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3 Ways to Simplify Grant Management

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Have you ever been to a cupcake bakery? I was standing in front of the counter at one recently and was overwhelmed by the variety of choices to pick from. As I contemplated the flavors, frostings, and toppings, I was struck by how similar cupcakes are to grant management in terms of the sheer number of grants available and the number of organizations managing them. 

Did you know there are more than 100,000 organizations receiving federal grants? 

The variety of state, local and tribal governments; institutions of higher education; and nonprofit organizations are seemingly endless. And the multiple ways each one is incorporating the new grant regulations in 2 CFR Part 200 to their federal awards are seemingly endless as well.

Common Characteristics of Great Grant Management

Here are some things common to great grant management regardless of what type of organization or agency you are working with.  

Just as baking a cake includes three basic types of ingredients, grant management includes three essential characteristics.

When you understand these three elements, grant management becomes much simpler.

(For the bakers out there, these concepts may seem familiar.) 

The structure of cakes is based on a combination of:

  • Tougheners such as the starches contained in flour and proteins contained in the eggs and milk  
  • Tenderizers such as sugars and leavening agents like baking powder and fats contained in oils and butter
  • Moisteners like water and other liquids that blend the ingredients together to create the desired end result

Similarly, grant management consists of three main elements:

  • Tougheners that provide the structure of grant management to know how to manage a federal award
  • Tenderizers that create focus on the "serving a public purpose" of the award
  • Moisteners that blend all the various aspects of federal award together and ensure achievement of the desired results

Let’s look at the how this framework fits into three ways to simplify grant management:

#1 How to Manage a Federal Grant: Support the Requirements

The structure of grant management includes a wide variety of grant regulations, relevant laws, and the terms and conditions of the award. 

This framework provides a consistent method for grant managers to know what to do, and how to do it. 

And it adds a “toughener” both with rules to pass on to others involved with the program or project, and the threat of penalties and sanctions for mis-management.

All of these requirements are designed to support better outcomes with federal awards.

The new grant regulations have included steps to strengthen grant management by adding a new risk assessment, “beefed-up” disclosures, and more accountability for grant recipients than ever before.

#2 The Purpose of a Federal Award Is to Serve the Public

Sometimes we get so lost in the minutia of the regulations that we forget the primary reason of federal awards is to serve a public purpose. 

If you concentrate on the “why” you received the grant in the first place you can’t go too far afield. 

Where organizations get into trouble is when they lose focus on what they are supposed to do with the federal funds. Remember: The primary objective is serving the public

It is not to fund other things, like additional organizational funding needs, excessive conference spending, or the board’s junkets to French Wine County. 

#3 Ensure Desired Outcomes

Achieving better outcomes is core to the new grant regulations (commonly known as the Uniform Guidance) and weaves its way through the updated rules. This concept involves blending a variety of people, structures, and objectives with recommended best practices and communication styles to ensure more grants reach their desired objectives. 

Here are some examples of priorities for grant management from COFAR:

On a more personal level, ensuring better grant outcomes requires improved communication between program staff, finance and procurement support staff, and the federal agency program officers. 

Without taking steps to improve communication, we will just have “business as usual” in the world of grant management.

Dawn of a New Era in Grant Management

The days of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the world have grant management ended with the increased disclosure requirements of the new grant regulations.

Yes, we all add our various “flavors” to grant management, but at the core is still the same three elements: 

  • Support the requirements
  • Serve the public purpose
  • Ensure the desired outcomes

The days of training just one or two people at an organization on proper grant management techniques are finally being recognized as wholly inadequate to ensure a well-trained workforce.