All good things must come to an end.
But ending an award doesn’t always feel like a good thing. Award closeout can be stressful, and it seems like everyone has heard a cautionary tale or two about the process. Let’s keep this in perspective though.
You’ve already written a compelling grant application that won your organization the funding it needed to make an impact in your community. You’ve done the hard work of making sure your project was set up for success so you could achieve your outcomes. Award closeout, if done well, can help set your organization up for winning more funding in the future. The other side of that coin is that if award closeout is not done effectively, or incompletely, your organization could not only lose out on future funding opportunities as a result, but also have to pay back the award.
The purpose of award closeout is to ensure that all final reports related to your grants are received by the grant maker for evaluation, and for allowable costs to be determined to ensure that your program is in compliance.
Award closeout is basically a process of gathering the documentation you’ve been creating along the life of the award to report on, and making sure all of your expenditures are accounted for. If you are a recipient of Federal funding, you’ll even be provided with a Notice of Award (NoA), or a Notice of Grant Award (NGA) that will tell you what information you’ll be required to provide.
Sounds easy, right?
Well, it would be nice if it was easy. In theory, award closeout is just a repackaged version of information you already have on hand from completing your reporting requirements throughout the life of your grant.
Closing out an award effectively depends on how thoroughly you managed the award during the project and how effective your processes for managing that award were. There may have been challenges that you didn’t anticipate during the award phase of your grant, like staff turnover, that could complicate your ability to close out efficiently and effectively.
This guide aims to give you some practical strategies and best practices to help you prepare for closeout. Much like when you wrote the initial application for your award, preparing to be prepared will help ensure that you and your team are in a good position to manage this process.
Staying on Track
One of the most helpful things you can do when it comes to award closeout is stay organized. There are some documents built into an award that can become a guide to help you make a plan.
One is the Notice of Award (NoA). Your NoA will contain all of the financial and performance reports you will be required to submit for closeout, and is the legally binding issuance of the award. It contains all applicable terms and conditions and key information about the award including your reporting requirements and any restrictions or special conditions on the award. You will receive a revised or amended NoA if there are any post‐award amendments or changes made to the award.
Basically, your NoA is a key document that can help you during the awarding phase, and the post-award phase of your grant’s lifecycle. You should print out copies of the NoA to file or store them in your grant management system.
General tips to help you stay organized:
- Utilize a checklist for what goes in the closeout
- Make sure dates are added to your calendar
- Use a tool that will allow you to fulfill ongoing requests
- Do period closeout reports for an easier award closeout
Use your NoA to make a requirements checklist
Your closeout checklist can be easily created by using custom forms and fields in your grant management system. If you don’t have a grant management system that can automate task reminders for you, you can create a checklist in any way that will be effective for your organization.
Award closeout will begin 90 days before the end date of your award. It is best to begin your checklist there as well. A sample, high-level checklist has been included below as a brief example.
Add key dates to your calendar
Add key dates from your NoA, your checklist, and any other key dates associated with data collection for closeout to your calendar. If you have a grant management system, your GMS will allow you to view key grant dates and tasks on a shared organizational calendar. Having a shared calendar will help keep the entire team on track, and help them see the bigger picture in addition to having reminders.
If you do not have a tool that can help automate this for you, you should set up a shared organizational calendar to send task reminders to you and your team.
Use a tool that will help you fulfill ongoing requests
If you have a grant management system, you can use it to help you fulfill ongoing requests. Your GMS should help you create payment requests, submit them to your funder, track payments you have received, and import cash receipts. Some can even help you approve or deny payment requests from your subrecipients, if you have any, track payments made to them, and import payment authorizations.
If you don’t have a GMS to help you do this, it is imperative that you have processes in place to complete these tasks at regular intervals, and keep all documentation associated with ongoing requests in a centralized location.
Perform period closeouts
One way to ensure that all of the reports and data you will need during this period will be on hand is to have period closeouts during the life of the award. Ideally, you can add a period closeout to your organization’s grant management processes after each internal (or external) reporting period.
Having an internal period closeout helps ensure you will have the data available for all reporting requirements and for closeout requirements.
One way to make it easier for you to stay on track for award closeout is to implement checkpoints into your award management processes that will help you create capacity later down the line. Unexpected roadblocks or challenges may be avoidable this way as well by taking some steps to ensure you’re staying compliant during the award phase.
