What is grant management? It can seem like an intimidating or confusing topic, especially since many people use the term to talk about different parts of the process.
In short, grant management is all of the administration and work that goes into using and fulfilling the requirements of a grant. Both nonprofits that receive grants and organizations that distribute grants are involved in grant management, which can lead to more confusion in how the term is used.
It’s important to realize that a grant is more or less a contract—it stipulates how the money is used, how that use is reported, and what period it covers. By looking at grants as a contract, both grantseekers and grantmakers can avoid miscommunication and showcase the reputability and ingenuity of their organizations. For grantseekers, grant management is an important part of maintaining relationships with funders. For grantmakers, effective grant management helps ensure your valuable dollars are spent well and your contributions are above scrutiny. Finding the right tools to help with your grant management is an important way to make sure your grants go a long way to helping out the causes you care about.
Managing a Grant: Administration and Office Work
Most grants involve a good amount of administrative work to fulfill the requirements, including reports, tracking, and evaluation. These categories overlap quite a bit but can be a helpful way to break up the kinds of work that are involved in grant management. Learning how to manage a grant well involves a lot of planning and delegation.
For organizations that give out grants like foundations and companies, it’s important to get evidence of how those grants were used. Usually, this is some kind of formal submission, often through an online portal, that asks basic questions about what the grant supported and if anything changed since the application. Most grants have a specific deadline for this report, and failure to meet that deadline can have consequences. Grantmaking organizations tend to value relationships highly—a breach of an agreement may mean future opportunities are closed. Some grant agreements have become more flexible during the pandemic, but it’s always a good idea to communicate proactively with your funder before making any large changes to your grant-funded program.
Program and Budget Tracking
More specifically, grant management requires program and budget tracking. Usually, all of this detail isn’t included in a grant report. At most, a summary of the tracking is required.
But detailed program and budget tracking are very important. Making sure to understand exactly how grant money is spent, as well as what kind of impact it had, is essential to making a case for future funding and to ensure your organization has an answer to any questions your funders may ask. Detailed grant management can benefit from effective software solutions that help you track how money was used, report on the impact of your grant-funded program, and more.
Another essential part of grant management is evaluation. Funders are increasingly conscious of tracking results of programs and grants, requiring both tracking of hard results and more in-depth evaluation that can include things like focus groups, surveys, and other qualitative methods. This can add significant time and even cost to delivering on grant requirements, as some evaluation might mean hiring an outside consultant. Grant management with proactive tracking, clear goals for evaluation, and other tracking measures in place can make sure that your program’s results are communicated effectively.
Depending on the size of your organization, you may divide up grant management responsibilities between various staff members. Effective grant management requires clear expectations and deadlines for all the people involved.
In most organizations, your top leaders such as your President or Vice President of Development tend to have a supervisory role in grant management, along with contributing heavily to the vision you cast as part of your grant application. It’s important these various stakeholders understand how you will manage the grant, report on its impact, and invest in the relationship with your funder. Managers tend to be more involved in grant management for grants that make up larger percentages of your budgets, particularly when they have a relationship with the organization that funded the project.
The grant manager or grant writer has the most responsibility with grant management. This person should serve as a logistical coordinator for the rest of the team, reminding people of deadlines and driving the narrative and vision of the grant report. It’s important that grant managers are involved with program staff and regularly check in on the progress and results of a grant—closely working together will prevent miscommunications or last-minute issues if a grant is executed differently than expected. For many grant writers, this takes intentional effort, especially if your organization is large. Try scheduling a monthly meeting to touch base, brainstorm, and check on data collection to avoid problems when the grant report is due. These simple steps can help streamline your grant management.
It’s important that programming staff are included in the grant management process, understand the goals and requirements of the grant, and see the big picture in terms of its financial necessity. Their understanding of the practical aspects of executing the grant, as well as awareness of common pitfalls, will help it to be successful. And, by making sure they are on board, you’ll avoid miscommunication about how funds are supposed to be used or changes that need to be made and streamline the grant management process for your nonprofit.
Program staff that understand the big picture also help when tracking and evaluating, which are both essential parts of grant management.
Just like most projects, grant management comes with a few stages. What grant management requires is attention to detail, planning, and time management, no matter what stage you’re in.
One of the most essential parts of grant management is the application. Applying for a grant is a challenging process, especially if you don’t know the funder very well. While every funder lists their grantmaking priorities, there can be a lot of leeway in the decision making. The funder’s priorities and focus can tell you if it’s worth spending the time applying—many will designate certain causes or areas for which they’ll give money. If your program or organization falls far outside those boundaries, it’s probably not worth the effort.
Funders are looking for programs that can demonstrate impact, come from a reputable and proven source, and approach a problem in a meaningful way. Your application should be clear, concise, and illustrate the unique factors that make your organization the right investment. Using past statistics, quotes from beneficiaries, and other tangible evidence of your past success can go a long way to helping you stand out in grant applications.
