Last Updated:

April 11, 2023

How to Manage Grants: The Ultimate Checklist & More

How to Manage Grants: The Ultimate Checklist & More

Managing grants is a primary leadership responsibility for nonprofit executives. Most staff also play a role in grant management as grant funding likely comprises a large proportion of total revenues for most nonprofits.

Many nonprofit leaders are passionate about the work their organization is doing but may still wonder how to manage grants and empower their employees to be part of the grant cycle. In this article, you’ll learn the key components of how to manage grants effectively from pre-award to multi-year tracking.

This information acts as a good practice guide to grant administration.

First, let’s review the basics.

Quick Primer: What is Grant Management?

What is Grant Management

Nonprofit organizations rely on grant funding to maintain programs and services. Much research and discussion is given to the grant writing process; yet, knowing how to manage grants is just as critical. Simply being awarded grant funding is only a small part of the full grant cycle.

From the grant writing and application submission to the final reports, grant management encompasses all of the aspects of receiving and tracking grant funds.

So, how do you manage grants? Let’s dive in.

The Ultimate Grant Management Checklist

Grant Management Checklist

Grant management can seem overwhelming. Taken as its whole, it is. However, breaking down the tasks for each stage of your grant award process can help make managing your grant feel a bit more manageable.

There are really two stages of a grant lifecycle: pre-award and post-award. This section will cover both as well as provide tips for ongoing grant management.

Grant management can seem overwhelming. Taken as its whole, it is. However, breaking down the tasks for each stage of your grant award process can help make managing your grant feel a bit more manageable.

There are really two stages of a grant lifecycle: pre-award and post-award. This section will cover both as well as provide tips for ongoing grant management.

Must-Dos Pre-Award

The pre-award stage is the place to front-load your effort. The goal is to position your nonprofit for successful grant awards before you ever apply. This pre-award work will also set you up for ease in subsequent grant applications. Here are some things to consider:

Identify your goals

Before you ever search for or write a grant proposal, you need to know who you are and what you plan to accomplish. You should be able to clearly articulate your vision and mission, as well as your goals for your nonprofit.

The more clear and focused you are on your purpose, the more likely you are to find and ascertain grant funding that aligns with your goals.

Search for funders

Getting a list of possible donors allows you to start your funding research immediately. Use research tools like Instrumentl to curate prospects and save the best matches.

Instrumentl takes into account your nonprofit’s mission and programs, along with what type of grants your organization is seeking to share with you active grant opportunities that you can actually pursue.

Every week, Instrumentl then sends you an email updating you on new funding opportunities; this way, you don’t need to sift through outdated opportunities before you find your next potential funding opportunity.

Instrument funder research tool

Develop proposals

Be certain that your proposals are written to address the grant you are applying for.

When writing your application, be sure to:

1) do your research and address all of the grantor’s questions,

2) follow all instructions and outlines for the application requirements, and

3) check and recheck your budget for accuracy and completeness

Writing proposals is hard. Research can be time consuming. Grantors will be able to tell if you put off your application to the last minute. Be sure you take the time to develop your proposal in a timely manner, giving yourself the opportunity to present your nonprofit in the best way possible.

Must-Dos Post-Award

So you were awarded a grant! Take a moment to celebrate that milestone and then shift to working on what to do post-award:

Check requirements

Familiarize yourself with the immediate documentation requirements of your new grant award. Some grants have specific contract requirements while others are less formal in post-award agreements.

Once you identify the requirements within your grant agreement, prepare a plan to manage and meet those accountability metrics.

Budget setup

Your grant funding may have particular reporting requirements related to expenditures. Immediately after receiving your grant award, be sure to set up your accounting system to appropriately allocate funds and expenditures per your grant agreement.

Ongoing Things to Do During Your Grant Period

There are two main tasks to do during your grant period:


Your grant agreement will outline specific reporting requirements. Be certain to create a schedule that allows time to create these reports as many require pulling financial data.