Update your processes
Start by double-checking your previously created process documentation that you created after the project kick-off meeting, and benchmark your milestones against your timeline. Do the processes you’ve implemented appear to be working? Do they need to be updated to reflect the reality of the present situation? If so, making these alterations during the course of the award will save you time by ensuring you’re effectively getting the information you need when you need it.
Regularly auditing the effectiveness of your grant management processes will enable your team to be more efficient and create capacity as the project progresses.
Make sure you document any and all changes made to these processes, and keep this information in a centralized location. This will not only save time later, but it will also keep the project on track in the event of staff turnover, or other unexpected challenges.
Monitor your budget and performance
Monitoring budget and your performance as the award progresses will help ensure you’re drawing down effectively, and that you won’t have a disproportionate amount of funding left against your timeline.
Submit payment requests at regular intervals
Appropriately submitting regular intervals of payment requests rather than waiting until the last minute will save you time and effort over the life of the award, in addition to making sure funds are available when you need them.
Block off time to prepare reports
Give yourself adequate time to prepare reports and integrate it into your schedule. This cannot be overstated. Make sure you are familiar with the reporting requirements of your award and schedule your time accordingly.
Practice good internal communication
Make sure your colleagues understand what the expectations are concerning documenting financial information related to the award from the outset, and keep them informed about award progress throughout the project. Your shared calendar will provide you with a good starting place for this.
If you’re committed to good internal communication practices, you are more likely to efficiently get the information you need later, faster, and you’re more likely to know if information is incomplete or missing before there are lasting consequences. If you find that you could improve in this area, this is your chance to do so.
Centralizing Your Documentation
In every phase of the grant lifecycle, one of the most important things you can do is ensure that you are documenting everything.
Keep copies of your receipts and be mindful that there isn’t anything that won’t eventually be asked for. You are required to keep receipts for 3 years, but it is best to keep them for 7.
Keep in mind, if you have expenses related to your grant funding that do not have supporting documentation to show the expense was allowable, you may have to give the money back. Even if you technically spent the funds on an allowable expense but didn’t get the proper documentation to support it. By ensuring you have proper documentation, you are much less likely to be accused of a misuse of funds.
Proper documentation can also help you onboard new team members more efficiently, and help ensure that your progress against your project timeline sees minimal impact from staff turnover. If you have new team members, having a central repository where all of your grant-related documentation is kept will help them avoid the nightmare of having to try to reconstruct the previous 10 months (or more) without institutional knowledge.
If you keep all of the information in a centralized location so you can access it easily, this will help immensely. If you have a GMS, your tool will be a built-in central repository for all of your grant-related documentation. If you do not have a GMS, you will have to find a secure way to store all documentation related to your grant.
If any extensions have been offered, or if any amendments have been issued, make sure all of that documentation is in order as well.
Document materials related to special conditions
Ensure that all special monitoring conditions have been completed, and that everything is documented. Check your NoA again to make sure you’re aware of any special conditions, and make sure no amendments have been issued that may update these conditions.
If an on-site visit is required for either period closeout or award closeout, make sure it has been completed and that that all of the associated supporting documentation is available. If time & effort is a part of your award, make sure your timesheets and associated documentation is in order and that you have approved and certified all necessary timesheets.
Planning for the Next Award
There are some best practices you can put in place during this award after closeout that will help you prepare effectively for the next award.
Having an internal post-mortem meeting about the overall award will be extremely helpful for your organization. Collaborate with your team to discuss what went well, and why you think it did. Did your processes effectively support your goals? Discuss if the team believes the program supported the overall strategic plan of your organization. If so, does the team think that the organization should apply for this funding again in the future?
Solicit feedback from program participants internally and externally. Find out how they believe the process could be improved, what they believe could be accomplished more effectively, and what would help them feel more supported in the future.
Solicit feedback from your funder about how you can do better in the future, and, of course, make sure all of that is documented too.
Replicating What Works
After you’ve evaluated your internal processes, evaluated the overall success of the program, and gathered feedback from all relevant stakeholders, you are ready to start the process of replicating the best practices you’ve gathered from managing this award. Maybe you’ve decided to apply for the same award again, or maybe you’ve decided to start it all over again from the beginning with a new funding stream.
Either way, when you do, we’ll still be here to help.