Grant Management: How Grantmakers Build and Maintain Effective Grant Processes

10/24/2019

While grants management can be a long and arduous process, it doesn’t have to be. Just because the stakes are high when it comes to grantmaking doesn’t mean the process of selecting and awarding grants needs to be difficult.

A process that should be rigorous does not necessarily need to be tedious. That’s the key.

Your grants management process should maximize the impact in communities while easing burdens on grantees and grantmakers so the cycle of giving can continue unimpeded. It’s easy to let the scale of the process overwhelm you and your grantees, but having an efficient system in place can will benefit everyone, at every step of the process.

Start out by setting some high-level goals. A seamless grants management process should focus on a few key themes. Here we focus on building a process that prioritizes collaboration, engagement, and transparency.

Placing significant importance on measurement (based on realistic goals), ensuring your efforts are public, and engaging closely with stakeholders will help you win the day when it comes to effective grant management.

Now that all sounds good, but setting up a process that accomplishes that is no small feat.

The time has come to set up a meticulous yet streamlined grants management process that drives impact while easing administrative burdens for all stakeholders.

Spoiler alert: it involves a healthy mix of smart processes backed by the right technology.

Here we go.

The key steps in the grantmaking process (for grantmakers)

Grantmaking Cycle

Let’s keep it simple, friends.

For grantmakers, it’s easy to think of the grantmaking cycle in three key phases:

  • Pre-Award: Announcing a funding opportunity, receiving submissions, and evaluating potential grantees
  • Award: Offering funding to specific organizations, engaging with stakeholders during implementation, measuring and supporting impact along the way
  • Post-Award: Finalizing any grant requirements, reporting out results, integrating data in future grantmaking strategies

While all the stages of the grant management process bring their own significance, it’s critical to underscore how important the pre-award stage is—particularly the submission and evaluation step.

This is the moment when grantmakers put their values into practice.

In other words, grantmakers must identify grantees that will use their funds effectively while also reaching objectives that align with both their organizational mission and the funder’s strategic priorities. Getting that right takes a strong process and lots of deep analysis.

But before we dive into that specific step, let’s broaden our view and look at the grant management process as a whole. Here are the most general steps in the overall grant lifecycle:

Develop a grant opportunity and announce it

Your grant opportunities should flow from your organizational values. They should prioritize driving impact in the communities that you care about while not overly-prescribing how it gets done (but maybe suggesting a few ways).

Ideally, you’ve consulted with local nonprofits and other community-based organizations to develop a strong understanding of the landscape, assets, and needs at play. (Check out our post about participatory grantmaking for more on this topic.)

Once you have a strong understanding of the problem you’d like to tackle, make sure you get the word out to the right places. Announce it on your website, spread the word through local organizations, and even consider reaching out directly to the organizations that might apply for the grant. Don’t expect word of mouth to get you to the right grantees: do the outreach.

Receive and evaluate submissions

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Remember those values?

This is where you get to put them into practice and decide which potential grantees are the best fit for the impact you’re looking to achieve. While that’s hard enough, you can make it easy on yourself (and your grantee candidates) by setting up modern submission software that streamlines the whole process.

Armed with the right tool, you can easily keep candidates informed throughout the process, simplify the review steps (including multi-round reviews involving multiple reviewers), and move the work among various stakeholders more fluidly.\

Choose your grantees and notify them

Remember that community organizations are relying on you.

They build their annual budgets and set their quarterly priorities based on funding decisions. You can make a big impact, even if you don’t end up funding them, by just maintaining a clear and consistent grant management process that helps them understand where they are in your process.

Once you’ve chosen organizations to fund, let them know right away and be transparent about the steps they’ll need to take to get the funding disbursed and begin their work.

Disburse the funds and support the work

Delayed distribution of funds is harmful to the grants process and can reduce your impact.

Get the money to the organizations whose mission and vision you love. Once that happens, join them in the work of supporting the communities outlined in their grant application. Whether it’s helping them measure their progress, connecting them to further resources or even linking them to peer funders—every little bit helps in the pursuit of impact.

Remember to keep in place flexible processes so that organizations can get support in the ways that they actually need it. Sometimes, they’ll ask for an earlier disbursement or a multi-year extension of funding. Be prepared for these shifts by making sure your grant management process takes them into account ahead of time.

Report on progress

Being transparent about the impact you and your grantees are having is vital.

It helps improve the work you are doing together while also enriching the broader grantmaking community. This is an area where you can scale your impact by providing knowledge and insights to peers to help them hone their work.

This comes in the form of annual reports, data dashboards, and other forms of information-sharing that shows the public how your funds were spent and what the results were.

Don’t be shy about this step. Embrace it.

Closeout the grant

All good grants must come to an end.

Here you’ll want to take time to collect all of the relevant data from stakeholders, hold exit interviewers with the appropriate organizations and individuals reached by the funding, and engage in some reflection about the efficacy of the grant.

Be sure to stay in close touch with the organizations you’ve supported even after the grant ends as there may be ways to work together towards community impact in the future. Take all that you learned from the grant cycle and ensure that your leadership integrates those lessons into the next grant cycle.

How grantmakers can win at grant management

How grantmakers can win at grant management

Grant management starts with the right tools.

With so many stakeholders taking part and lots of urgent community needs at play, it’s easy to overdo it with bureaucracy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You want a grant management workflow that engages all stakeholders and creates clear and repeatable steps–something that’s thorough but without lots of red tape.

Automate your checklist

The administrative tasks that support your process should run like a well-oiled machine.

Steps like pre-qualification and due diligence checklists will generally be the same for every grant. Such parts of the process should run autonomously with the relevant data falling into your team’s hands for decision-making purposes.

In short, any part of the process that is able to repeat can and should be set up accordingly to save time and resources.

Standardize for speed

Automation and standardization go hand-in-hand.

For example, you can spend less time on grant agreements by easily standardizing them (save for a few paragraphs here and there). Relatedly, having a consistent and transparent approval dashboard so grantees and reviewers know where they are at every stage of the process can really help move things along.

Organize key data

Be sure that you’re pulling in publicly available data (from sites like Guidestar) to give your reviewers the information they need and to move things along. Grants should be organized into clearly-identifiable verticals so getting quick answers and finding data are made easy.

A tighter level of organization, with an eye towards streamlined processes, will reap serious time savings for your team over the long-term.

Measure your progress

Set yourself up with the right metrics to better understand your grant management process as well. Get a handle on how long approvals are taking, the amount of time you’re spending to develop each grant, as well as how different grantees are performing.

Having answers to some of these questions will help you determine whether you’ve got the right processes set up internally as well as outwardly toward your grantees.

Build a strong platform

Running your grant management process with a modern submission platform can serve to deliver more organized workflows, standardize repeatable processes, streamline approvals, and ground your whole process in the most essential metrics.

Go forth and make that impact with those (now streamlined) grants.

Paul Perry
Paul Perry

Paul Perry is a writer and former educator with significant experience in nonprofit management. He has a soft spot for grant-seekers striving to make the world a better, more just place.