A mini guide to smart grant management for HigherEd institutions

An increasing number of higher education institutions are seeking government and private funding to conveniently run their operations and advance their academic endeavours. Yet, for all the talk about grantseeking, only a few schools know how to make the most of their grants and grant data.

Moreover, inefficient or non-existent tracking systems often lead to missed opportunities and sloppy decision-making, costing institutions money and inadvertently wasting the resources of the funding organizations. This post provides a mini-guide to smart grant management for HigherEd grant managers. We’ll cover the grant lifecycle and offer a streamlined process for a smart grant management lifecycle.

The Grant Lifecycle

Effective grant management is crucial throughout the entire grant lifecycle, which is divided into three phases: pre-award, award, and post-award, and all with numerous vital operations at each stage.

We’ve fit all those crucial operations within the three phases into these steps below to offer you a 6-in-1 simplified grant management process. But first, what stages are included in the grant management life cycle?

  1. Search for suitable grant opportunities
  2. Proposal development
  3. Proposal submission
  4. Proposal approval
  5. Awarding of funding
  6. Starting of the said project
  7. Progress updates and reports
  8. Audits
  9. Award close-out

6 steps to a streamlined grant lifecycle

You might wonder where smart grant management comes in within all these. Well, smart grant management is a process by which grantseekers use streamlined processes and intelligent technology to make the grantseeking process easier and more efficient for the team and more transparent for all parties involved. The truth is that grantseeking is not easy. From pre-award planning to post-award reporting, the entire grant management lifecycle is incredibly complex and tedious.

Here is the good news, though. With a streamlined management process and the right tool(s), you can conveniently and effectively manage an impactful grant programme. Grant administrators that adopt innovative grant management practices will find that their grants are better managed, their fund-to-project premise is improved, and their relationships with funding organizations enhanced. Let’s get into it.

1. Define your mission and goals early

The first step in getting a grant is defining your mission and goals. Defining your mission and goals is vital when applying for grants. While a vague, generalized statement of what you hope to achieve can get you through the stages of the grant application process, it would likely not get you a win amidst other competitors with clearly-defined goals.

Link your objectives to an overall plan or strategy

It is always good to link your objectives to your overall strategy or plan for your institution. For instance, what do you foresee for your institution in the next ten years? Is it to be within the top 200 best colleges in the world – university rankings? Are you hoping to be known for your research output or the diversity of your campus (students and lecturers)?

Knowing these will help you define your mission and goals for the intended grant application. The best part is that once you know all these, it is easy to tailor all your intended grant proposals accordingly regardless of the number of such opportunities you are applying for. As a mini tip, use words like increase, decrease, develop, establish, produce, or provide to describe your objective. You’ll find that these positive action words have a way of moving you closer to your goal.

Set the narrative

Remember to create a detailed narrative of your institution in a few paragraphs. This brief should focus on the nuts and bolts of your college and emphasize its history, successes, and previous awards or funds based on merit or prior accomplishment. This, you will continue to use for all your proposals, as an integral aspect of your brand.

2. Search for suitable grant opportunities

Once you’ve outlined your mission, goals, and objectives, you should search for appropriate grant opportunities. There are numerous types of grants (some strictly for non-profits, startups, academic institutions, etc.) and numerous awarding bodies and agencies (governments, foundations, and corporate businesses). As an educational institution, you should look for grant opportunities for which schools and colleges are eligible. The funding opportunities vary at this level; some grants are strictly for equipment, research, or other academic projects.

Less is better

Endeavour to do appropriate research and apply to those where you know you have the most significant advantage. It is better to send well-tailored proposals to a few grantmakers where you have a high chance of getting the award than to send out numerous vague applications where you stand little or no chance. Notwithstanding, you should apply to a couple. That way, you increase your chances of winning at least one or two of them, or even more (if allowed).

Where to look

When searching for grant opportunities online, you should first understand the targeted organizations and the intended funding opportunities, narrowing down your search premise. Also, some grantmakers accept unsolicited grant proposals while some don’t. There are many ways to search for suitable grant opportunities. You can use a database of government grants to find out about available funds for your project. You can also check out government websites or those of foundations and multinational organizations. Here is one such platform by the European Union. Once you have found the best-fit grant opportunities, it is time to create a defined and well-tailored proposal.

3. Start the application process early

Whether you are applying for federal grants or private foundation funds, starting the application process early is essential for a successful outcome. By doing so, you will have a better chance of meeting deadlines and avoiding the pitfalls that come with delayed grant applications. In order to start the process as early as possible, make sure you have all the information you need. Start collecting information early on and export it to multiple formats to make your application process seamless. A grant management system will help you organize your history, keep track of deadlines and deliverables, and keep related documents organized and accessible.

