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AMA: Shelly Slebrch


AMA: Shelly Slebrch

We chose Shelly as our top people to look out for based on her thought leadership and extensive knowledge in the grant community.

What is your role at NGMA and what do you do?

I am the executive director of the National Grants Management Association (NGMA).  With an active membership of over 1,400 members and a very small staff, I work full time along with our membership coordinator, who just went full time this month, and a part-time web/graphic contractor.  I am responsible for executing the policies, programs, and initiatives of NGMA.

I have been with NGMA for five years, and during my tenure, membership has increased over 260%, and the association has seen a 150% increase in revenue.  Much of this is attributed to changes I implemented to increase the value of membership including adding many new training options and local chapters throughout the country.

I am continuously working to increase NGMA’s member benefits while continuing outreach and building name recognition for NGMA.  In 2017, NGMA will be introducing a social community forum for members to connect and engage with fellow grantors and recipients.  While continuing to offer a variety of training opportunities, members have requested opportunities outside of the DC area.

I am excited to announce NGMA’s first regional training event in San Francisco in February 2017.  NGMA will be publishing the long awaited GMBoK Guide (Grants Management Body of Knowledge).  At our annual training event in April, we are hoping to offer an opportunity to “meet the feds,” which will allow grantees an opportunity to interact one on one with their federal grantors.

Grants professionals need support to maintain high levels of grants management competency and to establish standards of excellence.  NGMA is growing and getting stronger every day, and I am thrilled that the board and membership has trusted me to lead this amazing organization.

What is the most important part of expanding grants education to your members?

When I talk to groups of prospective members about NGMA, I start by asking, “How many people said, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a grants manager’?”  Everyone laughs, and I follow up with “said no kid ever.”  I ask how many people have read the new guide and, typically, most hands go up.  However, when I follow up by asking how many have read ALL of it, over half the hands go down.

Many members reach out to NGMA for education, because they are a one-man show in their office.  They are THE grant writer and THE grant manager and there isn’t someone else in the office to help problem-solve or wrestle with issues.  Understanding this information on the Internet isn’t always easy. 

This is why they need to reach out to NGMA—to establish a sense of community and to expand their knowledge and expertise.  Facets of the grants community are constantly changing.  NGMA creates opportunities for networking and information sharing among federal / state / local governments, nonprofits, universities, auditors, etc.

I am continually asking my members what training and information is needed and what is the best method to disseminate this information to them.  I work hard to ensure members get the information they need in the easiest way possible and at the lowest cost.

As you know, NGMA’s annual grants training is held every spring in Washington, DC.  This training is held in Washington because NGMA supports federal grants and wants our stakeholders to be able to hear from them directly.  We realize everyone can’t come to this training course, so we have many additional options for them, including webinar trainings, free webcast trainings, and trainings at the chapter level.

As for expanding education, in 2017 NGMA is excited to offer our first regional training on the west coast.  We are bringing our GMBoK training to Texas and possibly other regions in the country as well.  Our chapters have incorporated trainings into their meetings.  We now have the capabilities to webcam a trainer into a live webinar so attendees can interact virtually.

Training is of the utmost importance, and we make every effort to listen to our members and to create and deliver the trainings needed to stay abreast of the latest and greatest in the grants community.

At the NGMA in 2016, the room was engaged and the energy was powerful, what is your secret?

A few years ago, one of the attendees told me that my energy was contagious.  I think about this comment often and realize my presentation just shows the true passion I have for NGMA.  I have seen attendance grow over 120% since I started at NGMA.  I like to start our annual training with some sort of high energy and fun activity.

Last year, every table received a selfie stick to help promote social media postings and encourage attendees to get a little outside of their comfort zones.  This made meeting peers a fun activity (perhaps too much fun).  The year prior I gave away NGMA tumblers to presenters and attendees wanted one as well.  In the middle of my opening presentation, I had attendees look under their tables to find an NGMA tumbler for everyone.  I laugh as I wonder how many people will look under the table in 2017 as they enter the general session.

This two-and-a-half-day training event is intense and sometimes borders on information overload.  With long days, I love kicking off our program by sharing the state of NGMA.  While my excitement comes naturally, I think it’s because I believe that if I am excited, the attendees will feed off that excitement and want to be part of it.

I am currently planning our 2017 training, where grants managers from all over the country will go into “full swing.”  I am thrilled about our theme, as I am a traveling baseball mom and enjoy fitting my home passion into grants management.  The excitement has already started, as we have promoted the opening day with “jeans and jerseys.”  The first at bat will be the opening of World Café, which will allow for community, collaboration, celebration, and change.  It will be fun and thought provoking, while encouraging attendees to think about what they want to learn and how to get engaged with NGMA and their peers in the days and years to come.

If you could mandate one training topic for everyone in the grants community, which would it be and why do you think it is important for everyone to know?

In most industries, continuing education is important.  In the grants community, rules and regulations are constantly changing and grants managers need to be aware of these changes to ensure compliance with the rules and regulations.

If I had to choose just one training course, I would recommend NGMA’s GMBoK (Grants Management Body of Knowledge) training.  This training course provides grants managers with an in-depth understanding of the full grants lifecycle.  Attendees learn general knowledge of the laws, rules, regulations, and policies affecting their administration of federal grants.  It covers the full lifecycle from solicitation and evaluation of applications, to subrecipient monitoring, to closeout and audit.

NGMA ensures that the GMBoK training is constantly updated, so we are teaching the key changes in the industry, whether it be under the 2 CFR 200, the DATA Act, Gone Act, new certifications, mandatory disclosures, etc.

What changes have you implemented in the past few years that have benefited NGMA and its members?  How has it impacted you?

I mentioned earlier the tremendous growth NGMA has in training attendance, membership, and member benefits since I came on board.  One of the most notable changes I have implemented is personally reaching out to members and non-members through meet-n-greets, trainings, and chapter development meetings. 

I found that what NGMA provides becomes real when they can put a name with a face.  I have become a road warrior to share information on NGMA and build relationships throughout the country.  Over the past few years, I have implemented many new trainings and member benefits, which have contributed to our membership growth.  We have introduced and updated our CGMS (certified grants management specialist) credential. To get some training outside of DC, we introduced webinar trainings, and we now offer FREE webcast trainings to our members.  I kicked off ten to fifteen chapters throughout the country … just to name a few.

I travel a lot (I think I have only been home one full week since the beginning of June), but the good and the bad news is that I am lucky in that I can create my own schedule.  Our members are excited to increase NGMA’s name recognition, and they are eager to get local chapters started in their respective markets.  How can I say no to that?  Their mission is my passion.

I have great support at home, and I am comfortable knowing that my family has my back whether I’m on the road, in what they like to call “conference mode,” or working the wee hours into the night to get the job done.  Honestly, it has made my kids learn a great sense of independence and responsibility that may not have been learned otherwise.  To get away from work, cruising is our main family event (that’s where the phones and computers don’t work).  They just want to know why I can’t arrange a “meeting” via a cruise ship in Hawaii or Alaska.

While my mind never stops brainstorming, there are great perks to traveling—my members were surely entertained as I rode a mechanical bull in Austin, TX; saw the falls in Sioux Falls, SD; and hit a winery in California.  In all honesty, the best part is that I get to do something I love—visiting members (and prospective members), talking about NGMA, and sharing all the exciting things I am working on behind the scenes to better them.