Key Stages in the Grant Management Lifecycle for Grantmakers and Recipients

Contents

If you’re new to managing grants, or simply new to a different part of the process, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the key stages in the grant management lifecycle.

The typical grant lifecycle covers the pre-award, award, and post-award stages of the events that occur within each grant program from its inception to closeout. The stages look a little different depending on if you’re a grantmaker or funding body, or if you’re a recipient organisation.

The three core stages of the grant lifecycle are:

  • The pre-award stage: This is when all the design, planning, program promotion, application, and review steps happen.
  • The award stage: This is the stage when the grant funding is awarded and contracts are established between the grantmaker and the recipients.
  • The post-award stage: This is when the funding is disbursed to the recipients, implementation of funding in projects is done, and recipients are expected to report back on milestones and impact.

In this article, we will break down the different sub-stages for grants, from both angles, to help you see the full grant journey from end to end.

The Pre-award Phase for Grantmakers

Funding program design

At the kick-off of a new funding program, grantmakers should conduct a needs assessment and carefully define the strategic goals and priorities for this program’s existence. This involves outlining key objectives, eligibility criteria, application requirements, review processes, selection criteria, and terms that will govern the grant’s funding agreements.

This is also the right stage to determine who is on the grant application assessment panel and confirm their commitment. Be sure to define together:

  • the number of stages in the grant round (either an Expression of Interest, followed by a second-stage application, or a one-stage process);
  • the questions in the application form or portal;
  • how the scoring or assessment process should work;
  • what the timeframes will be for the application process and review;
  • and when recipients and non-successful applicants will be notified of the results.

Assessors can be subject matter experts, community representatives, or external stakeholders who assess each submission against the program’s established criteria.

For transparency purposes, it is highly recommended that organisations consider having at least one assessor who is not part of the organisation.

It’s also worth noting that not all grants are awarded through a competitive application process. Government organisations may award non-competitive and ‘restricted’ grants to a specific entity or a smaller pool of applicants, often listed in an appendix in the guidelines.

Thoughtful funding program design ensures strong alignment between the eventual funding opportunity presented and the grantmaker’s overarching mission, values, and strategic plan. It’s also the key to an equitable and transparent process experience for applicants.

“The design of grant questions is critical. Well-articulated, clear-cut questions allow applicants to grasp the essence of required responses effortlessly, significantly minimising ambiguity and subsequent inquiries. This not only streamlines the application process for everyone but also highlights the grantmaker’s commitment to a user-friendly experience (often lacking in the grant industry).”

Prue Saxby, Grant Master and Founder of Indigo Gold and Grant Writing Academy

Funding opportunity announcement or invitation

Once a new funding program has been designed, grantmakers kick off efforts to generate awareness and promote the funding opportunity to prospective applicants.

This typically involves publishing a notice of funding availability through various channels like the organisation’s website, email lists, partner networks, and social media. If the program is closed and by invitation only, the grantmaker will need to contact shortlisted parties whom they want to invite to apply.

Clear guidance on the program’s goals, application deadlines, eligibility requirements, selection criteria, and instructions for submission are provided in announcements and invitations, and the grantmaker will often host informational webinars or Q&A sessions to allow potential applicants to ask questions.

Application review

As applications are received, grantmakers initiate a formal and objective review process with their pre-defined panel of reviewers or assigned stakeholders for the program.

This review phase usually examines factors like:

  • the applicant’s qualifications, experience, and capacity;
  • the project’s alignment with stated goals;
  • the feasibility and risk level of proposed activities;
  • the appropriateness of the budget and timeline;
  • and the potential for impact.

Reviews may involve an initial screening phase, followed by comprehensive assessments, reviewer discussions, and scoring normalisation.

In some cases, grantmakers may request additional information, materials, or clarification from applicants before finalising scores. They should also build in processes for internal oversight, audits, and committee deliberations to ensure review integrity.

Recipient allocation

Once all phases of the application review process are finalised, the grantmaker need to select which applicants will ultimately receive funding. They consider not just the top-scoring applications, but should also aim for an equitable, balanced, and strategic portfolio that maximises impact across:

  • Program priorities and focus areas
  • Geographic or population distributions
  • Organisation types and funding levels
  • Risk profiles and innovation levels

Other deciding factors may include prior recipient funding history, funder-applicant relationships, award timing, and the total annual grant budget.