You typically need to be prepared to provide a financial overview, work accomplished to-date and outcomes associated with those activities, any alterations to your original plan, and artifacts supporting your activities.

Fiscal monitoring

A principal focus during your grant period should be on fiscal monitoring and spending. This is particularly true in grants that reimburse expenditures rather than pay up front.

You do not want to submit for reimbursement just to find your expense does not qualify per the grant terms. Similarly, not tracking your spending could result in overspending with no grant award to cover the entirety of your costs.

Managing Multi-Year Grants

Managing multi-year grants have most of the same tracking requirements as other grants; however, there are a couple additional considerations:

Understand multi-year fiscal tracking requirements

Multi-year grants need to be set up in your financial tracking system to show spending within and across each fiscal year. There will be rules around when to expense into which year of the grant. Be mindful of following the guidelines in your grant agreement relating to these details.

Multi-year grants can also be tricky to report in your nonprofit financials. You don’t want to incorrectly overinflate single year income or under report expenses against these funds. Be sure to understand the complexities of creating and reporting financials with multi-year grants included in your revenue stream.

Plan in advance

Multi-year grants should provide multi-year funding. Align your nonprofit budget plans to disseminate the multi-year grant funds accordingly. Learn if your grant has parameters around the percentage of funding that can be spent in each year.

Also pay attention to any specific expectations or delineation of funds between the two years. At times, awards will specify what kinds of expenditures can/should happen in which portion of the multi-year grant period. Read the agreement closely.

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3 Grant Management Prospecting Best Practices to Adopt

Grant Management Prospecting Best Practices

Learning how to manage grants starts at the prospecting stage of a grant cycle. Here are some best practices to guide you through prospecting:

1. Prioritize your funding needs

There are thousands of grantmakers, each offering any number of grant opportunities. These grant opportunities span an almost endless scope of funding goals.

In order to set up your nonprofit for success, you need to identify exactly what funding goals you have for your organization. This may be specific to a project launch, sustaining existing program efforts, or even capacity building for operations.

Knowing and prioritizing your funding needs will help you sift through the grant options and focus your efforts on those grants most in line with your organization’s mission and vision.

2. Curate a list of possible donors

You need to find a place to start, and starting from what you know is a confident way to begin your search for donors. Starting from what you know also sets you on a path to avoid one of the more common pitfalls of grant application writing: applying for grants you do not qualify for.

To create your initial list of donors, consider the following places you may already have potential connections:

  • Current donors- who already gives to your nonprofit that you may be able to reach out to with specific funding needs? Who has the potential to expand their giving?
  • Board and stakeholder suggestions- ask your board and stakeholders who they know that may be interested in giving to your nonprofit. There may be contacts from within your organization that support your mission.
  • Community- consider your local community and who might align with your nonprofit mission. Add these community foundations to your list as potential donors.
  • Government- try to narrow your initial scope of government grants to those departments and agencies that most align with your nonprofit goals. What specific departments should you consider exploring for grant opportunities within both state and federal government organizations?
  • Foundations- this is likely the widest net of grantmakers to consider. You might think of some specific foundations to add to the list without leveraging a search tool; however, adding foundations could come in the next phase of prospecting as well.

3. Use a database to research

Instrumentl shows you grant opportunities that specifically match your nonprofit’s profile. Using a fundraising tool like Instrumentl streamlines the research stage of the grant cycle by sifting out opportunities you cannot actually work on and only showing you active grants.

With Instrumentl, you can also dig into 990 reports without having to open multiple large PDFs to find the information you need when assessing whether a funder is a good fit for you.

We’ll share with you insights such as what percentage of grantees are new vs. returning, what the median grants are between the different types of grantees, and what cause areas funders care about most.

