Last Updated:

April 11, 2023

How to Create a Grant Application Pipeline for Tracking [in 2023]

How to Create a Grant Application Pipeline for Tracking [in 2023]

Knowing how to create a grant application pipeline is crucial for your grant efforts.

In this article, we’ll dig into how to build a robust system to help you track your grant applications.

We'll begin by exploring what a grant application pipeline is, how to create a grant tracking pipeline, and how most grant writers organize grant applications before wrapping up by sharing how you can track everything in Instrumentl.

Let’s dive right in.

What is a Grant Application Pipeline?

Without the right tools to keep your grant strategy on track, the process of finding and applying for grants can get complicated very quickly. A grant application pipeline is a template or system that allows you to track new funding opportunities, specific details of the RFP (e.g., amount, deadline, eligibility), and a go/no-go decision on whether your nonprofit should apply for this opportunity.

A grant application pipeline saves you time by tracking application due dates and funding expectations while eliminating duplicative funding searches. It also helps you hone your grant writing message and your grant writing strategy as you develop knowledge of the local funding climate and which foundations will likely make good partners.

A grant application pipeline also allows you to track your organization's priorities, resources, and programmatic interests. A successful grant strategy requires a lot of time and resources each month. A grant application pipeline allows you to track and plan for the time and effort that will be needed each month.

Finally, a grant tracking pipeline helps you to track and forecast expected income for your nonprofit. If done well, a grant tracker provides data, tracks results, and organizes your grant strategy. Diversifying your nonprofit income with grant awards can help you build a more sustainable fundraising strategy. A grant tracking pipeline can help you guard against budget shortfalls or a sudden flux in your cash flow.

How to Create a Grant Tracking Pipeline

Grant tracking pipelines are straightforward and simple: they show you each of the grants you are applying for, grouped by the stage they are in, and provide an overview of your grant writing strategy.

First, you must decide how to divide up your grant writing stages. These can be as simple or complex as you would like. As with all things in organization, though, simple is better. Your grant tracking pipeline stages may include: potential, to-do, in-progress, applied, won, and lost.

When you save an opportunity in Instrumentl, you’ll have the option to change the status based off of where that opportunity is in your grant pipeline.

Second, you need to decide the data you want to track. If you are using a grant tracking software, you may have standard fields automatically included in your tracking template. In order to decide which data points are most important to collect, think about the information you will need to determine if a funding opportunity is worth the time and resources to apply for (e.g., budget amount, due date, eligibility, project start date, budget restrictions/unallowed costs). You may want to also consider data you might need for impact reporting.

When you bring your work into Instrumentl, you’ll track all your opportunities within your Tracker. This Tracker will also be home to the upcoming tasks related to each grant opportunity, notes you’ve left from prior research, historical 990 data, as well as upcoming deadlines.

Third, you need to put strategic processes in place to manage and update the template. Generally, it is best to assign a single person or a small team to do weekly funding searches and manage the grant application pipeline. Schedule weekly meetings to discuss new opportunities, current applications, upcoming due dates, and application outcomes. 

For those using Instrumentl, you can generate reports quickly to make preparing for your upcoming weekly grant meeting easy. These reports can also be helpful when updating key stakeholders such as your Executive Director or Board of Directors.

An unkempt grant application pipeline does you no good—this is a living document that should be updated and changed daily.

Sample Grant Management Template You Can Use

If you are just getting started with grant management, often tools like spreadsheets, Trello, or grant tracking in Asana are good ways to get started.

However, you should expect to quickly outgrow these tools as your grant writing strategy becomes more complex.

When creating your own sample grant management template, you may consider these spreadsheet columns as headers:

  • Funder
  • Funder Type
  • Eligible Organizations
  • About the Funder 
  • Grant Name
  • Funder Area of Interest
  • Grant Amount
  • Project Length
  • Proposals Due
  • Website
  • Link to Application Template
  • Status
  • Existing Relationship?
  • Key Contacts
  • EIN

How Do Most Grant Writers Organize Grant Applications?

Some form of a spreadsheet is the most common way grant writers organize their applications. That said, it’s not necessarily the best (we’ll explain more in a bit).

Most grant writers organize grant applications according to their organization's grant strategy. The best grant strategies are flexible. They can and should have the capability to change course, add new funders, discard others, and increase or decrease your grant targets as new opportunities arise.

A grant strategy gives you a tentative map of how to get where you want to go—the grant application pipeline is a tangible way of tracking that roadmap.

What's Wrong with Spreadsheets?

Many nonprofit grant writers will automatically default to the spreadsheet when tracking grants. The grant tracking spreadsheet can be a powerful basic tool—but even the most masterful spreadsheet cannot handle all of the data required for a valuable grant pipeline.

Spreadsheets are general-purpose, are not flexible enough to handle the different requirements for different funders, and are not sophisticated enough to reflect actionable items. The truth is, spreadsheet formulas and conditional formatting are often unable to handle a complex nonprofit grant pipeline.

It is possible to manage your funding strategy via spreadsheets if you have just a few grants, but trying to keep track of multiple applications and grants as you grow and add new donations isn't sustainable in the long term. Eventually, your spreadsheet will be caught up in complex rules or stringent compliance requirements, ultimately putting your future funding at risk.

What's Wrong with Hacking a CRM for Your Grant Management?

On the surface, your customer relationship management system (CRM) may seem like a suitable option to track your grant management strategy. However, CRM-style functionality was designed to manage relationships and interactions with customers.

