.
What did you hear at this presentation that surprised you?
- I had never thought of RD as being similar to a small business, but it makes sense.
- I also hadn’t heard of the S-curve in the context of RD
- I thought providing faculty with a formal strategic funding plan to help them explicitly map out their funding strategies in the context of their career goals is a great idea.
- I also thought that using a logic model to communicate the RD strategy to faculty and deans was a really inspired idea.
What resources did you discover at this presentation? Examples: a website, database or software tool. We’ll link to resources on the blog.
- Gov Net by Deltek – can find who has been funded on various contracts and identify RFPs for contracts as well as identifying RFPs before they are issued.
- Similarly, you can use PIVOT to identify funding opportunities before they are officially released by looking for opportunities that are labeled, “pending” rather “confirmed”. Look at the “pendings” and call the PO and ask about the likelihood that will be offered again.
- Not sure if these are publicly available, but Tina Edgerly Campbell’s templates for an RD logic model and for an individual strategic funding plan would be great resources if they are available.
What were the most interesting questions asked by audience members, and what were the presenter(s)’ responses?
Will senior faculty buy into the research funding strategic plan? Sometimes not. But often, they are in a position to start going for bigger team grants, and RD can help them with that. In the new College of Health & Human Services, they have been building faculty-driven micro-research clusters (not top-down) , which can help see these larger projects.
How do faculty get credit in team projects if they are a co-PI? NC A&T has changed the IDC share policy and they now provide credit on their record.
Questioner says they have a lot of initial interest from faculty about pursuing funding opportunities identified in advance, but faculty do not always follow-up. How do you deal with faculty who don’t follow up? From audience: She asks the faculty member, “When do you want me to follow up?” Sends email saying “ping”. Or may, say, “I’m just checking in – is there anything I can help you with?” But still have to expect that some faculty will not follow up.
How does this dovetail with other faculty development activities on campus? They tell faculty, “This is to help you better do the research piece. Talk to us.” They give out cards and make sure the faculty understand that their office is very accessible. In this way, the RD assistance is framed as faculty development and support.
What else from this session should NORDP members know?
It’s interesting to note that the NC A&T RD office has been very careful to frame this as a service so it’s not seen as coercive. They emphasize a customer service culture.