Instrument fundraising tool

5 Grant Management Tracking Best Practices to Adopt

Once you have started the grant application process, how to manage grants becomes focused on your tracking efforts. Consider the following best practices for tracking grants:

1. Organize your grants

Many nonprofit organizations have multiple grant awards at the same time. Ensure your tracking processes allow for keeping each grant separate through the grant cycle. You will want to ensure you can identify each individual grant, where you are in the grant cycle, and what requirements exist for each.

Having multiple grants in the application or pre-application process, multiple submitted applications awaiting award, and additional grant awards in varying implementation stages can lead to confusion. Have a plan to keep things in order.

2. Create a grant tracking calendar

Keeping things in order could start with a robust grant tracking calendar. Use this calendar to track grant application submission deadlines, reporting requirements, and grant activities.

A shared calendar is a great tool to use across your nonprofit for all staff to know what is upcoming and when grant reports are required to be completed.

3. Assign tasks

Understanding the capacity of the staff in your organization can make managing grants more streamlined and efficient. Spend time working to clearly define the roles of each individual in relation to the grant activities and reporting requirements. This way, there is no confusion over who needs to do which piece of the work.

4. Track your spending

Almost all grant awards will outline the requirements to track your grant expenditures. Some grants will operate on a reimbursement basis while others will allocate proactively for you to spend with cash on hand.

Whichever fund allocation exists, most will expect to see proof of where and how these funds were ultimately spent. Utilize a consistent and clear protocol for tracking each expenditure within your grant to ensure you aren’t having to chase down receipts or proof of purchase at the time of a report due date.

5. Keep artifacts and celebrate success

Grantmakers are in the industry of philanthropy because they support the work being done by their grantees. They want to see your success. Your stakeholders want to feel part of something exciting and impactful.

To that end, keep artifacts showing your efforts and activities. Make a folder of newspaper clippings, pictures, agendas, and other notable and shareable items.

Leading a nonprofit is hard work. Managing multiple grant processes at once can be head spinning. Be sure to stop and celebrate your accomplishments.

3 Grant Management Reporting Best Practices to Adopt

Grant Management Reporting Best Practices to Adopt

Almost all grant awards will have some kind of reporting requirement. Knowing how to manage grants includes knowing how to report on progress. To get a jump start on managing reporting, here are a few best practices to adopt:

1. Use Instrumentl’s Tracker to streamline grant tracking and reporting

Using a grant management software like Instrumentl allows you to better track your grants throughout their entire lifecycle. When you save a grant to your Tracker, you can set up different tasks for yourself and your teammates to ensure your organization’s standard operating procedures are followed to the point of submission.

When it comes to reporting to your board or key stakeholders, you can generate custom PDF or CSV reports showing exactly what you want (i.e. what projects, years and stage of your grant pipelines you’d like to export) for your next meeting.

Instrumentl eliminates the need for you to spend hours updating a spreadsheet or creating a custom report. Those hours can then be invested in working on more opportunities and winning more funding.

Instrumentl grant tracking and reporting

2. Schedule reports

Most grant agreements will have a schedule of required reporting. If there isn’t a schedule, it is a good practice to create your own and plan to share reports with your grantmaker anyway. Put these on your shared calendar and give yourself time to build the reports prior to their deadlines.

3. Share with stakeholders

One of the most critical elements of reporting that is not often included in your grant agreement is communication and transparency with your stakeholders. It is a good idea to schedule regular times to check in with your stakeholders on your efforts relating to your funding streams.

Wrapping Things Up: How to Manage a Grant: The Ultimate Checklist & Tips

How to Manage a Grant: The Ultimate Checklist & Tips

Grant management is a key part of leading a nonprofit organization. Developing a grant management process to implement in your nonprofit is a sound way to feel confident you are meeting the requirements of your grant agreements. This is even more true when you are juggling more than one grant at once.

We have covered how to manage grants by providing a quick reference on what to consider pre-grant award, post-grant award, and throughout your grant cycle. We also offered some best practices for prospecting, tracking, and reporting through the grant management cycle.

For everything you need for prospecting, tracking, and reporting in one location, create a 14-day free account on Instrumentl.

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