In today’s era of transparency, commercial supporters need to be able to track spend. That’s why grantors do not like requests that bundle grants for continuing medical education with requests for funding charitable contributions and exhibits.

Those who tease apart their requests and ensure that each piece goes to the right department will improve their chances of success and speed up the process.

At a panel discussion at the 2010 Alliance for CME annual conference, pharma grant department professionals emphasized that educational grants are for independent educational programs, such as national or regional conferences, satellite symposia, enduring materials, and outreach educational programs. They must be compliant with the Accreditation Council for CME’s Standards for Commercial Support and include information about the requester (and any partners), along with accreditation status, needs assessment, educational objectives, topic(s), budget, metrics, and outcome. Requests for these grants must go to the educational department, not sales or marketing.

Noneducational requests would include those for exhibits, corporate signage sponsorships, Internet cafes, product theaters, and corporate advisory board membership, they said. These types of requests should be funneled to sales and marketing. Other noneducational requests could be for charitable contributions, clinical research studies, investigator-initiated studies, and public awareness campaigns. These requests may go to different departments, depending on the company.

Another complicating factor, the presenters said, is that each company may have a different grants system. Company A may want you to make three different applications to three different systems, which keeps things nice and separated but also may make you duplicate efforts. Company B may have you put in two separate applications in one portal; Company C may want you to submit one bundled application through two systems.

“The first question we ask is what type of request it should be: educational grant? sponsorship? charitable contribution?,” said one of the presenters. The next question is whether there are areas of concern, and if so, can they be fixed? Some use keywords to do an initial sort. For example, if the request talks about healthcare providers, it may go to the grants office to determine whether or not it’s education.

As CME funding has gotten tighter, the panelists are seeing a trend toward grantees requesting money for an exhibit, which they then use as an educational grant. Don’t do this, as you likely will get caught, they warned. Many companies already have or are now establishing ways to determine if this is happening, such as having certain dollar amounts trigger an investigation. For example, if a tabletop fee has traditionally been $2,000, and now it’s $20,000, the company will want to look into that, they said.

It may sound like a lot of work to figure out what goes where, but it can make all the difference in whether or not you get funded, said the panelists. “If we have to struggle to tease apart the pieces, we end up just saying no sometimes.”

Meet the Panelists
Kristin Rand, JD, Genetech
Heidi Chandonnet, CCMEP, Shire
Pamela Mason, CCMEP, AstraZeneca
Disclaimer: The statements made in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the presenters or their employers.

Sidebar: Making the Case for Clarity

Three pharmaceutical company professionals told the audience at the 2010 Alliance for CME annual conference that clarity is key in grants requests, and they provided several examples of requests that were pretty murky.

Here’s one:

Case: A local association sent a request letter directly to the sales department asking for a $5,000 unrestricted educational grant for a 200-physician annual meeting. But it mentioned an opportunity to interact with physicians in the exhibit hall and said industry supporters would be recognized in meeting announcements and materials.

Response: Was this a request for an exhibit fee or an educational grant? Because it was sent to sales, let’s assume it was a request for an exhibit fee. In that case, it should clearly state what the exhibit fee is, that exhibit fees are not educational grants, that, if accepted, the sales reps need to agree that all promotional discussions would be outside of the educational activity, and how the education would be separated from promotion (the number of sales reps allowed to attend education, if any, the need to remove name tags and promotional attire, etc.).

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