Also, take into consideration the values that the funder highlights. Perhaps they focus heavily on diversity and inclusion—focus on the impact your work has on historically disadvantaged communities. Maybe they talk about freedom and opportunity—showcase how you help people help themselves. Whatever their focus, be sure to talk about your cause in relation to the values they hold—not just the ones you do. By making sure your application is set up well at the beginning, you can simplify your grant management process and grant reporting down the line.
You’ve been awarded a grant. Now what? What you do after you get a grant is incredibly important. The planning and setup you do right away is the difference between an easy grant management process and a grant management process that is stressful and chaotic.
Typically, when you’re awarded a grant you will receive a grant contract or similar document that lists dates and deadlines. It will list the time period the grant covers as well as any due dates for reports. Some grants might have both an interim report during the process and a final report after the period is over. Put these on your calendar and make sure you don’t lose track of them—missing a deadline can severely damage your record with a funder. One of the most important pieces of grant management for your nonprofit is to ensure you meet the deadlines and requirements the funder put in place.
Usually, you’ll be able to see the format of the grant report right away. If it’s in an online portal, take a look right away to help you determine what metrics you should track and what questions you need to keep in mind as you implement the grant.
Communicate these deadlines and expectations with the rest of your team and you’re well on your way to effective grant management.
Another important part of effective grant management comes in the implementation phase. You need to track and evaluate the program that was funded throughout the grant period. Brainstorm some times or ways you can solicit feedback from those you serve, and try to record that feedback with multiple mediums. If you can, write feedback out, take pictures, and get video content. These are great for your own organization’s marketing and can be shared with funders—the old adage that “a picture’s worth a thousand words” holds true. It might even be worth some money.
It can be hard to know what features you need for your grant management software system. Grant management software features range from pricing and accessibility to integration and communication capabilities. The best grant management software features include:
The best grant management solutions provide helpful project management. This means workflows, task reminders, and the ability to assign tasks to different users. The more that your grant management system can help streamline the internal process to apply for and track grants, the better your execution will be. An effective tool will save you massive amounts of time and stress—allowing you to focus on other important issues.
Allowing your grant management process to integrate seamlessly with your database and tracking software will help improve the accuracy of reporting and make your grant application process even faster. This can also help you to track contacts at various companies and foundations—an essential part of grant management is relationship management with those funders, too.
For most organizations, grant management is not a solo affair. Allowing for multiple users to access your grant management system and multiple roles for users will keep the process simple and your team on the same page.
With grant money accounting for up to 29% of all nonprofit funding, grants are incredibly important. Effective grant management can be the difference between a nonprofit struggling to get by and having plenty of funding to make a difference. But how do you do effective grant management? Effective grant management consists of four important components.
The management portion of grant management revolves around the need to meet deadlines and requirements. Most grants require a report of some kind, and missing the due date on a grant report can seriously harm your relationship with a funder. Reliability and consistency are key to convincing funders your organization is a good long-term social investment.
Setting reminders up for a few weeks before reports are due is an easy way to keep track of things. In addition, make sure all staff that have responsibilities for the report know when grant reports are due. For most funders, it tends to be at the end of the grant period—though some require an interim grant report a few months in.
Take a look at the questions or format of the report in advance, and set aside time to finish it ahead of schedule. If you do run behind, make sure to communicate—a request for an extension that comes a week out is taken much differently than one sent at 5 PM the day a report is due.
Remember what metrics you specified in your grant application, and put systems in place to track these. This will help to guarantee you have quantitative data for your report with numbers of beneficiaries and other statistics. If possible, put in place ways to gather qualitative data as well—including interviews, testimonials, and photo and video content when possible.
Make sure any unexpected portions of the grant’s execution are communicated clearly and addressed. Talk with other team members so they understand the requirements and limitations of the grant. And, make sure to keep the grantmaker in the loop for any special events or ways they can engage with the program—many funders love the opportunity to attend an event or send some staff to volunteer for a few hours on a program they supported. This also has an added side benefit, since the more engaged funders are, the more likely they will be to renew their funding.
Whenever creating a grant application or report, it is vital to make sure that your grant management process includes a vision for the big picture. Set the context for your grant and program by illustrating how it fits into larger goals, whether your organization’s overall vision and mission, the foundation’s priorities, or the general well-being of your area.
While much of nonprofit grant management best practices translate to grant management for companies and foundations, there are some key differences. Grant management for companies and foundations involves accepting, analyzing, and approving grant applications, as well as working with grantseekers to report on the success of supported programs. Most software solutions are targeted at solving what grant management is for grantmakers—and much of the tracking and evaluation goals look differently since grantmakers rely on those who receive grants to provide that information. For companies and foundations, it’s important to keep these features in mind when finding a grant management software solution.
The way your grant management software looks may not feel like a top priority, but looking professional and up-to-date helps your grantseekers trust your organization, feel confident they are in the right place, and feel comfortable submitting detailed and privileged information. In the age of modern website content management systems, a clunky or outdated site can make people question the legitimacy of the site they’re on—just make sure that your grant management software is clean and mobile-optimized.
