If you plan to apply for grants that involve other partners, you should be familiar with the term “lead applicant” and the responsibilities that go along with being one.
Being the lead applicant for a grant project means you’re the entity or organization—a school district, a state education department, a library, or a museum, for example—that receives the grant funding and enters into the grant agreement with the funder. However, this does not exclude others from participating as partners in the project. So, a museum could apply as the lead applicant for a museum-specific grant, for instance, while partnering with a school district that plays an important role in the project. This role might include creating a curriculum that builds on a specific exhibit that the museum is planning to show. This is just one example of how a museum might partner with a school, and there are many others.
The lead applicant, of course, must meet all eligibility requirements for the grant program. These requirements will always identify the specific types of eligible applicants, but they also might specify the kinds of populations that the entity must serve (such as special-education students, for example), and/or the geographic region where the lead applicant must be located. I have also seen requests for proposals (RFPs) for networks of partners that define the length of time the network must have existed in order to be eligible to apply.
Although this is not a written requirement, it is often assumed that the lead applicant will provide the “lead grant writer” to facilitate the proposal process. If you want to be the lead applicant for a project, but you cannot provide the lead grant writer, I would recommend that you discuss this with your partners early in the proposal process to determine who will take this role, so there are no misunderstandings.
Someone representing the lead applicant must submit the proposal. This means that if you’re planning to apply for a federal grant, you must be registered in the specific system that is used to submit applications, which—in most cases, regardless of the federal agency—will be Grants.gov. The person representing the lead applicant is called the Authorized Official. In the case of private foundations using an online application system, there might be a registration system that is required before you can apply. If you are the lead applicant, read the “how to apply” section carefully in an RFP or funding guidelines, and make sure you have followed the steps to be registered to submit the application.
A lead applicant is responsible for submitting the programmatic and fiscal reports that are due when managing a funded project, and the lead applicant is held liable for any late or inaccurate reports. This is important to keep in mind when working with partners. They, too, must carry their fair share of responsibility in getting information to the lead applicant. However, if they make an error or misspend grant funds, it will be the lead applicant who will pay the consequences if there are any. It’s important for lead applicants to review the grants management responsibilities at the outset of a project and to make sure that all partners understand the data they’ll need to collect and how they must track any expenditures that involve grant funds.