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Keys to Succeeding in Grant Management

by Andy Marker on Jun 04, 2018

Managing the grants that fuel your organization can be a stressful, complicated process filled with meetings, paperwork, and deadlines. But it doesn’t have to be so nerve-racking. You can win more grants, create a collaborative environment in your organization, and build relationships with more grant-making institutions if you have a better grant management system. This frees you to focus on the top priority: fulfilling the vision and mission of your organization.

In this article, you’ll learn the keys to succeeding in grant management, complete with best practices you can put to work today. You’ll also find advice on choosing software systems to automate your process and resources to help your entire grant management team — even if it’s a team of one.

 

Why You Need Grant Management

Grant management, which some funders call a management plan, first and foremost includes all the administrative responsibilities you must complete during the time frame of the grant. When you manage a grant, you have to ensure you keep all the promises you made in your proposal — which means staying in compliance with the terms of the grant, following through on all the deliverables, and submitting reports according to the funder’s requirements.

However, grant management is more than simply ensuring that the terms of any grant are met on time and on budget. Successful organizations have a solid grant management program that starts long before any grant is awarded. Grant management includes strategic planning, efficient grant design, program development and effective tracking, and having sufficient resources to smoothly manage the process.

Grant management means working with all the key stakeholders in your organization to develop your strategy around grants, identify grant opportunities, implement specific grant awards, evaluate successful projects, and streamline future proposals. As the manager of a grant, you will work across departments, interacting with everyone from the CEO to the people who implement the details of the project to the financial team that tracks the money.

The benefits of grant management include the following:

  • Avoid Frustration: How often do you scramble to compile the report you need for your funder? You’re not alone. Tracking and measuring grant progress is the greatest frustration among grant recipients, according to the 2015 State of Grant Management report by Amplifund. The good news is that grant management can help you track grant performance, keep stakeholders in the loop, and improve your ability to collect data and compile reports.
  • Meet Reporting Requirements: Funders have all kinds of reporting requirements, from financial updates to progress checks. Grant management helps you identify at the beginning the information you’ll need to track — and report back on it — as you implement the grant.
  • Improve Your Grants Process: Strong grant management, with clear leadership and well-defined roles and responsibilities, cuts down on inefficiency. You’ll spend less time chasing data and more time reporting the successes of your organization, which can lead to receiving even more grants to fulfill your organization’s mission.
  • Avoid Complications and Penalties: If you mismanage grants, you can expect a range of consequences for your organization. If you do not submit reports in a timely fashion or fail to meet the goals of the grant, you risk losing the grant revenue and may limit the number of grants you can receive in the future. And as your organization grows, you’ll waste time and resources if you have a poor system for finding, tracking, and reporting on grants. A good system will result in greater efficiency and effectiveness.

What Types of Grants Require Grant Management?

Grant management is required for each and every type of grant, including the following:

  • Start-up Grants: These cover the costs of launching a new project or organization.
  • Capital Grants: These generally are used for facilities, construction, buildings, or equipment.
  • General Operating Grants: Also known as unrestricted support, these grants cover daily operations, including salaries and technology, rather than a specific program or project.
  • Program or Project Grants: These are specific plans that are part of your core mission.
  • Planning Grants: Unlike program grants, these help you map out what you want to do, and they typically result in a project that will help carry out your plan.
  • Technical Assistance Grants: These are used to help your organization be more effective in such areas as financial management, strategic communications, fundraising, or evaluation.

Employees’ Roles in Grant Management

While the size of your organization will dictate the size of the grant management staff, remember that people, not administrative tasks, are at the core of your success. In a larger organization, you may have several people filling unique roles and responsibilities. In smaller organizations, one or two staff may be responsible for all the work.

No matter how many staff are dedicated to the grant process, any grant touches all lines of an organization. No one works in a silo. Here are some of the people who will be involved in grant management:

