Years ago after finishing graduate school with my newly minted master of public administration (MPA) degree, I quickly learned that there were few grants management resources available to managers, particularly in local government. In fact, most grant managers had never had formal training in the field. Nevertheless, over the years my expertise has grown, and I have learned the critical aspects of effective grants management, which I will share with you in this article.
First and foremost with any grants process, you need a grants management system. In my last job, our organization had a grant writer who had more than a hundred white binders in her office with endless pages of grant files. When she retired, no one could decipher her system. As a result, the company had to hire her back as a consultant. This should never happen. In the world of grants management, no one should be indispensable so as to cripple an organization should he or she leave. Much like accounting requires separation of certain duties, there should be a similar plan as it relates to managing grants. No one person should have all the answers.
A good grants management system makes certain that there are checks and balances. The organization should utilize a database and trace that data, for instance by using eCivis’ Grants Network: Research and Tracking & Reporting. Tracking & Reporting is an ideal tool that allows managers to assign members to the grants team from the beginning of the project to grant closure. The system also allows you to maintain pertinent grant documents in one place and to ensure that you’re on track to meet critical deadlines no matter what department you’re in or if there’s a shift in personnel. Many of our clients enjoy the advantages that Tracking & Reporting provides when an audit takes place, allowing ready access to pertinent documents.
Whether your organization has a centralized or decentralized structure, there should be someone in the organization who knows what is going on with grants management throughout the organization. In many local municipalities, this position may be in the city manager’s/city administrator’s office or perhaps in the budget office. No matter where the position is physically located, there should be someone who has a finger on the pulse of grant activity throughout the organization.
For instance, let’s say that you’ve won a grant that will provide your organization with five new police officers over three years. Of critical importance is how those positions will be sustained in the long term. Someone needs to determine the financial impact for the organization. Additionally, someone needs to determine whether or not a particular grant is worth pursuing in the first place. The organizations with the best grant management track records realize that not every grant opportunity should be pursued. In fact, some municipalities have created grant committees that do the analysis before anyone is allowed to apply for a grant. This ensures that the $5,000 grant, for example, doesn’t end up costing the organization $10,000 to manage. In other words, organizations must take into account the return on investment. Note also that an effective review committee is one that meets often enough to remain nimble and does not impede the grant application process.
If a grant is awarded and accepted from a funder, the funding recipient must fulfill reporting requirements. There should also be a process in place to make certain that programmatic and financial reporting occurs within the timeframe(s) specified in the grant. eCivis Tracking & Reporting allows a master account holder to see reports that are due on every grant across an organization’s departments. As grant dollars become increasingly scarce, funders want to ensure that grants are managed in an appropriate manner. Several federal agencies use one grants management system to accept applications and review the performance of organizations that they have funded. So if your organization has a poor grants management record with one federal agency, there is nothing to keep that agency from finding out if your organization is consistently late with programmatic or financial reports. Bottom line: A poor grants management reputation can negatively impact an organization’s ability to secure additional grant funding. Having a process in place to ensure that reports are submitted on time is imperative.
Article by: Angel Wright-Lanier, eCivis Director of Governmental Solutions
eCivis is the nation's leading grants management software solution and the ideal platform for improving local governments' and community-based organizations' grants performance. For more information about eCivis, visit www.ecivis.com.
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