CRMs were not built to diversify your nonprofit income with awards from private, corporate, or government-funded foundations. Hacking a CRM for your grant management will not give you the flexibility to consider different funding sources and opportunities. Instead, a dedicated grant management software can help you build a more sustainable fundraising strategy for your organization.

What is the Best Way to Track Grants?

The best way to track grants is often by their due dates. Go back to your predefined stages: potential, to-do, in progress, applied, won, and lost. A grant pipeline helps you gauge which grants you need to take immediate action on, visualize grant applications between stages, and provide summary reports. 

For example, in Instrumentl, click the Deadline column in your project’s Tracker to sort by due dates:

Instrumentl will then organize your saved opportunities by what grants are closest to being due.

If you’re looking for the most robust way to track your grants, Instrumentl can help you out. Create your 14-day account here.

Never tried Instrumentl?

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Tips for Managing Your Grant Pipeline

Grant funding is an essential source of revenue for most nonprofits. Grant management, or the processes and methods behind fulfilling the requirements of a grant, can be easier through the use of a successful grant pipeline. 

Here are some grant management tips to keep in mind:

  • Maintain ongoing internal monitoring to ensure compliance.
  • Optimize the funds allocated to each grant with budget-to-actual reporting.
  • Consider unique ledger codes for each grant, including coding sub-layers to track requirement nuances.
  • Create segments to allocate grant dollars across multiple fiscal years, reflecting the way money is spent.
  • Report on funding according to your unique general ledger structure, avoiding risky manual processes outside your accounting system.
  • Audits are guaranteed for government grant accounting, especially large grants. Get your data in a row before you need it to avoid unnecessary stress. Ensure that every grant dollar expenditure is traceable in the event of an audit.
  • Certify 100% compliance with the terms of the grant and accuracy in reporting in order to safeguard your funds.

Tips for Reporting Your Grant Progress to Your ED or Board

Use a grant application pipeline to frame and report the progress of your grant strategy. Here are some helpful tips to consider.

  • Set up your grant system with the report in mind. Standardize your reports to ensure that the system provides your ED or Board with the same information each month.
  • For ongoing projects, refer back to goals and outcome measures from your original proposal, and provide data about the outcomes.
  • Provide budget details about how grant funds are being utilized. This could include an itemized spreadsheet detailing grant expenditures or an income/expense statement.
  • Consider tracking client testimonials or impact stories for each grant program.
  • Generate monthly reports from your Instrumentl account and store these in your Document Library. This way, you can always reference where you were in your grant process to your key stakeholders.

How to Track and Manage Your Grant Application Pipeline in Instrumentl

Instrumentl allows you to track and manage your grant application pipeline. When you create your account, you’ll get a dedicated onboarding tour with a team member to walk you through everything you need to succeed. 

Here are a few additional tips on getting started with Instrumentl. 

1. Setup projects based on your strategic focus areas.

As a nonprofit, consider setting up projects in each of your focus areas (e.g., a project for education grants or grants related to healthcare, depending on what your organization does).

2. Check out the Matches Tab and identify 5-7 good fit funders.

These are the active actionable opportunities that result from the search query when you set up a project.

  • Instrumentl adds over a hundred new grants a week ! We’ll send you an email when there are new matches that fit your project criteria.
  • Note the difference between "Predicted ," and "Confirmed" funding due dates. Until Instrumentl has confirmed the deadline with the funder, it will be marked as predicted.
  • You can use the envelope icon to share a grant with stakeholders or board members.

3. Become familiar with your Grant Tracker.

Once you save a grant, it automatically moves into your Grant Tracker by deadlines. The Tracker will help you manage prospective grants, act as a grant calendar, and manage your historical funding opportunities.

  • When you save a grant, it will stay in your Grant Tracker in the Researching status until you change it. You can store notes related to the grant in your Grant Tracker, and you can update the status.
  • You will receive automatic deadline reminders for grants that you have saved in your tracker.
  • Your stats or your dashboard is at the top of your Grant Tracker, reflecting the year(s) that you've selected. It helps you get a glimpse of how you're doing towards your goal.
  • Anything you leave in Researching will have auto-rolling grant deadlines. So for example, if you have an opportunity with a deadline of October 5th and the 5th passes, Instrumentl will move the deadline to the next funding cycle until you have saved it to another status. 

4. Reporting is based on the data you have in your Grant Tracker.

You can choose to share specific information with your Board or with the client without having them access your account.

If you need help deciding which grant opportunities to pursue and which ones to avoid, check out our freebie, The Ultimate Go vs. No-Go Grant RFP Evaluation Tool.

Wrapping Things Up: How to Create a Grant Application Pipeline

Creating your grant application pipeline begins with an honest assessment of your organization's needs and capabilities to determine the kinds of grants you can afford to pursue. Many nonprofits will begin by managing funding via spreadsheets, but eventually, will be caught up in complex rules or stringent compliance requirements, putting their future funding at risk. 

If you are committed to finding grant opportunities, you'll need to invest in an institutional fundraising platform. 

Instrumentl is the best tool to use for bringing grant prospecting, tracking and management to one place. Instrumentl focuses on incorporating customer feedback in every stage of its development to ensure an effective and user-friendly platform. Instrumentl helps you take your grant application pipeline to the next level of efficiency. 

If you'd like to read more about how nonprofits use Instrumentl, you can check out their stories here or create your 14-day free account here

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