The Award Phase for Grantmakers

Notice of award

Upon concluding allocation decisions, grantmakers will issue official award notifications to all applicants – both successful and unsuccessful.

For prospective recipients selected to receive grant funding, the notice of award provides key details like confirmation of their funded status, the grant amount approved, the grant period start/end dates, any specific terms or conditions attached, and clear instructions on the next steps for activating and accepting the award.

This often includes compiling and submitting additional materials such as a formal acknowledgement, updated budget or project plans, proof of insurance coverage, and organisational credentials. The notice also specifies the contact information for the program manager or grant officer who will serve as the primary liaison.

Grantmakers and funding bodies should always follow set organisational protocols to ensure these award notifications occur in a consistent, transparent and timely manner for all applicants.

Signing funding agreements

After notification, the recipient needs to start the negotiation and approval process for the funding agreement documents that will govern the grant award’s terms and conditions.

The funding agreement typically outlines:

  • the approved statement of work, activities, timelines, deliverables and performance measures;
  • the payment schedule and funding amount(s);
  • reporting requirements spanning financial, progress, evaluation and close-out components;
  • the monitoring and auditing processes the recipient must follow;
  • compliance certifications and responsibility standards;
  • data sharing and intellectual property provisions;
  • and the framework for termination, remediation or amendments.

Both parties have an opportunity to review and negotiate specific provisions within the agreement prior to final execution and approval by all required signatories.

Once fully signed, the funding agreement officially activates and kickstarts the grant disbursement, performance monitoring, and mobilisation of resources to deliver on the projects identified.

The Post-award Phase for Grantmakers

Funding disbursement

Based on the funding agreement’s payment schedule, procedures, and agreed terms and conditions, grantmakers are to initiate the financial disbursement of funding to approved recipients.

Payments may involve remitting the entire funding amount upfront as an advance before project commencement, providing funds periodically contingent on expenditure reports and progress, or structuring instalments aligned with specific milestones or benchmarks.

Grantmakers track and reconcile all disbursements against individual grant records, accounting for their planned funding allocations and expenditures over the grant’s lifespan. They also establish processes for verifying the allowability of costs, addressing questioned expenditures, and enforcing financial management standards grant recipients must follow.

Reporting and audits

With funds disbursed, grantmakers transition to a monitoring role where they review and continuously assess each grant’s performance, compliance, risk levels and progress against impact goals.

Grantmakers will regularly receive milestone reporting and other information from recipients, based on what the recipients have committed to in the funding agreement, either annually, quarterly or monthly. Large funding bodies may also assign program-specific grant managers or officers to serve as the primary liaison responsible for monitoring an award’s implementation.

Closeout and evaluation

As the grant period nears its end, grantmakers will initiate grant closeout protocols designed to evaluate whether the funding achieved its intended results within the approved scope, timeline and budget.

This culminating stage requires recipients to submit a final financial acquittal report, which typically includes an income and expenditure statement for the grant confirming funding has been spent on the activities and projects outlined in the original funding agreement, schedule and terms.

Grantmakers can then analyse the cumulative reporting and data from all recipients to determine the grant’s overall return on investment and ongoing impact.

Other useful elements for grantmakers to assess in their evaluation include:

  • Whether stated objectives were met
  • What roadblocks or challenges arose
  • What opportunities exist for replicating, scaling or updating the approach

This evaluation informs future funding decisions and strategies.

The Pre-award Phase for Grant Recipients

Research and identifying grants

On the grant seeker side, purpose-led organisations, businesses, and local government teams must research and identify grant opportunities that could provide revenue to fund, scale or innovate their programs, projects or operational activities.

They typically task grant officers, coordinators, fundraising staff or contracted consultants to monitor different databases across government, philanthropic, and corporate sources to identify when a suitable grant program is available. In Australia, grant databases from government and private providers commonly include Grant Connect, The Grants Hub, GrantGuru, and individual state government and agency websites.

As a result of their experience, experienced grant-seekers can gain a deeper understanding of prolific funders’ goals, strategies, decision-making processes, and investment priorities. This will enable the organisation to identify the right grants to target for their programs and projects during the shortlisting process. This becomes critical for non-profits and smaller organisations with limited capacity to apply for grants that are not a good fit for them or where they have a low chance of success.

