Imagine being organization X and realizing you have a service or product the community needs, but you don’t have the funding needed to provide it. What do you do? In fiscal year 2021 alone, the federal government spent roughly $637 billion on grant agreements. So, knowing there are federal grant funds available that could possibly help you meet your goals, you research and find funds for your situation. You and your team do the hard work of preparing the grant application as part of the pre-award phase. Then, after some time, your effort pays off. You receive notification that you won the grant. Congratulations! You now have funding to support your project for the next couple of years. Now what?
Some thoughts that may immediately come to mind after winning a grant include:
- Do we have the staff or contractors in place to perform the work?
- Do we have an adequate system and internal controls to track funds and mitigate risk?
- Do we have the technical staff or contractors in place to manage the grant compliance?
Having questions like these is normal as the organization prepares to enter the award phase of the grant life cycle. This is the phase where you prepare for the post-award phase where the bulk of the grant duties takes place. Your organization will need to establish a plan of action to manage the agreement and set expectations.
Winning the award is just the first step; then the hard work of administering the grant begins. Let’s look at six practices your organization should consider as you begin setting up your grant administration plan.
- Read the Grant Agreement: One of the first steps after getting the executed agreement is to become familiar with it. You need to know and understand the terms, conditions, and responsibilities imposed by the awarding agency that are outlined in the agreement. Remember, grants vary depending on whether the funds are federal, state, or from a private entity. The awarding agency expects grant recipients to do their homework. Your organization will need to know which regulations and guidance are applicable. Have key staff from legal, finance, and management discuss and review the agreement to understand the agreement provisions, applicable regulations, and other key requirements in the grant. Understanding the agreement will help give your organization confidence that it can meet its grant agreement obligations.
- Create Checklists: As you review the agreement, you’ll realize there are a lot of “actionable” tasks that will need to be monitored and completed. To keep track of these critical steps, create a detailed performance checklist. Items on a checklist may seem obvious, but most organizations get in trouble by not verifying that tasks have been completed. Realize that one checklist does not capture everything needed, so plan to use multiple checklists and tools to track various tasks and stages within the grant life cycle.
- Understand the Scope of Work & Budget: Your organization received this grant award based upon an agreed scope of work and a set budget within the agreement. There are strict guidelines that govern how you can and cannot spend your grant funds. Spending funds on ineligible activities, or activities not identified in your agreement, may lead to your organization having to return funds. The project management team needs to have a full understanding of the project scope. Organizations (whether grant recipients, subrecipients, or contractors) should only perform the work outlined in the agreement and manage the project budget accordingly. Having internal controls in place such as segregation of duties, expenditure review, and an internal approval process can help organizations spend and track funds in accordance with the agreement. When in doubt, have a discussion within your organization and submit questions regarding the scope of work, cost, and budget to your funding agency.
- Set Up a Financial Management System: The agreement will outline the budget allocated for the grant. You will have budget expenses to manage and track as well as financial reporting requirements. The following actions will help you do this:
- Set up an accounting system using an accounting software to track grant expenses and revenue.
- Maintain separate bank accounts to avoid co-mingling of funds.
- Use double-entry accounting according to GAAP.
- Pull budget reports to check for differences in your budgeted amounts versus actual grant spending. Doing so will help your team accurately track expenses.
- Develop Written Policies & Procedures: To effectively implement the grant, your organization must have clear written policies and procedures. Grants are governed by the applicable funding agency, state and federal guidance, and statutes. Uniform Guidance 2 CFR Part 200 is a governmentwide framework for grant management, and it provides a set of rules and requirements for federal awards. It’s a good starting point for developing grant management processes and procedures. Keep in mind that more restrictive state policies will supersede the Uniform Guidance. Policies and procedures developed should be geared to meet compliance standards and requirements. Those policies will include:
- Financial management
- Cost principles
- Create a Records Retention System: Your organization will be expected to record and account for all funds spent. To help facilitate grant management, create an electronic filing system for each grant award to maintain documentation. Federal grants have record retention standards outlined in regulations that detail requirements. Getting in the habit of maintaining good records will serve your organization well when it comes to auditing your program and assessing compliance as you manage multiple grants. Examples of documents you’ll want to retain include:
- Original proposal
- Notices of funding opportunities
- Executed agreements and amendments
- Procurement documentation
- Policies and procedures
- Invoices, purchase orders, and proofs of payment
- Communications of key decisions
FORVIS Can Help
As a winner of a grant award, there are certain things you’ll need to prepare and have ready to implement. The Grants Management Services practice at FORVIS has extensive experience with grants and helping clients navigate the grant life cycle. If you have questions or need assistance, please submit the Contact Us form below.