Improving grants management processes at the state level can be overwhelming, especially as the overall Federal grant landscape is becoming more complex while funding streams continue being disbursed and their compliance requirements updated. To help you improve your state’s processes and improve your ability to monitor your recipient’s performance and outcomes, we are sharing the five most common state grant management challenges as identified by the Government Accountability Office and Data Foundation and providing you with some best practices and efficient tips on how to systematically address them.
Challenge 1: Lack of internal controls
Solution: Audit your current grant management processes to evaluate effectiveness
Do the processes you’ve implemented previously appear to be working? Do they need to be updated to reflect the reality of the present situation? Regularly auditing the effectiveness of your grant management processes will enable your team to be more efficient and create capacity as the project progresses.
Employ process mapping to document your current processes in order to better understand shortcomings, specifically pinpoint where you could implement desired improvements, and identify specific steps that can be taken to achieve those improvements. From here, tasks can be built out to include the associated documents and deliverables, key parties, and methods of communication each team member completes or uses at each step.
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.
Challenge 2: Lack of allocation of duties
Solution: Clearly define team roles and responsibilities
Assembling a Central Grants Office with key roles is one of the first steps leadership needs to take to ensure all responsibilities are allocated appropriately to the right team members at the right time. 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 provide expertise on grant management systems and to streamline processes. If you structure your team in a way that works for your agency, you will create an environment made up of key resources who can make and drive central decisions.
By creating a review process that requires specific expenditures to be approved and documented internally, you will have a more accurate picture of your project’s budget adherence and overall progress.
After team members have agreed to play a role in the Central Grants Office, it’s time to begin centralization practices.
Challenge 3: Issues with non-compliance
Solution: Centralize your grant management practices, grant-related data, and all relevant documentation
Document, document, document. In order to effectively monitor program performance, progress, and plan for a successful audit, you want to ensure you have documented everything throughout the life of the grant.
When we say “everything,” we really do mean everything. For example, if you have expenditures that weren’t properly documented, even if they were allowable, this could be considered a misuse of funds. The way to avoid this is by keeping everything related to the grant documented and in a centralized location. If you have been diligent about your internal reporting practices, you will have a lot of information that will need to be centralized in one location.
Centralizing your grant-related information including your policies, processes, and programmatic data requirements and standards will help you improve organizational transparency and maintain compliance. Centralization helps ensure all of your program’s records are readily accessible for auditing purposes, effective closeout, and most importantly, for monitoring your outcomes. We also have some best practices on how to accomplish this even when you have an under resourced team.
Challenge 4: Improper monitoring of progress
Solution: Establish transparency with accurate reports
Take this opportunity to create internal policies on reporting to ensure you’re on track with your monthly spend. Establishing standard reporting structures once a grant is awarded will provide financial oversight and can help your organization adhere to a timeline with milestones that can be used for benchmarking.
You should set a policy in place that requires team members to report back to the grant coordinator or manager on a monthly basis. If you have a grants management system or a tool to help you do this, your GMS should automate this process for you. If you don’t have a GMS, you will need to create a system or a structure for this process that will need to be documented. Reporting on a monthly basis will allow you to catch problems early. For example, if you’re unsure if an expenditure can be accounted for, monthly reporting will allow you time to get in touch with your Program Officer or Manager who will be able to help clarify this for you.
As you track expenditures, be sure to have backup information required by the Uniform Grant Guidance (UGG) for auditing purposes, and to ensure you have a complete grant record. This will pay dividends throughout the life of the project, and especially during award closeout.
Challenge 5: Lack of timeliness for grant closeout
Solution: Procure a robust notification system for the entire grant lifecycle
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. As we all know, in reality this process is not as seamless as that description would suggest.
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. One way you can quickly streamline your closeout processes is by creating notifications for yourself and your team to keep everything running smoothly. You can:
- 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
Designing or redesigning your grants management processes for efficiency doesn’t end with these tips or these challenges. Read our full Managing State Grants eBook to learn more, and if you’re looking for a partner to help you with your grant portfolio, no matter how complex it is, we’re here to help.
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