“Many businesses and organisations approach grant finding backwards. They first search for grants that vaguely fit their own business goals, then try to shoehorn in a project as an afterthought. My advice as a grant writer and assessor is to design a strong project and then use an online grant finder to seek out funding that’s looking to achieve the outcomes your project provides. Remember, grant funders have their own goals and they rarely include simply gifting money to businesses solely focused on profit.”

Tara Whitney, CEO of Whitney Consulting | Grants, Tenders, Business Cases

Preparing and applying for grants

Once a grant or a shortlist of grants has been identified, grant seekers will start developing compelling, high-quality funding applications based on each funding program’s specific asks and priorities.

Prospective recipients must carefully review all provided application materials, guidance documents, forms and templates to ensure full adherence to instructions and eligibility requirements.

Often a funding body or grantmaker will host an informational Q&A in the form of a webinar or in-person seminar to provide more context and support for applicants while providing a forum to ask questions.

Important: Typically any questions asked to the grantmaker will be shared with all prospective applicants, so ensure you don’t disclose any confidential business information or strategies that would give you an advantage.

To set your organisation up for success, ensure enough time is allocated to crafting a successful grant application.

Writing a great grant proposal for your application requires a collaborative, cross-functional effort that may involve input from leadership, subject matter experts, program personnel, finance staff, evaluators and other relevant stakeholders.

Typically, applicants will need to address core components, such as:

  • The specific need, issue or opportunity being targeted
  • Proposed goals, activities, deliverables and implementation plan
  • Staffing expertise, capabilities and organisational capacity
  • Detailed, justified budget and resource requirements
  • Potential for sustainability, replication and scale
  • Strategic alignment with the grantmaker’s mission and funding priorities
  • Internal governance, processes, and technology that support the above

The narrative should tell a cohesive story substantiating how the proposed project design and allocated funds will effectively achieve the intended results and drive meaningful, measurable impact.

Additional steps to strengthen the application can include:

  • Soliciting external reviews to strengthen the proposal
  • Finalising attachments like letters of support or evidence of past success
  • Submitting ahead of the deadline to allow for revisions

Well-prepared grant proposals demonstrate comprehensive planning, attention to detail and competitive positioning to receive funding.

“My top tips for crafting winning grant proposals include making sure you’re actually answering the question that’s being asked. Be clear about the benefits of your project and align them to the reason the grant money is being given away. Don’t forget that behind the funding body are human beings, so whilst they don’t want a sob story, they do want a compelling narrative and reason to fund your project. Finally, back up your claims with evidence such as research, quotes or attachments as confirmation.”

Tara Whitney, CEO of Whitney Consulting | Grants, Tenders, Business Cases

“Beyond alignment, assessors seek comprehensive assurances — value for money, a well-planned project with evidence of support, and confidence in the project’s delivery. They prioritise projects with minimal risk, efficiency, safety and punctual completion.”

Prue Saxby, Grant Master and Founder of Indigo Gold and Grant Writing Academy

The Award Phase for Grant Recipients

Notice of award and acceptance

The notice of award is when recipient organisations learn whether their application has been successful or unsuccessful.

Upon receiving confirmation of a successful application, the grantmaker will also send through information on the grant amount approved, the grant period start/end dates, any specific terms or conditions attached, and clear instructions on the next steps for activating and accepting the award.

It’s important to thoroughly review all award materials and requirements, ensuring full understanding of the grant terms, approved scope, funding level, grant monitoring period, reporting obligations and any special provisions. There often are additional tasks like providing documentation, finalising budgets, and recruiting or preparing procurement plans.

Agreement signing and negotiation

Recipients may seek clarification or negotiate on specific items within the funding agreement, or communicate that they wish to execute the signing process for the official funding agreement.

The grantmaker will initiate the signing process by sending the funding agreement to the recipient organisation’s representatives, sometimes electronically through a digital signing solution.

Once countersigned, this signals the recipient organisation’s acceptance of the funding award and starts the mobilisation of resources, staffing and activities for implementing the project according to the full scope of work, timelines, requirements and conditions stipulated within the contract.

If the recipient organisation fails to return a fully executed funding agreement promptly, the grantmaker reserves the option to rescind the funding offer and reallocate those dollars elsewhere.