  • CEO and Senior Leadership: Set the mission and strategy for the organization, determine how grants will support the organization, and provide the staffing and budget required for a successful grants program.
  • HR Professionals: Develop the job descriptions, staffing structure, and support to create a successful grant management team.
  • Financial or Grant Accountant: A financial or budget analyst who offers oversight of the grant funds to ensure they are allocated in compliance with the terms of the grant, and also provides financial reporting.
  • Director of Grants Programs: In a larger organization, the director wears a lot of hats. He or she oversees the entire grant program and guides the grant portfolio, monitoring the implementation and reporting for every grant. The director also works with senior leadership and trustees on the long-range planning and strategy of the grants program within the mission and vision of the organization. In addition, the director is responsible for training staff about compliance and governance, as well as developing processes to ensure projects run smoothly and efficiently. Either the director or the grants manager chooses which grants the organization will apply for based on the strategic goals and mission of the organization.
  • Grants Manager: This role balances all projects and grant proposals. The manager typically directs the specifics of any grant, including its structure, the communication with other departments in the organization, and any regulatory compliance. The grant manager may also train staff about compliance issues and processes. The manager works with the director and senior leadership to identify funding opportunities and guides the application process.
  • Grant Writer: In large organizations, the grant writer fills a specific role focused on proposals and reports, and he or she has deep knowledge of the ingredients for successful grant writing. The writer may even maintain a library of similar proposals to streamline the process, so the new grant can draw from previous successes. In smaller organizations, this work may be handled by the manager or coordinator.
  • Grants Coordinator: At the organizational level, the grants coordinator may work with the grants manager to provide day-to-day implementation of projects and offer insight about the strategic direction of the grants program. At the department level, the grants coordinator, often called a grants specialist, is responsible for specific programs within a department rather than programs throughout the organization.
  • Grants Management Associate: The associate coordinates with staff executing the specifics of the grant, as well as conducting day-to-day communication with the financial staff about grant requirements.
  • Grants Management Assistant: Provides the administrative support and any data entry needed for grants processing.

If you receive a federal grant, you will work with two agency officers on the program: the grant management officer (GMO) and the program officer (PO). The GMO is responsible for the business management of the grant, from negotiating the terms of the grant and the funding schedule to compliance with the grant and other regulations. The program officer works with you on the specific program, so they will monitor your progress, read your reports, and supervise your work.


What Is a Grant Management System?

A grant management system streamlines the grant process by helping you identify prospective funders, track the success of proposals, monitor the progress of each grant, and gather the information you need for each report. By developing a system to identify all the requirements and responsibilities, you’ll save time and money in the long run.

A good system provides the data that guides your efforts, which increases your efficiency and effectiveness. You can find and receive more grants, complete more work, and grow your funding to meet your goals as an organization. A grant management system does the following:

  • Coordinates Personnel and Responsibilities: A grant system organizes details ranging from a specific grant to your group’s grant strategy. Once you are awarded a grant, a grant system helps coordinate the staff who implement the project, manage the financial and legal aspects of the grant, and keep key stakeholders informed of progress of the work. At a glance you will know how the project is coming along and ensure nothing falls through the cracks. You’ll also know who is responsible for each task at any point in the project.
  • Organizes Funders: How much do you know about the funders you work with or want to work with? Is the information in a central place where everyone who needs it has access to it? A grant management system puts this information at the fingertips of anyone who needs it. Make sure the grant management system includes the funder’s name and key contacts, their funding priorities, how much they typically award in single grants, and your interactions and grant history with them.
  • Organizes Grant History: Store the details of your grant requests in your grant management system. You can track deadlines for applications, reporting, and deliverables, so you know if you are on track with funders or are falling behind. You can also track trends: which grants were approved and which were not, what projects were approved (or not), and how much you have received for types of projects. It may also help to use this section to store all related documents for a grant, so you have a comprehensive history and a document library.
  • Tracks Prospects and Active Grants: In addition to organizing all the funders you have worked with, you should be able to monitor the status of grant proposals and active grants. A management system lets you see which proposals are pending and the status of grants in progress. In addition, you can list and monitor grantmaking or funding organizations that might be a good match for you in the future. Identify their funding initiatives and interests, so you can consider applying for grants when you have a project that aligns with their mission.
  • Offers a Grant Tracking Calendar and Monitors Deadlines: Calendars are vital for staying on track with grant management and must include the key deadlines for your project. To manage projects more effectively, share the calendar with main stakeholders and task owners, provide access so other project managers can add their initiatives, and send reminders about upcoming deliverables. Calendars also provide great information about previous projects for year-in-review reports, so you can see what you’ve accomplished.
  • Tracks Your Progress in Fulfilling Requirements and Meeting Deadlines: Not only should you track the deadlines, you should know precisely what’s expected at each point in time. A grant management system should provide easy access to details about each deliverable, so the responsible parties can monitor their progress toward their goals.
  • Avoids Workflow Bottlenecks: In a grant management system, calendars should include the point person for every task and help you identify bottlenecks. Will one person be hit with several deadlines at the same time? Is someone not meeting their deadline? These data points can help you adjust schedules or responsibilities for your grant program.
  • Tracks Internal Roles, Responsibilities, and Reporting: A good grant management system lets you know who is in charge of different aspects of the project and what they should be tracking and reporting. It puts all the details and data at your fingertips, so you can respond quickly to any problem areas and write accurate, timely reports.
  • Supports a Grant Document Library: Be sure to include a library of supporting documents, boilerplate language, templates, and descriptions you’ve used in past grant proposals in your grant management system. Grant writers shouldn’t have to hunt for the mission statement of your organization or the most current standard language from your marketing department. Maintaining this library is far easier than having to track down information every time.

