Funding Toolbox: The real work begins after you’ve been fundedafter you’ve been funded

Nothing can compare to the euphoria you feel when you receive the phone call or the official letter notifying you that your proposal is being funded. OK, this might be a slight exaggeration–but if you’re like me, you spend a day or two, or perhaps a week or two with your head in the clouds beaming with pride, knowing that your proposal impressed the readers.

Reality soon sets in….Oh yes, this now means that you will have to carry out that project you outlined in the proposal, and you’ll have forms to fill out and submit–small, but highly significant details you may have forgotten in your excitement.

It is not unusual for projects to be funded at a lesser amount than requested, and often, this begins the grants administration process after you are notified of funding. You will certainly have to revise the budget if you are receiving less than you asked for, but in addition, you will have to take a close look at the activities you proposed and the associated costs.

What activities might have to be deleted from the project? Can you secure other sources of funding for those activities? Is your district willing to underwrite the cost of some or all of the unfunded activities? This first step might involve some honest, serious discussions with the funding source about the needed revisions to the project and the budget.

In most cases, these changes can be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction. If you can’t reach a compromise, you might have to make the serious decision to decline the funding. This is tough to do; but in the long run, it might be the wisest thing for you to do.

I know some folks who forged ahead, determined to do everything they originally proposed for far less money, only to have the project turn into a major source of stress and frustration and, in some respects, a dismal failure. These same folks have assured me that they will never make that mistake again!

After you’ve decided on acceptable revisions, it’s wise to review the time line you proposed to see when you planned to accomplish the activities. This will be your guide over the life of the project to keep you on track. As you proceed, you might find the time line needs to be revised, so be sure to keep it in plain view at all times.

The major role of grants administration is to maintain the proper documentation required for the project and to make sure all required reports and documents are submitted to the funding source in a timely manner.

In most cases, you’ll be required to file both fiscal and programmatic reports to the funding source monthly, quarterly, twice per year, or at the end of the project. Usually, information about these filing requirements can be found in the Request for Proposal. I have seen some RFPs that have included copies of the required paperwork so you know exactly what you will be expected to submit if you receive funding.

An excellent resource about program evaluation is a book by Jacqueline Ferguson titled The Grantseeker’s Guide to Project Evaluation, available from Aspen Publishers (formerly Capitol Publications), (703) 683-4100. The book contains a chapter on how to manage an evaluation and one on writing evaluation reports. Ferguson has also written The Grants Management Kit, a practical publication that includes templates, forms, checklists, and outlines for each stage of grants administration. This is also available from Aspen.

I’ve been asked if it’s better to apprise a funding source of programmatic problems immediately, or wait until the final project report and then make a list of reasons certain goals and objectives were not met. Remember this: As you are administering a grant, you are simultaneously developing and nurturing a relationship with the funder.

All the “how-to-have-a-successful-relationship” books I’ve ever read emphasize honesty and communication. Well, the same rules apply to your relationships with funders. Advise them as soon as possible when problems arise, brainstorm possible ways to solve these new problems, and be sure to document this on your reports.

When you approach a funder for continuation of funding, you will be remembered as the grantee who stayed in touch, who kept staff abreast of what was occurring, and who didn’t spring any last-minute surprises.

The paperwork required to manage a grant can be extremely time-consuming and cumbersome–but necessary.

Now, there is hope on the horizon. A marriage of technology and grants administration might be in our not-too-distant future. A new newsletter by the Thompson Publishing Group Inc., Electronic Grants Management Report, covers the latest developments in the brand new field of electronic grants management. For more information about Electronic Grants Management Report, call (800) 677-3789.

Since 1994, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has been using FastLane, an internet-based interface for processing, storing, and printing grant transactions electronically. Although voluntary since 1994, NSF plans to make the use of FastLane mandatory for certain grant business by October 1999.

The Government Paperwork Elimination Act (S. 2107), currently under review, would require federal agencies to make electronic versions of their forms available and allow people to submit the electronic forms with digital signatures. Proponents of the bill say this would streamline the federal grants process and provide time and cost savings to grantees.

A final word about grants administration. Be sure to review the RFP carefully in advance of submitting your proposal to gain an understanding of the reporting requirements once funding is received. Nothing can diminish that “we-got-the-grant” euphoria quicker than a thick, totally-unexpected packet of reporting forms that arrives shortly after the great news that you’re getting funded.

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