Hooray! You got the grant. Let’s do a happy dance and throw those dollar bills up in the air!

Now here are a few things you need to know before you start spending.

You need to use the money for what you said you would.

I know this seems obvious, but let’s be really clear – whatever you said in the application – that’s where it needs to be spent.

(Remember when I said you needed to take the time to figure out where the money would go? If you get the grant, that’s where it goes.)

Even if something urgent has come up (and it often does), even if the optimal timing for the thing you wanted to do has past, (and it often takes longer) you need to spend the money on what you said you would. And in many cases, the funder takes this so seriously that you are asked to sign a contract that states the same.

For many grants (this is especially popular if the money came from some level of government) they will ask you to create a separate bank account for a clear audit trail.

Don’t just account for the money to be spent and then back fill it later – spend it on what you said you would!

You need to build in some time to report back.

(If I didn’t emphasis it enough already – this is another reason why you need to spend it where you said you would, because your funder WILL ASK what you did with the money.)

Often the reporting periods are specified by the funder. Bare minimum, you will likely have a mid-term report and an end-of-funding period report. Remember to mark the due dates in your calendar, and give yourself another reminder a couple of weeks to a month in advance to get the report ready.

Again, the format may be prescribed by the funder, but it usually involves some variation of this theme:

What you spent the money on – a description.

This includes things like what activities happened, what events or training or purchases were made.

As you move forward, document the process – take pictures at the event, count the participants, get feedback from the beneficiaries. This will help you tell the story of what you did with their money.

What you spent the money on – a financial report.

This is a spreadsheet version of the above. You’ll need to include the original budget and the actuals, and to-date column if this is a mid-term report. You may have to go so far as to provide receipts or the names of participants. Prepare whoever keeps your books for this possibility.

What results you achieved.

Again, you probably set this out in your application or proposal, but how do you know the funds made a difference? What changed because of this grant? And HOW will you measure this over the granting period. If you think of this now, before you’ve done anything, you can take some BASELINE measurements. It is much easier to think through your metrics in the beginning than after the fact!

You will most likely have to deal with changes along the way.

Of course, in a perfect world, you’d fill out the application form, get the money, and execute exactly as you said you would. Yeah, I know. The world isn’t perfect, and it is very possible that won’t happen.

So what happens when things change along the way and you need to make a new plan?
Well, there are two possible options:

Changes happened, but they are still in line with the spirit of your proposal.

I.e. you were going to use a specific vendor, but they are no longer available and you need to pay someone else a little more, so you decrease another variable expense to make up the difference. Or, you were going to conduct this activity in the first period of the grant, but things took longer, so you’ve pushed it back to the second grant period.

In those situations, or other ones in which you are sticking with the spirit of the grant, make the adjustments and then acknowledge it in your ongoing reporting with the funder. They are trusting you as a subject-matter expert to make the best decisions you can, and you can uphold and demonstrate that trust by providing an explanation.

A change happens that is so drastic that you are no longer able to continue in the spirit of the original proposal.

I have seen this situation several times. A common example is that a key person leaves the organization and you no longer have the expertise to do what you said you would. Or a second funder pulls out, so you only have the money for half the project and it isn’t scaleable to half size. Or something else.

In these cases, you need to go back to the funder with your explanation and a new plan. It will be easier to do this as soon as possible, rather than wait until the reporting period and then fumble around trying to explain where the money went. In many cases, funders chose you because of your organizational integrity and are willing to hear your alternate solutions. Sometimes, their mandates are very narrow and you will need to return the money if you can’t spend it on what you originally said.

(One more reason why you shouldn’t spend it on anything else other than what you said in the application – they might ask for it back!)

The bottom line is that funding organizations are made up of humans, and as I discussed before, most humans are empathetic and willing to work with you to figure out how to best make this work.

So there you have it – throw that grant money up in the air and celebrate. Then, go pick it up and get ready to spend it on what you said was going to make the difference for our communities and our world!

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