The Three Phases in the Grant Process

Grants are typically available from three sources: government agencies, corporations, and foundations. Each has specific missions, details, and reporting requirements, but the grant process for all is similar. Here are the basic phases for any grant process:

  • Pre-award Phase: Identification of the kinds of funding sources that will support your strategy and programs, establishment or review of your grant application and implementation process, and documentation of your proposals.
  • Award Phase: Notification and announcement of the grants you receive.
  • Post-award Phase: Implementation and tracking of grants.

Regardless of the details of a grant, it is essential that you conduct the process in an ethical manner. First, it’s good for your business that you demonstrate ethical behavior. You will be known as a valuable, upstanding partner in your community. In addition, if you cut ethical corners, you jeopardize any grants you currently have and risk receiving any grants in the future.

Part 1: The Pre-Award Phase of the Grant Process

To be successful, you should be strategic about the types of grants you will — and won’t — apply for. In the pre-award phase, you should identify the types of grantmaking opportunities that align with your organization’s mission and goals. You don’t want to waste time applying for grants that aren’t a good fit for who you are and what you do. You also don’t want to spend precious resources on grants that don’t help your organization thrive and grow.

During this phase, grantmaking organizations are also at work. Grantors are planning for programs they will fund, based on their own mission; announcing and promoting their own grants; and alerting organizations they have worked with in the past for upcoming grants. They will also review proposals, screen applications, and keep applicants updated on the progress of their proposals.

  • Search for Opportunities: The first phase of a grant starts with conducting research and searching for opportunities. If you are looking for federal grants, you can search Grants.gov, the free and official website of the federal government. The Foundation Center houses the Foundation Directory Online (FDO), offering subscribers a database of community, corporate, and private foundations. In addition, see who is awarding grants to other organizations that are similar to yours. Research at the beginning of the process helps ensure that you will find a better match for prospective grant dollars.
  • Review Your Organization’s Capacity: As you consider grant opportunities, review how your organization will fulfill grants. Examine your leadership’s commitment to grants, staffing and program resources, eligibility for certain programs, and technical requirements. Specific grants will require you to spell out many of the details, which the grantor will expect you to address in the application. Keep this core data on hand in a robust document library and grant management system. You don’t want to waste time writing and rewriting such information as your leadership, staffing, and financial structure in every application.
  • Register for Federal Grants: If you are seeking government grants, you will need to create a Grants.gov account to apply for grants on that platform. You should also register with the Data Universal Numbering System (D-U-N-S). The D-U-N-S® Number is used by all kinds of agencies that award grant money, including federal grants. The third account is System for Award Management (SAM), which is a registration system for federal contractors.
  • Complete the Grant Application: Once you’ve found a grant that seems worthwhile, you will need to complete the grant application. Grantmakers will ask for the specifics of your organization’s interest in the program and your ability to fulfill the grant. If you have fulfilled grants for related programs, you can use previous applications as the foundation for new proposals. You can cite the success of those programs as evidence that you can meet the requirements for the new grant.
  • Wait for the Application to be Reviewed: Once you’ve submitted your grant proposal, the grantor will review and compare it with other applications. The initial screening typically evaluates whether you included all the basic elements that qualify you for the grant. Funding agencies will want to see how thoroughly you complete the application, how closely your proposal aligns with the mission of the program, your capacity to do the work, technical requirements, and your financial packet, including the budget for the program and the process you use to document and track spending. The financial review includes a cost analysis to see if your budget seems accurate and reasonable.
  • Receive Notification on Whether You Won the Grant: When the evaluation process is complete, the grantor will let you know whether you’ve been selected for the work. Sometimes the notification arrives informally via a phone call or email. Federal programs issue a more formal announcement.
  • Negotiate the Final Grant Agreement: If the funder selects your proposal, you must then formally agree to the work. The contract between your organization and the grantor will spell out all the deliverables and reporting that will ensure it’s a successful project. Be sure you understand — in detail — what you are expected to do, when you will get paid, and what happens if the project runs into roadblocks. Consider the negotiation as the start of the partnership. Be clear about expectations and deliverables. In addition, go beyond the transactional aspects and use the conversation to build relationships with the people with whom you will be working. A contract is more than the piece of paper with date, details, and deliverables. It sets the tone for the partnership.