The Post-award Phase for Grant Recipients

Receiving funding and implementing projects

With the funding agreement fully executed, recipients can begin launching their approved activities per the scope of work outlined in their application. They should also expect funding to be disbursed by the grantmaker based on the schedule agreed to in the funding agreement.

Throughout project implementation, recipients need to carefully track and document all actions, outputs and expenditures, ensuring full adherence to the funding agreement. Failure to comply with the funding agreement’s requirements means the risk of delaying future instalments or losing access to funding, which often causes huge issues for the organisation’s cash flow.

It’s important to have robust project management and grant management processes that can handle the volume of grant funding and reporting required by funding bodies.

Grant management software designed for recipient organisations is a great way to keep track of how grant dollars get spent, what gets accomplished, and whether progress is occurring according to schedule. 

Strong grant management in the post-award phase is key to delivering on all stated objectives, targets and key performance indicators within the allotted timeframe and budget. For new recipient organisations, it is crucial to demonstrate to the funder that they can reliably manage the level of funding they have been awarded, and deliver on their grant promises.

Milestone reporting and project management

Depending on what has been agreed, recipients are expected to submit a range of periodic reports and data back to the grantmaker, detailing their project progress, expenditures, accomplishments, any request for variations, and more.

Transparent reporting around funding performance, burn rates, and any variations is critical for maintaining healthy and open communication with the grantmaker. Proactive communication, promptly raising issues and a collaborative approach is crucial for continued alignment.

Seasoned recipients have robust processes for capturing project data, risks, and maintaining auditable records, and compiling high-quality reports on time. This is also an area where recipient organisations who manage large grant portfolios, such as LGAs (local government authorities) will invest in post-award grant management software to help them unify the data needed for reporting and risk monitoring.

Acquittal reporting

Towards the end of the grant period, recipients will need to prepare and submit financial acquittal reports providing a full accounting of how funding was expended while evaluating the overall accomplishments, outcomes and impact generated by the grant-funded projects.

The acquittal process typically includes a final reconciliation verifying all costs and expenditures were allowable, allocable and reasonable per the approved budget and funding terms. It can also contain detailed impact evaluations, performance data, deliverables and documentation validating whether the project succeeded in achieving its intended objectives as originally proposed.

Closeout and evaluation

Once acquittal reports are submitted, grant recipients and grantmakers initiate the process of officially closing out the funding agreement. This final stage involves a series of critical actions from both parties to evaluate performance, document insights and lessons, and determine appropriate next steps.

The closeout period also presents an opportunity for recipients to conduct internal evaluations and retrospective analyses identifying wins and challenges during the management of the grant. This reflection informs future refinements to systems, practices, staffing and approaches for future grant planning.

Conclusion: Bringing the grant management lifecycle into one source of truth

The grant management lifecycle involves many complex stages and requirements for both grantmakers and recipients to navigate successfully.

Without the right systems, managing multiple grants with a small team is incredibly difficult — which is why we’re advocates for centralised grant management operations that not only help organisations move faster but also build their reputations as reliable, trustworthy handlers of large grant portfolios.

“I think a lot of organisations market quite well around their outcomes, and they talk about what they have achieved, but less talk about how they have achieved it. A strong grant management engine allows us to craft our story and demonstrate externally our ability to manage our grants. We then can become a preferred choice for future funding, but this also continues to feed our efficiency and effectiveness improvements because we’ve spent the time refining our story.”

Dan Pritchard, CEO of SurePact

Many organisations use grant management software designed to evolve their grant operations, such as SurePact. With features and frameworks designed specifically for grantmakers and recipients, SurePact reduces fragmented spreadsheets, reduces key person risk, and reduces manual processes and siloed communications. Learn how to better manage your grants lifecycle with SurePact.

Contents

Subscribe to our newsletter and get regular grant management insights straight to your inbox:

More from SurePact

3 Grantmaking Trends & Predictions in Australia 2024

Pre and Post-Award Grant Management in Australia

Grant Impact Reporting for Australian LGAs

See what SurePact can do for you

Are you ready to make your funding go further? 

Book your demo now to see how SurePact makes grant management simple.

SurePact demo available Monday - Friday, 9AM - 5PM and will run for approximately 30 minutes.