What Are Grant Deliverables and Milestones?

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Published:

October 2, 2023

Last Updated:

October 4, 2023

If you’re new to grant writing, grant deliverables and grant milestones probably sound like very nebulous or indistinguishable components of nonprofit program evaluation.

But have no fear!

In this article we will explain the differences between deliverables and milestones, their relevance to grant proposals and program evaluation, and key methods on integrating both into your grant program. You’ll be an expert in no time.

Let’s dive in!

Understanding the Basics of Deliverables and Milestones

Understand


Let’s start at the very beginning. What exactly are grant deliverables and what is the role of grant milestones?

What Are Grant Deliverables?


Put simply, deliverables are accomplishments achieved through an awarded grant. Deliverables are typically reported back to the grant funder as proof of a nonprofit’s effective use of funds.

For example, a deliverable could be: “A grant from X Foundation allowed our organization to serve 500 free meals in November.”

However, a grant deliverable can take many different forms, such as:

  • The development of a “product” or something physical and tangible such as flyers, a report, or marketing collateral
  • The amount of individuals impacted by, engaged by, or served by a nonprofit
  • Research findings
  • Activities engaged in or provided by staff (e.g. providing case management; providing mental or physical health services; teaching a class; etc.)
  • Improved service provision or program processes

Grant deliverables will look different depending on the purpose of a grant and the specific mission of your organization.

While grantees may promise deliverables directly in their grant proposals, funders may also require specific deliverables as stated in their application or in the award agreement. For example, a funder may request a final report on activities throughout the grant period or several reports at various stages during the grant period (such as quarterly reports, or an interim report).

Some funders will request that a program serve a specific number of people or engage in a certain number of activities with the dollars awarded, whereas others are more flexible and will allow the nonprofit to propose what the grant deliverables will be.

Each grant program and each funder is different and will have different terms depending on the program’s purpose or the funder’s goals. Be sure to thoroughly review agreements for each grant you apply for to be certain you understand what kinds of deliverables are expected.

What Are Grant Milestones?


Milestones are representative of important activities undertaken throughout the grant period. They are essentially deadlines keeping the project on track to ensure success.

Examples of milestones can be:

  • Hiring key personnel
  • Executing a contract with a partner organization
  • Hosting an event
  • Completing training

Milestones can be as simple or complex as needed. For example, milestones for a research project might follow along a strict timeline with testing, reviews, report drafts and publication. Other programs may have much less detailed timelines with fewer milestones.

Below is an example of a very simple project timeline for a research grant with associated grant milestones.

Grant Milestones 1st Quarter 2nd Quarter 3rd Quarter 4th Quarter
Hire Primary Investigator (PI) x      
Develop survey(s) for focus group A x      
Develop survey(s) for focus group B x      
Secure site for focus groups x      
Primary Investigator will survey and interview focus groups   x    
Analyze findings from focus group A   x    
Analyze findings from focus group B   x    
Complete initial draft of report     x  
Send report to board for review     x  
Complete final draft of report       x
Present findings to board of trustees       x
Disseminate final report and findings       x

Differentiating Between Deliverables and Milestones

Understanding the differences between deliverables and milestones can be tricky. Both are associated closely with grant programs and evaluating their success.

Key Distinctions


To put it simply, milestones represent key activities undertaken at strategic moments during the grant period while deliverables represent quantifiable items that result from those said activities.

For example, a milestone could be “The project will complete a first draft of X study by Y date and time” whereas a deliverable could be, “The project will produce and disseminate X copies of the final report”.

Interplay Between the Two


While milestones and deliverables are functionally different, the two are intrinsically linked in the lifecycle of a grant.

Deliverables are oftentimes associated with key grant milestones. For example, for a research grant, project milestones may be completing a draft of the final study or report, submitting the report for review, publishing the report, and disseminating findings. The findings and the report in question would be considered the deliverables while the steps getting to that final product are the milestones.

In other words, milestones help ensure that deliverables get delivered. You cannot have one without the other.

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Crafting Measurable and Impactful Deliverables

Grant deliverables should be both measurable and impactful. Remember, funders want to see deliverables so they know that their investment in the program was meaningful and made a difference in the community or in the lives of others.

Let’s review a few strategies for setting deliverables that will ensure the success of your program.

Setting SMART Deliverables


When crafting deliverables, or setting goals of any kind, it is best practice to follow the principles of SMART goals.

Smart is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-limited—all things you want from a grant deliverable or objective.

This means that deliverables should be:

  • Specific: The deliverable is clearly stated and easy for any reader to understand.
  • Measurable: The deliverable can be measured and evaluated in quantifiable terms.
  • Achievable: The deliverable is reasonably achievable through actions taken during the grant period.
  • Relevant: The deliverable is aligned with the overall objective of the grant program and will illustrate the efficacy of the work.
  • Time-limited: The deliverable is achievable during the grant period.

For example, a deliverable could be: “The mental health advocacy program will increase group therapy participation by 50%, from serving 25 participants annually to 37 participants annually.”

This is a SMART deliverable. The deliverable is clearly communicated, it is relevant to the overall goal of the program (mental health advocacy), it is achievable (a modest increase in service provision), it is measurable (tracking of each participant between years), and it is limited to a single year (annually).