Part 2: The Award Phase of the Grant Process

Once you and the funder have finalized the contract, you can now announce the work. The funding organization typically will notify the other grant applicants and let them know their proposals were not accepted. Then you can publicly announce that you have received the grant for the program. You may coordinate on an official announcement with the grantor, or you may publish separate announcements. Either way, it’s an opportunity to once again promote your organization’s mission, vision, and strategic goals.

Make sure you have final copies of all the documents and contracts, so you are clear on all terms and conditions. At this point, you are legally bound to complete the work and are subject to any regulations, policies, and statutes.

Part 3: The Post-Award Phase of the Grant Process

Now it’s time to do the work. If you have prepared successfully, you already have a team in place to execute on the grant and a process to track the deliverables. You’re simply putting the specifics in place. From start to finish, you need a solid plan that will help you succeed.

  • Getting Started: Call a kick-off meeting, so all the team members and stakeholders can be in the same room and hear the same information. By getting everyone on the same page at the start, you’ll be better equipped to handle upcoming challenges. At this point, you should also introduce the grantmaking team, along with the GMO and PO.
  • Monitoring: As you start to implement the grant, you will need to regularly monitor progress of the deliverables and the expenses. You will want to know early on if the project is behind or ahead of schedule, or if the grant dollars are not sufficient for the work. Your tracking system should provide a solid accounting of every dollar spent, note whether internal timeframes are on track, and document the time that each person is spending on the work.
    There’s another reason to monitor the work. You want to be transparent about the progress and ensure there is no abuse of the grant dollars. A good monitoring system demonstrates that your organization is ethical and efficient.
    Remember: If you fail to monitor and communicate progress, you can jeopardize the project and your agency. Careless or sloppy reports may raise red flags with the funder. Furthermore, if you are receiving a federal grant, a lapse in reporting could invite additional auditing or incur financial penalties. Worst of all, you could damage your organization’s reputation for transparent and ethical conduct.
  • Following Up with Personnel Involved: In addition to monitoring the progress of the grant, establish ways to communicate with those doing the work. Maybe you need regular meetings with project leaders. Maybe you hold a quick daily stand-up meeting. Or maybe you use collaboration tools or email. The most important step is to establish regular, clear communication so that you stay on track or be notified early on if you are falling behind.
    Don’t forget to stay in touch with the GMO or PO. Build effective communication early. That way, if you have questions or need to report any challenges, the relationship is based on trust and communication and you can correct any problems quickly.
  • Reporting Internally on Progress: In addition to coordinating with those implementing the grant, establish a process to update key stakeholders on the status of the grant. These reports may not need to be as frequent as the meetings with the key personnel, but it’s important to be clear about the progress you are making.
  • Following Terms and Conditions: Terms and conditions in your grant agreement provide detailed guidance about all aspects of the grant, including payment methods, reporting details, and any regulatory or agency requirements you must follow. For example, they can describe administrative and audit requirements, procurement standards, effective date, payment methods, reimbursement limitations, and how to establish and manage subawards. Make sure you understand these as you monitor the progress of your grant.
  • Reporting on Performance Requirements: Reporting requirements vary for every grant, but the grant funder will be primarily concerned with whether you are implementing the program on schedule. As part of the contract or grant agreement, you should know what needs to be reported when — both the project milestones and the financial expenditures. These reports may include a narrative update about the progress of the work as well as financial documents. Here’s a sample grant report template to describe and explain any obstacles or delays you are facing in implementing the program.
  • Adhering to Timelines: In your grant proposal, you outlined what you would accomplish and when. In the post-award phase, you need to stick to that schedule — or update the grantmaker about any changes to your timeline. The timeline can include key milestones, such as start and end dates for specific elements of your program, as well as deadlines for your reports. It’s essential that you regularly compare your progress with the timeframe you outlined, and make sure you keep the granting organization in the loop if you are behind (or even ahead) of schedule.
  • Fulfilling Financial Reporting Requirements: Most government and private sector funders require you to report regularly on your expenditures: in other words, how you are spending the funds you have received. Financial reporting can be a complicated process filled with forms and reports. For example, many federal agencies will require you to submit Standard Form 425, Federal Financial Report. When completing these documents, be ready to provide any analysis of your expenditures and explain any cost overruns. Here are some sample budget templates to help you.
  • Accounting for Grant Revenue and Expenditures: All the revenue and expenses for a grant should be tracked separately by the accounting department or in the accounting system. You should develop a separate cost center for the grant and have a range of line items in that cost center. This is a safeguard that keeps you from commingling grant funds with other revenue (even from other grants) and ensures transparency in ethically implementing the grant. As a bonus, tracking the revenue and expense separately will help you assemble financial reports.
  • Making Requests for Changes: Circumstances may change your ability to fulfill the grant within the original time and funds outlined in the grant agreement. Sometimes you can work informally with the funder to adjust the schedule or budget. For larger projects, you may need to formally request a change. Make sure your contract specifies the process for making these requests and the circumstances under which you need to send an official proposal.
  • Taking Formal Actions: While implementing the grant, you will encounter all kinds of documentation that require formal action. These include paperwork to verify that you are meeting legal or regulatory requirements as well as simply completing all the official contracts for the grant itself. Should you fall significantly behind the budget or the timeline on your grant, the grantor may take formal action to get the project back on track or even suspend or terminate the grant.
  • Completing Audit Resolution: You will periodically file financial reports, and more formal documentation will be required, especially if you are working with public dollars. For example, federal grants must comply with Uniform Grant Guidance audit requirements issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). An audit is an official review of your process and your progress. Your financial records, as well as the system you use, will be reviewed. You should follow your organization’s policies and procedures as well as those of the organization awarding the grant. These can be very strict, so make sure you organize and track your progress thoroughly. Should there be discrepancies, you will work with the grant organization to respond to and resolve the audit findings.
  • Resolving Conflicts: While you always hope to work professionally and respectfully with others in the grant, you may encounter disagreements with the funding agency. Formal conflict resolution involves a thorough report of the case history, context for the disagreement, and even testimony from all sides about the circumstances. Government agencies typically use a grant management office to resolve formal disputes, while the program office tends to handle informal disagreements.
  • Following Closeout Procedures and Submitting Final Reports: Once the hard work of completing the grant is finished, it’s time to officially document the project. The closeout procedure typically is outlined in the grant award, so you can start managing the end of the grant at the start of the grant process. You will need to complete a final programmatic report, complete with a narrative describing the project and any lessons learned. You’ll also need to submit a final financial report that reconciles how the funds were received and spent. If there were any significant project changes or formal actions during the grant, include these in the closeout report. Some organizations will require you to keep this final file for a number of years, in case of audits or other reviews. Even if there are no external requirements, the documentation will help you review successes and struggles when you choose to pursue grants for similar projects or seek new grants from the funding organization.

