02 Aug Grants Management – Are We There Yet? by Tracey Diefenbach, GPC
With summer in full swing, vacation planning is or has been on everyone’s mind, including mine! As I booked reservations for a family road trip with my husband and three kids along with five other families, it got me thinking – this vacation planning is a lot like grants management planning. There are some key strategies used in vacation planning that can and should be used in grants management to answer the dreadful question, “Are we there yet?” with a confident “yes.”
Whether you are a grants professional working with a university managing lots of complex federal grants or a small nonprofit agency managing several foundation grants, there are some simple strategies we all can employ to alleviate bumps in the road.
Strategy #1: Bring the team in early on. Just like you would bring your family together to plan a vacation, you want to bring key stakeholders together to discuss the grant and your project. This process needs to happen early, before the proposal is even written. It will ensure you and your grants team have already discussed the grant and its requirements, so it is NOT a surprise when the award contract comes in or that first report comes due. Similar to hashing out your vacation plans with your family, like what do we want to do, where and when do we want to go, you want to ask your team –
- What is our project strategy, and will it meet the defined grant goals, terms, and conditions?
- Do we have systems in place to track outcomes and indicators and progress toward goals?
- Can we meet these reporting requirements?
- Do we have or need a position dedicated to tracking, entering, and reporting this data?
These are all questions you want your team to think about and decide upon early on. I once heard someone say, “Just apply for it, and we will figure it out later.” But you would never book a big family trip without scheduling time away from work, mapping your directions, and booking that perfect lakefront condo.
So now, let’s say that after discussion and decisions with all those involved, you have booked a road trip to the lake! Or, rather, you have submitted a proposal and received an award contract!
Strategy #2: Detail out the specifics of the grant award contract. Just like you would create a vacation packing checklist (doesn’t everyone have an Excel spreadsheet labeled “Vacation Checklist” with everything on it from sunscreen to Pedialyte?), you need to create a grant postaward checklist. If you followed Strategy #1 (in a perfect world), you and your team have read all the terms, conditions, and reporting requirements prior to applying. So, while your team has a general understanding, this checklist gives you a chance to break down the details into a comprehensive document that your team can easily understand and track.
Strategy 3: Set and conduct regular meetings. Just like you would do regular check-ins to make sure you and your family are adequately prepared for vacation (because let’s face it, your six-year-old may have packed her Elsa dress and crown instead of her swimsuit), you want to make sure your team understands and is prepared to deliver on the grant terms and conditions. You will want to set an initial meeting and then ongoing meetings to review in detail with your team the comprehensive document from Strategy #2 (again, in a perfect world). In these meetings, you and your team will monitor implementation and track and report on things like:
- Outcomes and indicators – Much like the infamous “Are we there yet?” question you will be asked no less than 10 times on your road trip, you will want to be continually asking your grants team, “Are we on track to meet the stated goals?” This ensures no surprises for you and the funder and allows for adjustments along the way.
- Expenses and revenue – Just like you would track your vacation costs, you and your grants team need to assess expenses and revenue. How much has been spent compared to budget? Are you on track to spend the full amount? What matching funds have been secured to date?
- Lessons learned – Oftentimes after a vacation, I will ask my children what they liked the most about vacation and what they missed or wished they could have done. Naturally, some of these answers can be taken with a grain of salt, like “I want to see a big, big, big shark swimming,” but this feedback is important for informing the next trip. You want to ask your grants team, “What is working well?”, “What is not working well?”, and “What changes have been or will be made?” It is important to understand and be prepared to explain the “why” behind decisions, just like you must prepared for all the “why” questions from your kids on a long road trip!
Just as listening to the wishes of your family members (especially the little voices that are often the loudest) and planning your vacation will lead to a fun, memorable trip, forming a well thought-out grants management plan will result in a successfully executed program. Then, you can confidently answer the never-ending question with “Yes, we are there.”
Competency #3: Knowldege of post-award grant management practices sufficient to inform effective grant design and development.
Skill #4: Identify methods of establishing transitions to post-award implementation that fulfill project applications (e.g. document transfer, accuracy in post-award fiscal and activity reporting).