If each deliverable you craft meets all of the SMART requirements you can rest assured you have developed deliverables that will best illustrate the impact of your work.

To learn more about SMART goals you can check out this Instrumentl webinar.

Aligning Deliverables With Grant Objectives


Objectives are broader and higher level than deliverables—but both should be aligned in your grant proposal.

For example, let’s say that there is a nonprofit program that provides transitional housing to individuals who are experiencing housing insecurity. The overall objective of the program may be to “Decrease homelessness for the community” while the program’s deliverable is more specific: “provide safe housing to 50 participants annually.”

An objective is much more broad and vision-focused and extensive. Homelessness in the community won’t necessarily end completely with a single grant; it is a much more complex and systemic issue. However, the grant could provide the funding needed to sustain or expand nonprofit operations in such a way that the organization could reasonably provide safe housing to 50 participants over the course of the year.

Note that the example deliverable above is also aligned with the objective of the program. The alignment with grant objectives should be clear and obvious.

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Establishing Timely and Relevant Milestones

Like deliverables, milestones should not be crafted without intention or a clear strategy in mind. Milestones should represent activities that will directly work toward the program’s overall objective and will result in achievable deliverables.

Let’s review a few notable strategies for ensuring your grant milestones are timely and relevant.

Scheduling Milestones for Effective Monitoring


The timing of milestones should make sense to effectively monitor the grant program’s progress. For example, if a grant program covers an entire calendar year then the milestones should be spaced evenly throughout that time period.

Milestones exist to ensure the program stays on course throughout the grant period. This means you should not rush to get everything done right away, potentially resulting in errors or ineffective results—nor should you wait to schedule the majority of your milestones at the tail end of the project.

Communicate with your staff and team to identify what kind of capacity they have to achieve or produce the proposed deliverables and plan when key actions could take place when working toward them.

Ensuring Milestones Reflect Progress


Milestones should also reflect progress.

Each milestone or action taken during the grant period should not be taken without an end goal in mind. Every milestone should feed directly and logically into the next key milestone.

Consider what quantifiable results you can showcase at the end of a milestone to illustrate how you are moving forward.

Tips for Integrating Milestones and Deliverables in Proposals

While the content of milestones and deliverables is key, it is also important to present them in an engaging way.

Grants are immensely competitive so it is important to use all the tools and resources at your disposal to make sure your proposal stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Presentation Matters


Presentation is important when addressing milestones and deliverables in a grant proposal.

Both should be presented in a logical way that is easy for any reader to understand. It should be clear how they each align with the program’s overall objectives and the grant timeline.

Remember, proposals can vary widely depending on their content and purpose. You can look to Instrumentl’s blog for guidance on the development of different types of grant proposals.

Leveraging Technology


When achieving grant deliverables and grant milestones, technology is your friend!

CRMs like Salesforce can help you track participant data and demographic information that will be crucial to ensuring you have achieved your stated milestones and deliverables.

Salesforce is a great tool because it can track quantitative information (e.g. participant age, number of engagements, number of sessions, etc.) as well as qualitative information (e.g. case notes) making it easy to track a variety of milestones and deliverables regardless of the content.

Salesforce

Technology is also key to presenting deliverables and milestones as well. There are all kinds of tools for presenting this kind of information.

Online platforms like Smartsheet can help you create a Gantt chart that illustrates key milestones in your grant program timeline. For those who are more familiar with Microsoft Office’s suite of programs Gantt charts can also be easily created in Microsoft Excel.

Smartsheet

Potential Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Setting yourself up for success when it comes to grant deliverables and grant milestones means avoiding common mistakes. By avoiding potential pitfalls you can position your grant program for long-term success.

Overpromising and Underdelivering


When it comes to developing grant deliverables, overpromising and underdelivering is a very common problem. If you think back to the SMART goals remember that one of the key features of the principle is that the goals are achievable.

If you feel that the very best your program can promise is to remain consistent in its progress year to year then you should state that in your grant proposal. This is not necessarily a bad sign. Many funders want to sustain critical nonprofit programming as much as they want to innovate or expand.

Ensuring Flexibility in Implementation


It can be easy to mistakenly box yourself into a corner when developing milestones for a grant program. While specificity is typically good, too much specificity and detail can constrain the program and make it difficult to shift or adapt when external or unforeseen challenges come up.

Give your staff the space and flexibility to achieve the intended results of the grant program. This can be as simple as communicating you are willing to adapt and evolve should the needs of the program call for it.

Wrapping Up: The Next Steps

Grant deliverables and grant milestones are vital components of any successful grant program and a crucial facet of effective program evaluation.

When you have clear, logical milestones along with measurable, impactful deliverables it will strengthen your grant program and communicate the efficacy of your work to funders.

Want to learn more about grant writing, grant management, or grant evaluation? Check out our article on measuring nonprofit impact.

Instrumentl boasts an extensive library of helpful grant writing resources, guides, and FAQs that you can leverage in an effort to strengthen your fundraising strategy and grow your nonprofit. Check it out today to learn more!

Instrumentl team

Instrumentl team

Instrumentl is the all-in-one grant management tool for nonprofits and consultants who want to find and win more grants without the stress of juggling grant work through disparate tools and sticky notes.

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