Post-Award Grant Management Checklist to Ensure Success and Compliance


Jessica Knapp


CEO, Communities In Schools Pennsylvania

Reviewed by:


April 24, 2024

Last Updated:

April 24, 2024

Who doesn’t love a good checklist? I know I do!

In this article, we’re serving up a checklist tailor-made for your post-award grant management needs.

And that’s not all! We’re also going to break down the grant phases, ensuring you’re armed and ready for every step of the post-award journey.

Whether you’re celebrating your grant win or gearing up for the hard work ahead, this checklist will make sure you’re set for success.

Let’s get started!

Right Away (Within 1-3 Weeks of Receiving Award Letter)

As soon as a grant award lands in your lap, it’s time to hit the ground running. This crucial ‘right away’ phase sets the tone for your entire grant management journey.

In the following sections, we’re going to take a deep dive into the specific actions you need to take immediately upon receiving the grant award, including:

  • Checking in with the funder
  • Thoroughly reviewing the grant award guidelines
  • Setting up a financial management system

Let’s go!

Check-In With the Funder

Initiating communication with the funder should be your first step in the post-award grant management process, particularly for federal grants. This initial outreach serves as a vital checkpoint to ensure seamless implementation.

Here’s a breakdown of essential actions to undertake during this crucial phase:

  • Seek Clarification on Expectations: Check in with the funder early on to clarify any ambiguities within the grant agreement, guidelines, or other paperwork. Proactively addressing uncertainties fosters trust, transparency, and understanding with funders, and minimizes potential compliance hurdles.
  • Expedite Paperwork: While navigating grant paperwork may seem bureaucratic, expediting the signing and return of the grant agreement—and any other grant-related paperwork—is paramount. This document delineates the grant’s terms, conditions, and compliance requirements. A prompt review and submission are imperative to avoid implementation delays.
  • Provide Initial Project Overview: Alongside completing paperwork, you should offer your funder a brief overview of your project’s goals, timeline, and expected outcomes. This is especially relevant if there have been any changes or developments since the submission of your grant application. This helps the funder gain insight into your plans and establishes a solid foundation for ongoing collaboration.

Remember, proactive communication with the funder helps establish a positive relationship and enhances your chances of securing funding again in the future.

Do a Thorough Review of the Award Guidelines

Once you receive a grant award, you should review the grant award letter to refresh yourself on the grant award’s guidelines and stipulations:

  • Add Important Dates to Your Calendar: There are a number of important dates associated with grant awards, including the grant period start and end dates, reporting deadlines, deadlines for deliverables, spenddown dates (if different from the grant period dates), and the dates of any important grant-related events. By adding these to your calendar (and your team's calendars!) you can make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
  • Review Reporting Requirements: Prioritize reporting requirements by breaking them down into manageable tasks and deadlines, assigning specific responsibilities to team members based on their expertise, and fostering open communication channels to ensure everyone stays on track and addresses any potential issues promptly.
  • Keep an Electronic Physical Copy: Utilize the grant agreement/award letter as your primary reference point for the grant, particularly for federal grants which assign unique grant numbers. Maintain both electronic and physical copies, and be sure to periodically reconcile them to ensure accuracy and accessibility.
  • Disbursement Schedule: Communicate the disbursement schedule for the grant payments to your finance team to facilitate effective cash flow management throughout the grant cycle.

Keep in mind—failing to review the grant award guidelines is risky; misunderstanding or overlooking grant requirements can result in fund misallocation, improper use of resources, and/or missed reporting deadlines. These errors can damage your relationship with the funder and even jeopardize your ability to secure future funding.

Set Up a Financial Management System

Setting up a robust financial management system is integral to post-award grant management.

A financial management system should help you:

  • Track expenses
  • Ensure budget adherence
  • Facilitate accurate financial reporting once the project commences.

Utilizing grant management software that is tailored to the needs of nonprofits can streamline this process significantly.

For example, with Instrumentl’s Award Tracking feature, you can easily monitor how much grant funding you’ve received vs. how much you’ve spent.

Check out our comprehensive list of the best grant management software options for nonprofits for more information.

During Implementation

As you move into the implementation phase of a grant project, it’s time to put your plans into action and ensure smooth execution. In this phase, several key checklists items come into play, such as:

  • Keeping check of compliance
  • Tracking project progress
  • Conducting regular evaluations

Let’s dive into each of these steps in more detail.

Keep Checking Compliance

Maintaining compliance throughout the grant lifecycle can feel like a full-time job—but it’s super important to ensure that your grant project is executed successfully.

We suggest assigning a dedicated individual, or a small team, to oversee grant compliance from the moment the award is made through the end of the project.

We also realize there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to grant compliance; by tailoring your approach to your nonprofit’s specific needs, you can streamline your compliance efforts and enhance the way you manage your grants.

The individual (or team) responsible for grant compliance should serve as the point person responsible for the following tasks:

  • Continuously monitoring adherence to grant guidelines, regulations, and reporting requirements
  • Staying updated on any changes to compliance standards
  • Ensuring that all activities and expenditures align with the grant’s objectives and restrictions
  • Conducting monthly check-in meetings with relevant departments to review progress and address any compliance concerns
  • Completing end-of-quarter checks to guarantee that all reporting requirements are being met to assess overall compliance status
  • Facilitating regular internal audits to identify and address any potential compliance gaps or issues proactively

By prioritizing compliance in post-award grant management activities, you can effectively mitigate risk, maintain accountability, and uphold the trust of funders. Check out this comprehensive nonprofit compliance guide for more insight.

Track Project Progress

Establishing a robust tracking system enables nonprofits to monitor the implementation of activities, evaluate goal achievement, and assess the overall impact of the project.

