August 27, 2009

Ten Tips for Post-Grant Success

You’ve popped the bubbly, spread the good news to your board, and deposited the grant award check. Here’s to a job well done!

But hold on, because now is when the job is just beginning. Take time to give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back – and do your special “happy dance” (we promise we won’t laugh) – but don’t lose sight of the next phase. Grants administration is as important, arguably more important, than landing the award in the first place.

Far too many nonprofit agencies simply add the money to their budgets, roughly deliver the services outlined, and forget about the funder until that letter comes in the mail – you know, the one reminding you that your report on the project is due!  In two weeks! So you scramble to gather financial and program information, and breathlessly send the report off at the deadline date (after pulling your board director out of a meeting to get her signature).

While grant reporting and administrative needs change depending on the funder, here are ten tips for managing this phase like a pro:

  1. Say “Thank You:” Mom was right about this one. A mailed card is a nice touch (send it as soon as you receive notification of the grant award).
  2. Know the Requirements: Find out the reporting requirements – and put deadline reminders in your calendar to allow plenty of time to prepare reports thoughtfully and completely. If the funder doesn’t require a formal report, submit a final report or detailed letter anyway. If you normally produce more frequent internal progress reports (say a quarterly client assessment summary) ask the funder whether they might like these as they are produced or along with the final reports.
  3. Outline Your Commitment: Look through your budgets, objectives, activities, timelines, and other proposed actions and distill what you’ve promised to do, by when, and who is responsible.
  4. Know Compliance Issues: Review any funder compliance information and make adjustments needed to fulfill those. Compliance tends to fall into arenas like financial systems, governance, formalization of partner agreements, and internal policies.
  5. Recognize Your Danger Zones: Your goal is to exceed the expectations listed in your proposal, and there are almost always “danger zones” – things that will prove challenging for your organization. Maybe the dissemination plan is difficult to implement, or your agency is weak on data collection, or the timeline is tight, or you have staff capacity issues. Now is the time to identify where you may fall short and take preventative steps.
  6. Identify Notification Triggers: While you should notify any funder of major changes in a grant project (prior to the change occurring), there are particular conditions for notification with many funders such as adjustments to budget or changes in key personnel.
  7. Adapt your Systems: After researching the issues above, make sure your internal systems and processes will work.  Do you need procedures for expense draw-downs? Do you need separate banking accounts altogether? Does your website have the coding needed to track traffic for your marketing plan? Do your intake or assessment forms need additional information?
  8. Spread the Word: Now that you’ve figured out the elements above, make sure your project managers, senior staff, and partners know all the relevant details and have them at hand as the project progresses. If the scope of work is sizable, consider holding regular grant progress meetings to make sure things stay on track.
  9. Keep Funders in the Loop: Keep an eye out for opportunities to stay in touch with your grant award contact such as program coverage in the paper, professional awards given to your project manager, or meeting your first major milestone ahead of schedule. If you send clipped media articles by mail during the grant period, send digital copies with your final report.
  10. Tie a Bow on It: Your final report is a chance to stand out. Unless the funder admonishes against including extra materials or going beyond required information, enrich the submission to help them get a feel for your work and how much their support made a difference. Things like event photos, client success stories, client survey results, and media mentions are good to include (and often work their way into foundation annual reports). Also, be honest. Of course you should only include accurate information, but beyond that, you should be open about challenges encountered, lessons learned, and future limitations you’ve identified. Funders will usually prefer candor coupled with strategic ideas for future improvements over a sugar-coated report.

With the tips above you will not only manage grants adeptly, you will be well-regarded for continuing and future awards. The Grant Plant is able to assist with many of the steps listed above. We now offer Grant Delivery Summaries in addition to reporting assistance (see box below for details).

Final Note: Think of it like prom… you don’t want to be that guy who’s completely attentive and charming until he scores a prom date then acts like a heel at the big dance. If you want the memories to be good, then look your best, open the car door, let her know she’s special, get her a glass of punch, don’t step on her toes while dancing, and get her home by curfew.

Contact: Aly Sanchez, Director of Organizational Strategy and Learning,

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