Being able to customize fields and update the branding of your grant management software is incredibly helpful and goes a long way to making it an effective solution. Options like cascading forms and connecting to external databases like GuideStar can help make sure your grantseekers give you all the details you need. This can make your team’s job easier by getting information you need up front to avoid having to track down information manually.
By making your grant management form simple and easy to fill out and to reapply for a new cycle, you save grantseekers’ time so they can do other important work—along with building appreciation and trust with these partners. Forms that break off information into bite-sized chunks, allow your applicants to save their progress and come back later, and that let them access all the questions they need to answer up front will save you and your partners time during the grant application process.
Cybersecurity is an incredibly important component of any software solution. With how often data breaches happen to everyday companies and consumers (like the recent Robinhood breach that affected 5 million people), keeping your own information and that of your grantseekers secure is vital. Make sure your software solution uses encryption and prioritizes security—don’t join the list of data breaches.This is another area and updated interface can help, as using the latest software can help make sure the grant management tool you’re using is secure.
Finding the best grant management software can be challenging with a crowded field with different capabilities. Here are a few pros and cons of the best grant management software tools available:
Pros: DonationXchange allows for multiple user roles to streamline your administration and evaluation of applications, migration of past data into the platform to encapsulate all the information in one place, and direct ACH depositing of grants. On top of this, the platform allows instant 501c3 status verification, supports international grants, embedded application forms, and many other features.
Cons: As one of the most customizable and versatile solutions on the market, DonationXchange really only has one flaw—you’re not using it yet.
Pros: One of the best-known grant management solutions, Cybergrants allows you to integrate with your website, instantly verify a nonprofit’s 501c3 status, and create unlimited custom fields.
Cons: Unfortunately, with large name recognition also comes a significant investment—this solution involves both implementation costs and ongoing fees. Some users have also noted this grant management tool can have a steep learning curve and require support for relatively basic updates to application forms and more.
Pros: Flux allows grant payment scheduling, compliance checks, and an open API system if you have a developer on staff to integrate with other tools.
Cons: Unfortunately, Flux is not the most aesthetically pleasing solution and lacks some other communication and management features.
Pros: API ability allows you to integrate with tools like Salesforce and Quickbooks, along with easily customizable forms.
Cons: Some users have noted that Submittable does not allow multiple user types to review grants. This grant management tool also has a high cost with a limited number of users allowed.
Pros: WizeHive is consistently praised as a simple grant management solution with easy-to-build forms and customization options. It’s also more affordable than some other options.
Cons: Each year of applications and grants is separated, which means separate logins and reporting every year a grantseeker submits. Users also note that you can’t duplicate and reuse applications or forms year over year, which can add an extra level of work for your team.
Pros: Smart Simple allows you to build workflows to automate your communication about reporting or other concerns after awarding a grant. The tool has a robust list of features and automation capabilities.
Cons: Some users have noted a steep learning curve and a need to have a developer on staff to implement most of the automated features.
Pros: SurveyMonkey Apply is very customizable with lots of training available. Users can even assume the role of someone applying to help troubleshoot and understand the process. This grant management tool is very customizable with lots of training available. Users can also assume the role of someone applying to help troubleshoot.
Cons: Users note that SurveyMonkey apply requires quite a bit of lead time to implement effectively. Quite a bit of lead time to implement effectively.
Pros: Fondant integrates with GuideStar to allow download of a nonprofit’s public profile into the application. You can set up access codes for some applications and assign specific evaluators, as well as allowing grantseekers to copy answers from past applications.
Cons: Some users have found struggled with Foundant’s learning curve.
Did you know that 69% of staff who manage grants have never received training? There are many resources available for grant management, as well as a grant management certification.
The Certified Grant Management Specialist certification, or CGMS, is the most highly-regarded certification in the world of grant management. Administered by the National Grants Management Association, it’s a highly regarded way to illustrate your knowledge—and gives you access to a great community and resources. In addition, NGMA also offers the Grants Management Body of Knowledge (GMBoK) as a further resource.
In addition, there are a variety of other programs that can provide training and certifications. For example, Management Concepts offers a Grants Management Certificate, which has various programs depending on the kind of grant and your role. And, the Grants Professional Certification Institute certifies individuals as Grant Certified Professionals.
Finally, there are other groups that offer free trainings or regular blog posts. The Grantsmanship Center offers free trainings, especially focused on applying for federal grant money. With a wide variety of other and more general topics also available, their website is a good starting place to explore the world of grant management. Their webinar list is fairly extensive and regular. eCivis also provides a broad array of blog posts and training videos that can prove helpful.
Grant management can feel unwieldy, especially if you are starting from scratch or inherited a dated program. The best way to manage grants is a combination of planning and finding the right systems and tools—with effective software, you’ll streamline your workflows, get your team on the same page, and impress both grantmakers and grantseekers.
BONUS: Key Takeaways from "The Ultimate Guide to Grant Management 2022"
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