Managing a grants program is a challenging job even for the most seasoned professionals. Staying on top of ever-changing grant regulations and requirements for different awards can be time-consuming, frustrating, and honestly, pretty confusing at times. Collecting accurate data for reporting and providing transparency in terms of your performance are essential components of a successful grants program and getting systems in place to help you accomplish that is essential.
You need to be concentrating on making your funding work for your mission and on putting sustainable operations in place so you can concentrate on your outcomes instead of administrative tasks. From pre-award to award closeout, every step of your grants program needs processes in place to keep things running smoothly. We’ve compiled some tips from our team members who have been grant managers and from other grants managers to help you get started for every phase of the grant lifecycle below.
1. Evaluate your program's current operations.
We have created a checklist so you can evaluate how responsive your program is right now, before you begin making interventions. You’ll want to make sure you understand your organization’s current capacity levels so you can either make sure you are prepared to manage your current awards, or look for ways to create more capacity on your team. You’ll also want to evaluate your current grants in progress (if there are any) and make sure you are currently meeting compliance requirements before applying for new awards.
2. Define your grant program's overall goals & objectives.
One of the most difficult things about defining your goals and objectives for grants management processes is understanding how to align the expectation you have with the reality of your organization. As each organization is different from the next, processes and necessary outputs are unique from one entity to another. Knowing how your organization currently functions will help you find a starting point to build your long-term goals from. It will also help you have a deeper understanding of what types of awards you should be focused on applying for.
3. Always read the grant application packet, and the grant agreement after winning an award, to fully understand what you're signing up for.
By definition, grants come with restrictions and guidelines. After you are awarded a grant, your organization must meet deadlines and report on the progress of the grant. All of the information the funder will be expecting is typically written into the application itself, and into the Notice of Award (NoA). Make sure you’re reading the full application before you apply so there are no surprises, and make sure your program is aligned with the project you proposed. You can then use all that information to make sure you’re already set up for award closeout. If there are requirements that you are unsure about what they might mean, ask questions. If nothing else, you can write your plan for meeting these expectations into your grant application which will only make it stronger. Funders want to work with proactive awardees.
4. Help your organization centralize your grants management activities and communications to ensure institutional memory and reduce inefficiencies.
Assembling a Central Grants Office with key roles is one of the first steps you can take as a leader to manage your grants program. The main goals of a Central Grants Office are to provide organizational leadership and oversight over grant policy, evaluation, and training, as well as to streamline processes. Centralizing your grant activities is an industry best practice, and we have a guide book to help you do just that. Along the way, make sure you’re putting effective knowledge transfer practices in place to set your team and your overall program up for long term success.
5. Make sure you are prepared for the single audit from the start.
To demonstrate that you are spending awarded funds appropriately and seeing results, develop an audit-focused grant management strategy. This starts with detailed documentation of grant-related information to meet compliance requirements. There are many requirements of an audit according to the Office of Management and Budget’s Uniform Grant Guidance (UGG). We have a guide for you on how to prepare for audits here.
6. Ensure you have technology in place to support your program.
There isn’t much point in pretending that running a grants program isn’t complicated. It absolutely is. But getting help with it shouldn’t be. Grants Management Software can help you streamline your grant processes so you can concentrate on your outcomes sooner rather than later. You can even use certain types of grant funding to help offset the cost.
While this may feel overwhelming, you can absolutely be successful in this role if you’re deliberate and organized about the way you’re approaching running your grants program. Your efforts will continue to pay dividends in the long term as well.
If you have any questions while you’re getting started, or are looking for more resources, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here to help.
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