*A version of this post originally appeared on the Montana Nonprofit Association Blog | November 2, 2016
Grant management is often overlooked and underappreciated. But if you’ve ever had to work in an organization where no thought or resources were given to tracking and managing the grant fundraising efforts, you quickly realize that it is a necessary discipline to keep things running smoothly and efficiently. Using effective grant management in your organization is like putting oil in your car – it keeps everything running smoothly!
Also – if you are looking to improve results from your grantseeking efforts, it may surprise you that the answer is not always in finding more funders or filling out more applications. The answer may be to “sharpen your saw” and improve your grant management process. Think of it this way – how much time could you and your organization spend on higher-return activities if you could eliminate time-consuming administrative tasks like these:
- Following up with and reminding team members of their grant related assignments and when they are due
- Remembering the proposal deadlines, and when your grant reports are due
- Searching through previous grant applications for elements you want to reuse in another grant proposal, or gathering all the necessary supporting documents
- Preparing summary reports for your management team on grant funding status
Below are 5 suggestions that will help you improve your grant process and help you focus your precious time on other, more impactful activities.
Create a Grant Tracking List / Calendar
A grant calendar can help you and your organization keep on track. It should remind you of your funder’s proposal deadlines and help you submit your grant reports on time.
There are many ways to track your grants. Your grant calendar may consist of a white board or wall calendar, a shared Outlook or Google calendar, a task management system, spreadsheets, or ideally – a grant management solution, like GrantHub, that ties all these pieces into one cohesive system. Whatever you use, you should strive to meet the following criteria:
- Everyone has visibility to upcoming deadlines.
- Task owners receive reminders when items are coming due.
- Everyone on the grant team can see their upcoming deadlines and easily access grant documents.
- You have a process to continually add new opportunities to your calendar.
- Recurring funding opportunities are always reflected in your future plan.
- The system seamlessly facilitates the communication of your grant plan, progress, and results.
At the start of your grant efforts, you may be just fine using a manual process and applications you already have on hand. But if you start receiving more grants, you may soon find that you are spending more time maintaining your solution and having less time available to focus on building relationships with funders and engaging in other fundraising activities. Be sure you reassess your grant management needs and tools at regular intervals so it can grow with you.
Organize Your Funders and Grant History
Tracking key information about the funders you work with is a good practice. Often this information resides at best in someone’s email folders or, at worst, in their head. This puts your organization’s fundraising capabilities at risk. It is vitally important that you document key contact information, past results, and funding priorities, and make it accessible to those who need the information. In our research of funders and grantseekers – we found that these items were most important to track:
Funder name, website link & other key contact info, link to their 990’s, EIN, areas they fund, typical funding range, funder type, their social media links, notes of past conversations, and a list of your past grant history with them.
Having quick access to details on your past, present, and future grant requests is a key part of grant management. The ability to track and access dates related to funding requests can make the difference between having a sustainable grant practice and one in which you are constantly running behind, apologizing for missing dates, and losing out on funding opportunities. Our research found that it was helpful to track:
Grant name, status, funder, funder program, contact at the funder, who wrote the grant, proposal / LOI deadlines, requested amount, targeted program/restrictions, application method/details, date submitted, decision date, amount awarded, grant term, notes about the grant and easy access to all the grant documents associated with this grant.
Coordinate Your Grant Team Responsibilities while Staying on Schedule
Your grant management solution can keep you on track, highlight tasks that are falling behind schedule, and remind team members of upcoming items that are coming due. Being able to quickly see what is coming up in the next two weeks or quickly see a high-level view by month is critical to keeping the process running smoothly.
Grant management solutions can be utilized to track important deadlines and send email reminders of deadlines when they are approaching. This can be a great time-saver for the person who is organizing all the elements of a grant proposal and responsible for the final submission. Spending less time reminding people and more time on finding new funders, writing more powerful proposals, and nurturing relationships with funders is a good tradeoff. If you don’t have a grant management solution – then make sure you have an organized approach to tracking all the requirements for a successful proposal and who is responsible. Spending time upfront to identify everything that is needed and who is responsible helps you weed out funders that you are not a great fit with – which saves you lots of time if you catch that early in your process.
Assemble a Library of Boilerplates and Supporting Documents.
Spend time making sure you and your organization is ‘grant-ready.’ There are several grant ready resources available. Find one that you like and use it to make sure you have all your ducks in a row. It is estimated that you can complete up to 80 percent of the effort to create a funding proposal before you even know which funder you will be applying to. Having this work done upfront helps you complete more applications in less time. And the time saved can then be spent in higher value activities that will set your proposal apart from others.
An answer library is a place where you can collect important documents, templates, boilerplates and answers to common questions. If it is online, everyone on your grant team can easily locate, access, and use the best and most current information for their grant work. What’s in it for you? You don’t have to hunt to find past applications, copy and paste, and risk sending something outdated to the wrong funder! And – if everyone has access to the repository themselves, you can control the content, but don’t have to be the bottleneck on distributing it to those who also need these items.
Now when you sit down to write, you will have all the ingredients easily accessible. Or, if you have an intern or other supporting help, they can utilize these resources to compile the first draft for you. An answer library can help streamline the development and writing of your proposals.
Internally report on your progress at key intervals.
You should also be prepared to pull together summary reports that can effectively communicate to your organization and Board the current status and progress of your grantseeking efforts. Depending on the type of grant management solution you use, this can take a few clicks—or potentially hours of time manipulating spreadsheets every time you need to report.
Once you start reporting on particular metrics, you can tune your grant tracking process to be more timely and consistent in tracking the information needed to create those reports. A question that is often asked – what types of grant status reports and metrics should I start with? In our research on what metrics grantseekers would most often wish to report on, we found that reporting on grants by status (planned, in-progress, pending, awarded, denied, etc.) was the most common report. Other metrics and reports such as Grant Win Percentage, Upcoming Grant Deadlines by Month, or Top Funders by Program reports were also desired.
An excellent link to another blog post that discusses the different types of metrics and reports that can help you build a sustainable grant practice is found here: http://www.granthub.com/metrics-to-drive-grant-performance/
Conclusion: Why worry about grant management?
A grant management solution helps you stay organized and prepared to answer questions like these:
- What do we need to do to increase the success rate of our grant efforts?
- If we had more money, what investment (in people, tools, training, skills, consultants, etc.) would we want to make?
- What is involved in successful grantseeking, and why does it take time to do well?
- What would it take to get our organization ready to apply to more funders?
When you are prepared, organized, and have the data you need, you can be depended upon to provide your organization with solid advice. Your system can also help you become recognized as a knowledgeable grant professional, increasing the power of your recommendations. An effective grant management process also helps show the results of your efforts and investments, and support your need to make data-driven decisions. If you want to get the best return on your grantseeking efforts, you will want to use tools and processes that help save time and increase the amount of funding you receive.