For many nonprofit leaders, the term “grants management” conjures up visions of navigating an ever-changing labyrinth of rules and regulations. While there is a learning curve when managing regulation-heavy grants from various levels of government, it’s nothing diligence and determination can’t conquer.
“The first step is understanding what’s required and putting systems in place to meet those requirements,” said Barbara Floersch, chief of training and curriculum for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “But the second step, which sounds simple, is the one that most often fails. You’ve got to use your systems consistently.”
When your organization’s financial or business managers interpret grant requirements and hammer out internal systems to keep operations within the dotted lines, they’re likely to do a good job. They’ll seek guidance, get administrative sign-offs, alert staff of what’s expected, and then move on to their other pressing duties. “That’s when trouble often begins,” said Floersch. “Whose holding everyone accountable for using those systems consistently?”
Unfortunately, you might not catch a problem until it’s highlighted in a site visit from the funding agency, or it raises questions in your annual single audit.
To ensure consistency in grants management, assign a caretaker for every system — someone responsible for regular monitoring, for nudging staff members into compliance, and for sounding the alarm to higher-ups if compliance is slipping. While the systems themselves offer a sturdy defense against chaos, unless consistently managed, systems can’t hold up against human tendencies towards procrastination and the avoidance of more tedious jobs.
“It can be difficult to get staff members to submit time sheets on Fridays, even though they know those documents are required for their pay check,” said Floersch. “Given that, how can you expect data collection or other grant-required tasks to stay on track without monitoring and oversight?”
Put solid systems in place, but don’t stop there. Assign someone to monitor those systems. “When I ask 30 nonprofit staff members if their organizations have written policies and procedures, almost all raise a hand to say ‘yes’,” said Floersch. “When I ask how many of their organizations consistently use those systems, only a few hands remain raised.” Consistency is a primary requirement of solid grants management.