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Grants Management, Confusing? No Way!

December 20, 2010

Your boss gives you a pat on the back, you’ve got a big smile on your face, and the Board says, “Way to go!” What’s the big occasion? You got a grant! Whether it’s a smaller foundation or a federal grant, the implications are the same: now the work begins! Let’s talk; not about the program implementation aspect, but the management of the grant.

When the notification of a grant award comes in, the excitement of beginning a new project, expanding an old project – or in the case of today’s economy – sustaining a project, can all cause the management of the grant to be overlooked. Someone new to the nonprofit arena or even a seasoned grants manager can get wrapped up in program implementation and forget details that can have a large impact on future funding.

Grants management can be a time-consuming task, but it doesn’t need to seem daunting. There are a few tips that can set up any organization for success and the possibility of receiving future grants with a funding agency:

  • First and foremost, don’t forget to say “thank you!” Sometimes, in the initial excitement of a grant award, thankfulness is one of the first things overlooked. A handwritten note is an easy, personal way to say thank you to your funder.
  • Review your contract! In my career, I have repeatedly seen mistakes made in the grant contract that can be costly further down the road or hold up the initial implementation of a project. By reviewing your contract up front and comparing it to what you proposed to do, you can ensure that your scope of work, budget, and key stakeholders are correct. If you have a legal department, don’t leave it up to them to review. They don’t always know what you told the funder you wanted to do with their money.
  • Creation of a project file is fundamental to starting off on the right foot with managing your grant. I have tried many different filing systems and my favorite is to use a three ring binder with plastic sheet protectors. Audit findings happen because of something as simple as a lost document! All documents relative to the grant should be easily accessible and in a single location. The project file should contain the initial proposal, the award document, and any related information including all financial and narrative reports. Project-related communications also may involve verbal and written requests to re-budget items, to ask for additional (or supplementary) funds, to carry forward unspent money from one funding period to the next, and to extend the time frame for completing project requirements. These should be documented in the proposal file.
  • Contact your funding agency. The funding agency needs to know at all times who the contact person for your organization is. If changes happen within the funding period, don’t forget to let the funder know that there has been a change in management. Likewise, if program implementation is veering from the initial plan presented to the funder (either in a positive or negative way), communicate this. A simple phone call or email can save you lots of frustration!
  • Communication within your organization is just as vital as communication with your funder. All stakeholders in the organization should be made aware of timelines, budgets, and deliverables. Schedule an internal meeting with all individuals who are involved in the success of the program (Executive Director, fiscal specialists, program managers, etc.). All stakeholders should be fully informed of their responsibilities and the process of accountability within the project. When it is time to meet reporting requirements, who has to gather all data and information? You do! Making time for initial expectations and requirements will save you time and effort in the long run.
  • Once the program is off the ground, reporting and fiscal tracking are necessary. Reports of expenditures should be compared carefully (weekly or monthly) to documents and accounts kept by project team members. Expenditures over budget as well as under budget should be reviewed. When discrepancies are identified, an immediate investigation of what happened is required.
  • In many cases, subsequent year funding is dependent upon evidence of accomplishment of individual year objectives. Consequently, the ways in which information is provided in interim reports can influence the continuance or discontinuance of funding.
  • Most often, minimum requirements for interim and final report include a summary description of the project, its progress to date, any major findings, and plans for disseminating results. For interim reports, specific objectives for the next funding period should be included. The final report should include a discussion of how the project will be carried forward once funding has ended.

Managing a grant does take a lot of time and effort. I could go on for days about things to remember and things to forget, but hopefully the above overview leaves you with a task-oriented mindset.

Overwhelmed? To help out, The Grant Plant is rolling out a new service to assist you in managing just these things…plus more! Our experience in crafting successful grant proposals, budgets, and reports as well as managing team communications puts us in a unique position to help your organization comply with grants management requirements. If you are interested, contact me at bethanne@thegrantplantNM.com, or Tara Gohr, President/ CEO, at tara@thegrantplantNM.com.

Contact: Bethanne O’Keefe, Resource Development Officer & Grants Manager at bethanne@thegrantplantNM.com.

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