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Mastering the Grant Life Cycle: A Look at the Award Phases

Mastering the Grant Life Cycle: A Look at the Award Phases

The grant life cycle plays a pivotal role in a nonprofit organization's quest to obtain funding for projects and initiatives. This overview distills the three primary stages of the grant life cycle: Pre-Award, Award, and Post-Award. By examining the typical timelines for each phase, we provide insights to enhance your organization's success throughout the journey.

The Pre-Award phase sets the foundation, focusing on gathering information, creating a comprehensive application, and submitting it for review. The Award phase follows, during which the organization secures funding and formalizes the grant agreement. Finally, the Post-Award phase entails project implementation, compliance with reporting requirements, and grant closeout. A clear grasp of these stages and their associated timelines is vital for optimizing your nonprofit's grant-seeking endeavors and ensuring lasting success.


1. The Pre-Award Phase: Planning, Preparation, and Submission (4-12 Months)


The Pre-Award phase is the foundation of the grant life cycle, usually lasting between 4 and 12 months. During this stage, your organization's focus should be on gathering relevant information, developing a comprehensive application, and submitting it for review.


Completing an application can take weeks, so plan this phase accordingly to position your organization for optimum success. This is also a good time to review best practices for nonprofit grant management


1.1 Identifying Grant Opportunities

Begin by researching and identifying suitable grant opportunities that align with your organization's mission, goals, and funding needs. Look for grants from local, state, and federal agencies, as well as private foundations and corporations.


1.2 Developing a Strong Application

A well-crafted application is critical to securing funding. Start by outlining your project's objectives, target population, and desired outcomes. Make sure to include a detailed budget, timeline, and evaluation plan. In addition, highlight your organization's track record, expertise, and capacity to execute the proposed project.


1.3 Submitting the Application

Before submitting your application, ensure that all required documents are completed and adhere to the grantmaker's guidelines. Submit your application ahead of the deadline to allow for potential revisions and resubmissions, if necessary.


2. The Award Phase: Securing Funding and Establishing Agreements (1-5 Months)


Congratulations – your grant proposal secured funding for your nonprofit organization!  Once your application has been reviewed and selected for funding, your organization enters the Award phase. This period typically spans between 1 and 5 months and involves formalizing the grant agreement with the organization that’s awarded you the grant.


2.1 Receiving the Notice of Award

Upon successful selection, your organization will receive a Notice of Award from the funding agency. This document outlines the terms, conditions, and expectations for the use of grant funds.


2.2 Establishing a Funding Agreement

During this time, you’ll closely with the grant-making agency to establish a legally binding funding agreement. This agreement will detail the project's scope, objectives, and reporting requirements, as well as any financial and administrative obligations to ensure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.


3. The Post-Award Phase: Project Implementation, Reporting, and Closeout (1-5 Years)


The Post-Award phase is the longest and most critical (and most impactful from your constituents’ perspective) part of the grant life cycle, often lasting between 1 and 5 years. The exact duration of time will depend on how long it takes for the plan of action to be completed in terms of the required grant work and applicable administrative tasks. During this time, your organization will execute the project and comply with reporting requirements.


3.1 Implementing the Project

Begin by developing a detailed project plan and timeline, outlining the steps and resources required to achieve the grant's objectives. Assemble a dedicated project team, allocate resources, and kick off the project implementation.


3.2 Monitoring and Reporting

Regularly monitor the project's progress and financial status, adjusting plans and strategies as needed. Keep the funding agency informed through periodic financial and programmatic reports, as outlined in the funding agreement.


3.3 Auditing and Evaluating

Your organization may be subject to audits and evaluations by the funding agency throughout the post-Award phase. Ensure that proper documentation, financial records, and project outcomes are readily available for review whenever requested.


3.4 Grant Closeout

Once your organization has met all grant requirements and objectives, initiate the closeout process. This may involve a final report, financial reconciliation, and an evaluation of the project's overall impact. Be sure to submit all necessary documentation to the funding agency and archive all relevant records for future reference.


4. Staying Organized Throughout the Grant Life Cycle: Tools and Best Practices


It goes without saying that the grant life cycle can be a largely bureaucratic process with a lot of paperwork and steps involved. Effectively managing the grant life cycle requires careful organization and efficient processes and implementing tools and best practices can streamline your efforts and improve your chances of success.


4.1 Utilizing Grant Management Software

Invest in grant management software designed specifically for nonprofit organizations. These platforms help you track deadlines, manage applications, store documents, and monitor the progress of funded projects. They can also simplify reporting and improve collaboration among team members, which is can be a huge load off when you’re juggling any number of other projects and potential grants.


Arreva’s grant management module in ExceedFurther allows users to track incoming and outgoing grants, set reminders for all activities and deadlines related to grants, and share access with consultants or writers who are helping you build your grant.


4.2 Adopting Nonprofit Grant Management Best Practices

Be sure to incorporate best practices into your organization's grant management processes to optimize efficiency and ensure compliance. These may include:

    • Developing a centralized grant management system to store and track all grant-related information.
    • Assigning a dedicated grants manager or team to oversee the entire grant life cycle.
    • Providing ongoing training and support to staff members involved in grant-related activities to ensure they’re always up to date.
    • Regularly evaluating and updating your organization's grant management processes and tools.

Mastering the Grant Life Cycle for Long-Term Success


A thorough understanding and effective management of the grant life cycle are essential for nonprofit organizations striving to obtain funding for their projects and initiatives. Navigating the Pre-Award, Award, and Post-Award phases with precision enables your organization to streamline the process and maximize its chances of securing and successfully managing grants. A proactive and organized approach to grant management is integral to improving your organization's odds of acquiring funding.


Adopting innovative tools and best practices can further enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of your grant management processes. By utilizing grant management software and adhering to proven strategies, your organization can optimize its efforts and ensure compliance with funding agency requirements. As your organization refines its grant management processes, it will be better equipped to handle the challenges and opportunities that arise throughout the grant life cycle.


Ultimately, mastering the grant life cycle contributes significantly to the long-term success and sustainability of your nonprofit organization. By committing to a systematic and organized approach to grant management, your organization will be better prepared to seize funding opportunities and implement impactful projects. This continuous improvement and growth will strengthen your organization's ability to make a meaningful difference in the communities you serve.