When challenges threatened to prevent Lori Ciccone, UNLV Executive Director, Office of Sponsored Programs and her team from meeting the expectations of faculty seeking research funding, she used three key strategies to drive success across the institution.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) is a ’young’ R1 university in the heart of Las Vegas. Founded in 1957 as a small branch college, it has grown into a thriving research institution serving 30,000 students and supporting medical, dental and law schools. Research is increasing at UNLV and when Lori Ciccone arrived in 2018 to lead the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP), she found a team facing significant challenges that were preventing them from effectively supporting faculty:
- Increasing number of faculty seeking funding
- Staff turnover and shortages
- New regulations and increasing compliance demands
UNLV represents a real-world case study demonstrating the broad trends researchers and research offices have faced for more than a decade.
An “arms race” for funding
In 2012, the Research Universities Futures Consortium called the competition for U.S. Federal funding an “…arms race to compete for these funds…” Ten-years later finding research funding opportunities “…continue to be the most demanding elements of the research life cycle.”
Increasing research funding and diversifying funding are the top priorities for research office leaders but dwindling budgets, staffing shortages and competing priorities have resulted in less direct support for researchers. Research office staff are often stretched too thin for one-on-one consultations with faculty or embedded departmental support. As a result, overburdened researchers return to familiar sources of funding rather than seeking out new sources.
A gap between researchers and research offices
Both researchers and research offices are being asked to do more with less. While they share a common challenge, a real or perceived gap exists between the groups.
Eighty-four percent of researchers report searching for funding themselves but expect the research office to facilitate access to funding opportunities – only 49% report receiving assistance.
To close the gap, research office administrators need to find effective funding discovery tools and efficient communication strategies to promote targeted funding directly to faculty.
How UNLV overcame the challenges
At UNLV, Ciccone took action to ensure her team was supporting the university’s mission and goals. She focused her strategy on addressing key issues: staffing shortages, managing compliance issues and meeting faculty expectations.
1. Building a strong team
She built the staff to capacity, increasing it by 30%. She addressed issues of turnover by developing staff and growing internal expertise. Importantly, she implemented a departmental leadership path so team members could see a future for themselves. She also created a new position: Research, Scholarly and Creative Activities Development Manager, which is dedicated to searching for funding opportunities in Pivot-RP and helping researchers use the tool to find funding on their own.
Pivot-RP’s features simplified funding discovery and related processes for UNLV staff and faculty. Ciccone notes limited submissions, internal opportunities, saved searches, tracked opportunities and identifying collaborators are favorite features.
2. Communicating opportunities
Along with investing in Pivot-RP and a second tool Cayuse, the Office of Sponsored Opportunities (OSP) implemented a robust internal communications plan. The team now sends a branded, targeted email newsletter, Funding Friday, every week. Another Pivot-RP feature, ‘Curated Opportunities,’ which automates searches for funding opportunities, helps the OSP identify funding opportunities to include in the newsletter.
The email program became an overwhelming success. More than 60% of newsletter recipients open the emails and the team has even received kudos from faculty, “In case no one says it often enough, thank you for the regular funding emails.”
3. Think like a marketer
Research offices of any size can build similarly successful programs to overcome resource challenges and provide better support to research faculty.
To build efficient communication strategies that reach faculty with relevant funding opportunities, Ciccone and her team’s success shows that research officers can benefit from thinking like a marketer:
- Target communications by segmenting the audience. Create targeted groups around research areas and initiatives, institutions and centers, or departments.
- Send out newsletters consistently, at a regular cadence.
- Automate newsletter content and deployment. Embed ‘Dynamic Results’ and ‘Curated Lists’ of relevant funding opportunities.
Creating touchpoints outside of email will provide faculty with more ways to learn about funding opportunities. Pivot-RP makes it easy with features and functionality:
- Public Groups within Pivot-RP allow users to self-subscribe based on their research interests.
- Embedded links to Curated Lists and Dynamic Results provide access to funding opportunities directly from frequently visited webpages.
- Curated Lists support special initiatives such as DEI-related research.
- Links to Curated Lists can be shared on Twitter or other social media platforms.
Finally, measure the results of communication efforts and share successes with university leaders:
- Use Google Analytics or social media platform analytics to measure impact.
- View statistics within funding solutions to measure traffic and usage.
- Ask for feedback. Iterate. Continue moving forward.
Watch the webinar recording, Doing More with Less: Maximizing Exposure to Funding Opportunities with Efficient Communication Strategies with UNLV’s Lori Ciccone and Eddie Neuwirth, Clarivate Senior Director, Product Management.
Learn more about ways to drive research excellence at your institution.