Keys to Successful Grant Management

Successful grant management requires you to juggle many hats. From searching for relevant grants to writing the grant, then receiving the contract, implementing the work, reporting and tracking, and finally closing out the grant, the details can seem overwhelming. An organized system brings stability and focus to your entire organization. Grant management is a process to which the entire organization must commit.

Best practices in grant management range from cash management and accounting controls to records retention and reviewing the ROI of each grant and the entire program. Organization is the key to success. Here are specific considerations in grant management.

  • Plan Before the Grant Is Awarded: As with any business program, successful grant management only succeeds when you keep your goals in mind. Outline how your grant program fits within your overall business strategy and identify what you want to accomplish with the program. Then align each grant with that strategy and ensure you have the structure and staffing to support your financial and programmatic goals.
  • Manage from Implementation to Closeout: Effective grant management follows every grant from beginning to end. Does the grant agreement reflect what you will — and won’t — be able to accomplish? Are you able to do what you promised? Are you monitoring all tasks and financials in a separate cost center so you avoid confusion and create reports quickly and accurately? Are you communicating throughout the project with the grant funder, staying ahead of any challenges or adjustments to timeline or budget? Use this template to track your grant proposals, implementation, and reporting.
    Grant Program Tracking Template

Download Grant Program Tracking Template

  • Create Effective Grant Designs: Many grantmaking organizations require you to submit your proposal in their system, using their forms, templates, platform, and reporting programs. For effective grant management, you must understand the variations in their platforms, while providing the information that convinces them you are the best choice for their award dollars. Keep a library of the background information you provide to grantors; this will help you design effective grant proposals. Be sure to have access to testimonials from previous grantmaking organizations that address your relationship as their partner, what made you successful, and how you can apply those lessons to new grants.
  • Put the Mission First: There are countless grant opportunities. How do you decide which to pursue? Ask whether the project will fit with your mission. If there is little or no alignment with your mission, even if you successfully fulfil the grant, the work won’t build much momentum for your organization. The strategy you develop for your organization and your grant program will flow from this mission. This makes writing any grant proposal easier. You can always point back to how this fulfills your mission. And, funding organizations can see the passion you have for the work, so they’re confident that you are doing more than seeking dollars — you share their desire for impact. Their dollars will go further when they are working with you on the same mission.
  • Demonstrate Strategic Planning: It’s not enough for the mission of your organization to drive your grant management. The strategy of your organization is the next step in building a successful grant management program. Grants do not drive the strategy; they support the business strategy. If your organization does not have a strong and articulated strategy, develop one. Design your program to identify what each grant should accomplish in your organization. Then each grant proposal you submit will be able to connect the project to the big picture. And should the strategy of your organization shift (it probably will), make sure you are part of those discussions so you can address how those changes affect grant management.
  • Develop a Comprehensive Grant Program: A successful grant management system goes beyond the number of grants you secure or total dollar amounts — though both are important factors to your success. Look beyond the data. Do you have the right mix of projects and funders? It’s easy to fall into the trap of relying on one kind of program or depending on a handful of funders. It’s also tempting to apply for any and every grant that seems even slightly on mission for your organization. Don’t waste your time chasing unrelated grants. Know what you will — and won’t — pursue. Spend time identifying the organizations that share your mission, goals, and priorities. You’ll improve your success rate when your proposals are aligned with the goals of your funders.
  • Review Other Successful Grant Proposals Online: Do you know what grantmaking organizations seek when they evaluate proposals? Look at previous awards. Most organizations publicize grants when they are awarded. See who the funders are working with, the work those recipients do, and how much money is awarded. Those details will give you deeper insight into whether you are a good fit and how you can craft projects that will receive future funds.
  • Ensure the Support of Senior Leadership: You can’t succeed alone. You need support, encouragement, and buy-in from senior leadership. Their involvement in your work ensures that you truly reflect the mission and values of your organization. Establish an effective communication strategy with senior leadership to ensure the program aligns with their work and to discuss successes and challenges.