What is the grant’s purpose?

At this point, you should already have your mission and goals defined, but now, it is time to design your proposal specifically for your targeted grant. Basically, what is the purpose of this grant for which you are applying? Why do you need it (the project)? How will you use it? Why is this organization or government department the best to offer you this fund your institution needs? A well-thought-out grant proposal should explain how the funds you have requested will benefit your institution in the short and long term. Explain why your proposed project is necessary and how it fits your mission.

What makes up your proposal?

The proposal should also clearly state your methodology for spending the funds – your budget. Some grantmakers have specific guidelines detailing a project’s budget, so ensure your proposal aligns with that. An adequately prepared budget is essential for a successful application. Your proposal should introduce your school and address the funder directly. Include all relevant resources. If possible, you should also include client and partner recommendations, statistics, and testimonials from past funders and even students. You can also include the results of previous projects and awards to support your claim on potential. A clear explanation will differentiate your institution from other applicants. And yes, there are numerous other applicants; you need to state beyond any reasonable doubt why your project or goals should be chosen over that of the other applicants.

4. Grant has been successfully awarded; now what?

After receiving the grant, your journey has only just begun. First, you must have signed some form of agreement before the fund was disbursed; so remember to commit to everything stated as you use the fund to furnish your project. Review the proposal you submitted thoroughly and endeavour to keep your project in tune with the timeline should be clearly laid out. You can also check with the funding organization to ensure that your grant proposal and timeline are on track.

Review your milestones

Reviewing the proposal and following up with the grantmaker can lay the foundation for a successful project and minimize problems later. This way, all parties are kept happy. And a positive relationship between the two of you can only benefit everyone involved. Remember that the grant’s goal is to support a particular project or institutional goal. Be dedicated to that, or you might miss your project milestones or mismanage the fund, hampering your future applications. 

Use a grant management system

There’s no doubt that the grant life cycle requires a lot of paperwork. Maintaining documentation, preparing budgets, and ensuring that the fund is spent responsibly are critical to the overall success of your project and the final award close-out. Meanwhile, all these documents can get cluttered and time-consuming to manage. With a grant management system, you can simplify and automate the process. You can track your project milestones, assign tasks to your team, manage funds, send periodic reports to the funders, carry out in-house audits, and keep up with deadlines. It also integrates with your existing workflow and automates time-consuming tasks.

5. Share progress reports with the funding organisation

Since the funders are supporting your project without any financial expectations in return, they at least expect that the fund would be put into good use, as you stated. For this reason, you should endeavour to send periodic reports to the funders whether it is requested or not. Well, in most situations, it will be requested. In fact, many of the funding agencies carry out audits in this regard before the award close-out. Besides, sharing your program’s progress with the grantmaker is a great way to strengthen your relationship and get the results you need – it’ll be easier for you to commit to achieving your goals.

Include key data

Your progress report should include crucial statistics, if there are any, at that stage. It is also helpful to share qualitative descriptions as well as quantitative data. Give the grantmaker plenty of information to reflect on. Now to the final reporting, this itself can be a highly valuable and rewarding part of the grant lifecycle – you get to reflect on what you have accomplished, what was well done, and what could be improved next time.

Again, grant management systems can help automate your grant report, turning raw data into valuable assets. Remember to make the final report as clear and informative as possible. It is your biggest opportunity to flex your project outcome and make way for potential fund renewal or other granting prospects.

6. Close-out the award appropriately

The close-out stage is the final phase of the grant lifecycle and begins after the project is concluded. It ensures the final reports are submitted and the final financial reconciliation is done. It also requires numerous documents and reports. Whether the project is successful or not, this is a vital component of the lifecycle. Before you can begin the close-out process, you need to address all aspects of the grant, including all units involved.

Close-out requirements

The close-out requirements and date are typically specified in the initial award document, but they can also update the close-out conditions near the end of the grant. You should submit your final financial and programme reports to the awarding foundation or government agency on or before this date. It is advisable to submit it much earlier and sign the close-out agreement. Submitting close-out reports on time will improve your chances of future funding!

Final close-out package

Once you’ve determined the time frame and unit points, it is easier to work through the close-out. If you have been awarded a grant extension or renewal, the deadline for close-out should be adjusted accordingly. The final close-out package must be reviewed by the programme office of the awarding agency, signed, and approved as completed or concluded. And with that, you have completed the grant management lifecycle! Oh, remember to keep all grant records for a while.

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