Here are a few key components of tracking project progress:

  • Establishing Clear Goals and Milestones: Define specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals and milestones for the grant project. These provide benchmarks for progress and help ensure alignment with the grant’s objectives.
  • Regular Reporting and Documentation: Implement a reporting schedule to document project progress, achievements, challenges, and lessons learned. Regular reporting ensures transparency and accountability to both internal and external stakeholders.
  • Monitoring Impact and Effectiveness: Assess the project’s impact on target beneficiaries or communities and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions in achieving desired outcomes. This may involve collecting qualitative and quantitative data, conducting surveys, or engaging in participatory evaluation methods.
  • Adjusting as Needed: This is key. As grant professionals, we have to stay nimble! Continuously reviewing project performance data and feedback is a great way to identify areas for improvement. Flexibility in adapting strategies based on real-time information enhances the project’s responsiveness and maximizes its chance of success.

By diligently tracking project progress, organizations can identify potential challenges early on, capitalize on successes, and demonstrate accountability to funders.

Conduct Regular Evaluations

Integrating regular evaluations into your grant management workflow is crucial for demonstrating accountability and maximizing program impact.

Here are some effective strategies to incorporate evaluations seamlessly into your workload:

  • Treat Evaluation as a Project: Allocate dedicated time and resources to evaluation tasks, just as you would for any other project. Set deadlines and milestones to ensure timely completion and avoid last-minute rushes.
  • Collaborate with Programs Team: Coordinate with your programs team to determine the best timing for evaluations. They often have strict timelines for program implementation, so aligning evaluation activities with their schedule guarantees smooth integration and optimal data collection.
  • Centralize Data Storage: Establish a centralized data repository for storing program evaluation data. The entire grant team should have easy access to this data, as well as past evaluation results, to allow for comparison and trend analysis.
  • Diversify Methodologies: mix traditional evaluation methods, such as paper surveys or focus groups, with innovative approaches to gather qualitative data. Consider utilizing smartphone-based data collection tools or multimedia platforms to engage participants and capture nuanced insights.

By incorporating these strategies, you can streamline the evaluation process, maintain consistency in data collection, and ensure that evaluation remains an integral part of your grant management practice.

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At Closeout

As you enter the closeout phase of a grant, it’s time to wrap up loose ends and ensure a smooth finish. In this critical period, there are several checklist items that come into play to make sure you have a successful conclusion to your grant, including:

  • Ensuring your reports are complete
  • Organizing digital documents
  • Preparing for potential audits

Each of these tasks is essential for tying up loose ends and ensuring compliance with grant requirements. Let’s navigate through each of these final items to guarantee a seamless closeout.

Ensure Reports Are Complete

Ensuring that reports are complete is a critical component of the post-award grant management process, encompassing both financial and programmatic aspects.

  • Financial reports, such as a Budget to Actual report, detail the allocation and expenditure of grant funds, providing transparency and accountability regarding how the funds were utilized.
  • Programmatic reports, such as a progress report, document the progress made toward achieving project goals and objectives, highlighting accomplishments, challenges, and lessons learned.

After submitting a final report, a funder may seek clarification on budget details, program outcomes, or other aspects of grant implementation. It’s crucial to respond promptly and comprehensively to these requests to ensure proper grant close-out and maintain good standing with the funder.

Organize Digital Documents

Practicing good record keeping is another key step for successful post-award grant management, whether dealing with physical records or digital systems.

For example, Instrumentl provides a centralized repository where critical grant documents can be stored, such as:

  • Funder records
  • Grant applications
  • Application templates
  • Award letters
  • Stewardship and acknowledgement letter
  • Grant reports

Regardless of how you store and manage your grant documents and data, good record keeping is essential for:

  • Transparency and accountability: When you maintain accurate records and data, you demonstrate to funders, stakeholders, and auditors that funds are being used appropriately and in accordance with grant guidelines. This builds trust and credibility for you and your organization.
  • Facilitates Compliance: By keeping organized and accessible records, you can make sure that you and your team are meeting all grant requirements and staying in good standing with the funder.
  • Knowledge Management and Institutional Memory: Solid record-keeping practices allow your nonprofit to document lessons learned, best practices, and challenges encountered during the grant lifecycle. This information is super valuable for informing future grant applications and projects.

Prepare for an Audit

State and federal funders will often conduct an audit on grantees halfway through the implementation phase, as well as at the end of the grant period. Typically, audits involve a thorough review of grant paperwork and sometimes even a site visit.

Preparing for an audit is the last item on our closeout checklist. Doing this will ensure that your organization is ready to be evaluated by an external agency and can demonstrate compliance with the grant requirements.

Preparing for an audit may seem overwhelming, but we don’t want you to be stressed out! If you’ve been following our checklist so far, you’ll already be in good shape!

If you feel like you need more information on how to prepare you and your team for a grant audit, check out this comprehensive resource that outlines the steps you need to take.

With the resources we’ve provided you, you are well equipped to prepare your nonprofit for a successful audit as the final checklist item in the closeout process.

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Wrapping Up

Our post-award grant management checklist outlines each phase of the post-award process helping you stay on track.

Share the checklist among your grant management teams, ensuring all stakeholders are aware of their roles and responsibilities throughout the grant lifecycle.

For even more insights and best practices, check out this webinar from Rachel Wener where she covers 5 Steps To Perfect Post-Award Grants Management.

Jessica Knapp

Jessica Knapp

Jessica Knapp is the State President and Chief Executive Officer of Communities In Schools Pennsylvania, the United States' largest dropout prevention organization. She has over 10 years of experience in nonprofit operations and leadership, program development, and fundraising/resource development.

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