  • Fully Understand Relationships: A strong program manages up to reach senior leadership, across departments to implement programs, and also extends to the grant organizations you work with and want to work with. Think of everyone as your customer and know what is expected of you. If the organization’s goals change, adjust the grant strategy accordingly. If staffing levels or accounting programs change, your proposals need to reflect the organization’s capacity to implement a program. Clear, consistent communication with grantors will help you avoid misunderstandings and build a strong relationship.
  • Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities: Whether grants are managed by one person or an entire team, everyone in the organization needs to know the role they play. Grant coordinators may be in charge of day-to-day oversight, but they should report regularly to the grants manager or director. Departments such as finance or legal have key responsibilities. In successful grant programs, everyone understands the priorities of other departments and maintains clear lines of communication and reporting. In addition, they can address issues and find solutions that drive success for the entire organization.
  • Establish Effective Financial Systems and Grant Implementation Documentation: Everyone may be working toward the same grant goals, but the trick to success is in tracking all the moving parts. Develop, follow, and share a practical set of policies and procedures that are tailored to your organization. Not only will these provide internal controls for your grant program, but they also demonstrate to grantmakers that you are an ethical and credible organization. Your adherence to policies and procedures about grant funding will also help in any audits. While no two grants are the same, every grant follows the same process. Your documentation of that process is invaluable in ensuring you manage a high-quality, successful program.
  • Comply with Regulatory Guidelines: Adhering to all the rules and regulations that govern grants can be a massive undertaking. In addition to a host of existing local, state, and federal guidelines, you need to know when those rules change. Make sure you know existing laws so you can stay in compliance with any grant program.
  • Follow Auditing Policies: Audits can seem intimidating, but if you’ve established good procedures for documentation of grants and closeout guidelines, this process will be much simpler. For federal grants, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Office of Inspector General, and other agencies review and monitor activities and expenditures. With solid management around any regulations that govern the grant dollars, the audit documentation will be simpler to compile. And if you’ve planned for the end of the grant cycle from the beginning of the process, you can prepare for the audit at the outset. In addition, a system that tracks the reports and audits for all the grants and your entire program can streamline this process for you.
  • Establish Accounting Controls: Establish clear procedures for accurate financial statements. They should be designed to help you comply with the laws or regulations that govern your grant.
  • Follow Cash Management Guidelines: Cash management tracks the grant revenue coming in and the expenditures paid out for the grant. To be successful, you need to know when funds are received, the rules that apply to spending the revenue, and the best way to report your management of those funds. Establish and follow policies in your organization to distribute and track funds.
  • Understand Indirect Costs: In addition to the direct costs of completing a project (such as buying supplies and hiring vendors), you’ll encounter other expenses that are not explicitly related to a specific grant. For example, tracking the time of staff who are working on several grants can be considered a direct cost if you have a solid timekeeping system. More typically, you should calculate an indirect cost rate — the percentage of administrative costs you can allocate to any program. The Department of Labor offers guidelines through the Office of Cost Determination.
  • Know the Requirements for Records Retention: The type of grant you receive will require you to keep your records for a set period of time. For example, federal acquisition regulations that govern federal grants require that all business-related records must be kept for at least three years after you receive your final payment. Create and follow a policy for keeping your documents.
  • Provide Accurate Timekeeping: Keep accurate, real-time records of staff work hours that relates to each grant. These records will help you create a fair estimate of your soft costs. This will improve budgets for your entire grant program and help you compile fair and ethical reports. Don't forget to educate all your staff on the importance of tracking their time.
  • Follow Property Management Guidelines: If you purchase equipment and supplies specifically for any grant, you will need to maintain records for what you purchased and how it was used. The terms of the grant will dictate what you are allowed to buy and what happens to the equipment when the grant is closed out.

