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Whether you’re planning a new grant program or trying to improve one that’s already in place, it helps to break down the grants management process into steps. Let’s begin by talking about your organization’s “why,” as it should guide everything you do.
This may seem like an obvious question, but what issues or problems are you trying to address? Getting crystal clear on your mission ensures you make strategic decisions throughout the grants management process. From defining your applicant criteria to selecting a review team, a well-defined mission serves as the north star of your program.
Let’s look at two examples. While these organizations are quite different, they’ve both identified the purpose and scope of their grant programs succinctly.
Before you do anything else, work with your team and stakeholders to develop a brief mission statement and focus areas that reflect your grant program’s purpose.
Identifying who should apply to your grant program is another way to fine-tune your mission and focus areas. Ask yourself:
For example, let’s say you’re building a grant program with a mission to ensure quality STEM education for Hispanic children in Miami. You might want to ask:
With grant management software, you could add these questions before the grant applicant starts the application, like a qualifying quiz.
Before you start building out your program, let’s talk about how to determine a viable budget for each grant cycle.
All grantmaking organizations must be conscious of balancing their assets with grant payouts. Whether your grant money comes from private donors, investments, or corporate profits, these sources can vary (sometimes dramatically) from year to year. It’s critical to have a long-term perspective that factors in these fluctuations. That way, your organization doesn’t overextend itself, risking its ability to give in the future.
You also want the ability to pivot quickly when emergency needs arise. Most of the time, the need won’t be quite as great as the COVID-19 pandemic, but being a responsive grantmaker means having a contingency plan in place.
While keeping assets in reserve is one option to manage variability from year-to-year, another is to continuously look for ways to reduce operating expenses. This might take the form of technology like a grant management system or a regular audit of external vendors.
As you develop your budget, sustainability is key. While you certainly want to make an impact as soon as possible, issues are often complex, and therefore require a consistent source of funding to make lasting change.
Next, let’s focus on the cornerstone of a successful grant management process - the application. When designed well, an application should:
To accomplish these three goals, think about how you can anticipate applicant questions, remove unnecessary obstacles, and deliver compelling yet understandable grant application questions. Here are some ways to do that:
When applications have these features, it makes life easier for everyone involved in the process - the applicant, the staff, and the review team.
The next critical step in how to manage grants is selecting your review committee.
You want to choose a set of qualified, diverse individuals who will take their responsibility seriously. As you’re considering potential reviewers, ask yourself:
Once you’ve assembled your team, think about how you can create a pleasant, seamless experience for your grant reviewers so they can do the best job possible. For example:
Before you begin assigning applications to your review committee, your next task is to make sure your scoring system is clear.
If your review criteria are hard to understand, this is going to slow your reviewers down. They'll have to contact your staff or interpret on their own, which means your evaluation process is compromised.
Here’s how to set up a scoring system that’s fair, consistent, and easy to use.
With a grants management platform, you can configure the scorecard once, and then let the system provide real-time scoring at the touch of a button.
Finally, let’s discuss how to manage grant reports. While this is the last step in our blog post, it can (and should) occur throughout the grant management process.
You can identify specific measurements from their proposal to use as markers for progress or select them together once you’ve awarded the grant. For example, an at-risk youth program might report on how many of their participants obtained their GRE, graduated from high school, or applied to college.
You’ll also need to decide how your grant recipients will report on their progress. Will you require periodic updates on how they’re using funds? Perhaps you’d rather have on-site visits or presentations. Just remember - you don’t want your requirements to be a drain on their time or resources.
It’s also important to plan how you’ll manage all this data. You may want to consider grants management software that could streamline and organize feedback into useful insights, provide a dashboard with key performance indicators, and produce consolidated reports easily.
While the seven steps above represent the primary tasks of the grant management process, grantmakers should always take time to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t. There’s always opportunity for improvement, and that’s part of the process!