Effectively Use Technology and Software

As you start your grant program, you may be able to manage the process with notebooks, spreadsheets, and file folders. But as the program grows, you will outpace your system. You will find that you spend more time on paperwork and filing than on developing a grant program that supports your mission. This will affect your ability to focus on the strategic goals of your organization’s grant efforts.

Fortunately, a range of software and technology solutions will help you meet your needs and grow with your program. Software tools can provide the following benefits:

  • Search for relevant grant opportunities in an updated database
  • Reduce paperwork
  • Track grant applications
  • Store frequently used documents and organization information
  • Offer accounting support and tracking
  • Provide real-time updates on projects, resources, and financials
  • Improve team collaboration and communication
  • Solicit success stories so you can demonstrate impact of your program

For example, in the pre-award phase, software can help you identify the best grant opportunities, track different types of grants and awards, provide funder contact information, offer status updates of your proposals, and view your funding history and success rate, which gives you needed business intelligence metrics about your efforts.

Grantmaking organizations can also take advantage of software to standardize the application workflow by creating the grant criteria and publishing the opportunities, receiving grant applications, routing submissions to reviewers, scoring the proposals, and automating notifications. Once a grant has been awarded, software can be integrated with accounting programs to release funds and track expenditures.

Grantmakers and grantseekers can choose from a wide range of software solutions, features, and price points. As you consider technology, map out your existing process, identify your goals, and define what you want the system to do. Here are some features and benefits for software solutions.

  • Software Considerations: Some solutions are available as software as a service (SaaS). They are accessed over the internet, hosted at the vendor's servers or distributed through the cloud. You won't need much IT support; the vendor takes care of technical issues and hardware. You can access the system through a web browser on a desktop or mobile device. Be sure to check out the user experience on a phone or tablet. Many software systems are in the process of improving mobile access, so keep in mind how often you would need to see your reports or collaborate with colleagues using your smartphone or tablet.
  • Pricing: Costs can range from free (with such tools as Fluxx Grantseeker) to $99 a month for a standard system. Many software solutions offer add-ons for a fee, so you can build the system you need. Also explore whether you are paying per user or purchasing multiple seats in the program.
  • Tracking: Many tasks that require manual tracking — for example, deadlines and expenditures — can be managed with an automated system. Reminders will help you avoid missing deadlines and meet important events and reporting during the grant. You can see who is working on any phase of the project and automatically track their hours on the project. Some systems help monitor compliance and other regulatory issues. You can also track budgets and milestones across all the grant-related projects your organization is managing at any one time.
  • Team Collaboration: Many software systems host files in one central location so various staff can access, update, and review at the same time. Many also offer version control so you can review the changes you have made. This will let your team collaborate on writing grants, as well as update revenue expenditures and project milestones. In addition, some solutions offer tools and social media applications so you can communicate with others working on the project, providing feedback and routing documents during the grant process.
  • Customization: There are a range of out-of-the-box software systems for grant management. How much will you need to customize a system to meet your organization’s size, setup, and roles?
  • Ease of Use: Whether you are a smaller organization or a sizable enterprise, the software you choose should have a user-friendly interface that anyone can use. Some solutions, such as GrantHub, integrate with Google tools and Microsoft Excel. If the system is complicated, you will spend more time learning and using the platform than implementing the grant program.
  • Registration: How many people in your organization do you want to access the software platform? Will subcontractors need access? Explore how easy or difficult it is to register and create online accounts. Ensure you have a user-friendly platform that nontechnical staff can operate.
  • Security: In an age of online hacking, cybersecurity is essential. Your organization has access to all kinds of sensitive data. Ensure that the site is secure and provides ways for you to encrypt the most sensitive details.
  • Report Generation: Success in grant management depends on your ability to provide relevant reports at the right time. Software solutions automate the way you collect data and generate those reports. They also offer dashboards with at-a-glance access when you are tracking grant program progress, staffing levels, and expenditures. Some systems also allow staff to create customized reports for their specific role and responsibility with a grant or within your entire grant program.
  • Audit Management: Grant management software can standardize your expense tracking and provide a clear audit trail showing how funds were spent and reported. When your data and documentation are organized clearly, you will have fewer costs that can be questioned by auditors. The goal is to have records that are accurate and comply with the terms of the grant.
  • Integration with Financial Software: Grant management software is not a comprehensive solution for all your business operations. It's important to identify the accounting or finance platforms you use and ask how grant software will integrate with these systems for tracking revenue, direct and indirect costs, and reporting.
  • Software Support: Even if you have your own IT support, find a system that offers technical guidance, such as a searchable knowledge base or email, chat, and phone support during business hours or in nontraditional settings. Support pricing can vary depending on the level of the software you purchase. Also, explore training options. Will the vendor help you learn to use the software or onboard you with new features?

Software Systems for Grant Management

Looking for grant-related software systems? Start here:

  • GrantHub by Foundant: GrantHub will help you manage funder relationships, track deadlines and milestones, host key grant documents, and compile reports. Pricing starts at $75 a month or $795 a year.  
  • Fluxx: Two systems are developed for grantmakers and grant-seeking organizations. Fluxx provides real-time collaboration between those offering grants and those that have received funds, offering access for grantees, proposal reviewers, and board members. It also provides built-in compliance checks and customized data. Pricing information is available upon request.
  • PeopleSoft Enterprise Grants Management: This project management software offers a grant management add-on. PeopleSoft manages grant research, helps with proposal generation, tracks awards, and creates financial reporting. Pricing starts at free.  
  • Award Force: Used by grantmaking organizations, Award Force offers online entries, collaboration for evaluating proposals, custom branding for the grantmaking organization, and a program data archive. Pricing starts at $1,188 a year.  
  • eCivis: Used by government agencies and grantmaking organizations, eCivis automates the approval process and offers access to a database of more than 16,000 grants and 1,000-plus examples of previously awarded grant applications. Pricing starts at at $5,200 a year.
  • Social Solutions: Social Solutions offers tools for grant-funding programs to create applications, track data, manage programs, and measure outcomes. Pricing is available upon request.

Education and Certification in Grant Management

Professional development is essential in any field, but in the fast-changing world of grant management, you will need an edge to successfully secure and manage grant programs. By investing in education and certification, you are backing your organization's most critical resource: your staff. No matter the mission of your organization, you want to receive the funding that helps you affect genuine change. Training programs can help you master best practices and promote excellent and ethical grant programs, all with professionalism for your organization. Put simply, training improves your ability to succeed and thrive.

The National Grants Management Association (NGMA) offers tools and resources for grants professionals in government and nonprofits. It can be a resource for practical expertise in program and financial management, and also offer advice on best practices and changes in the grant environment.

NGMA offers continuing professional education through the Certified Grants Management Specialist (CGMS) credential and Grants Management Body of Knowledge (GMBoK) training. CGMS professional certification will help you demonstrate expert understanding of all aspects of grants management. Grants Management Body of Knowledge (GMBoK) provides a comprehensive guide to governance for grants and the phases of the grants management lifecycle. It tracks changes in public funding regulations and helps you understand internal controls and audits.

Management Concepts offers a Grants Management Certificate Program  for grant managers who work with federal and private-sector grants. The program has three tracks: federal awarding agencies, pass-through or subaward entities, and recipients of federal grants.


Additional Resources for Grant Management

Grant management requires attention to detail and keeping up with best practices. Here are additional organizations that can serve as resources to help you grow your grant program.

Grant Professionals Association (GPA) has more than 2,800 current members internationally and offers the Grant Professional Certification Institute.

Thompson Information Services offers guidance on finding and administering federal grants.  

Foundation Center provides information on philanthropy, fundraising, and grant programs. Glasspockets is a Foundation Center initiative to promote transparency in philanthropy. The site features transparency tools and guidance for private foundations. GrantSpace, a service of the Foundation Center, offers tools and resources to help nonprofits succeed in securing grants.

Many grant management software companies publish blogs and white papers full of advice and tips. These include Foundant, eCivis, and Arreva. Grantmaking organizations also offer webinars and training. Once you've identified organizations you want to work with, you can follow their sites for the latest offerings.

Grant consultants offer newsletters, blogs, and social media accounts with advice and recommendations. You'll find many of them at #GrantChat.  

Looking for state and federal grants? Find federal grants at Grants.gov. You can search the legislatures for your state and Office of Management and Budget circulars.


Improve Your Grant Process with Smartsheet for Project Management

Grants can be the lifeblood of an organization, but they can also be a significant stress point, as you juggle schedules, regulations, deadlines, paperwork, and more. It doesn’t have to be so difficult, and with the proper tools, grant management can be simple and straightforward. Smartsheet for project management is such a tool.

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Use Smartsheet to create consistent project elements, increase speed, and improve collaboration with scalable options that fit individual work preferences. Hold yourself and your team accountable, improve visibility into team priorities, and ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

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