Grants provide critical program funding to local governments, and during times of fiscal constraints, the need to pursue grant funding can become even more critical. In some local governments, grant funding accounts for more than twenty percent of the total fiscal year’s operating budget. So, how do you find a grants management system that helps you pursue grant funding and manage your grant awards?
You can start by assessing your challenges. Surprisingly, the grant funding challenges that local governments face are very similar. Although each local government is unique, the size of a local government plays a much smaller part in grants management than in other functional areas of local government. The primary difference is the scale at which grant-related challenges are applied and addressed.
To help smaller local governments identify the key requirements of a grants management system, we have provided some examples of grants management system requirements compiled from RFP solicitations from a variety of local governments. Each example provides a list of needs that would be valuable to any size of local government seeking to increase grant funding.
Grants Management System Requirements
City of Detroit, MI: Following its bankruptcy in 2013, the city of Detroit sought a grants management system that would support improved and compliant accounting practices and enable accurate and timely reporting. The system would have an intuitive user interface, support grants management best practices, utilize current technology, enable expedited implementation, and integrate with the city’s current and future financial systems (Oracle).
Harris County, TX: Harris County is the nation’s third-largest county by population. The county wanted a vendor to provide a turnkey enterprise grant tracking and management software system for the Harris County Budget Management Office and other county departments. The objectives of the system were to improve comprehensive grant reporting by the county, track the county’s success rate in obtaining grants, identify grants available to fund projects, track expenses on a grant and department-level basis, monitor grant deadlines and deliverables, and establish an audit trail for all grant activities. The grants management system was also required to perform the following key tasks:
- Search and allow access/submission to all available governmental and private foundation grants (updated frequently)
- Allow access to a database of previously accepted grants submissions for review purposes
- Ability to track in detail the actual costs expended compared to the grant budget for an unlimited number of grants (or, at a minimum, 750 open grants at a time)
- Ability to track expenditures vs. time remaining on grant(s)
- Ability to integrate reimbursement, expense, budget, and performance metric data from one, or many, sources to the grant software
Key Grants Management System Selection Criteria
Based on the requirements of these local governments and the input from dozens more across the country, we’ve compiled seven keys to selecting the right grants management system.
- Simplicity. Don’t look for a grants management system that requires excessive data entry, or is overly feature-rich. These systems will require you to enter too much data and decrease the chances of user adoption. You’ll also pay for features that your end users will likely never use. Look for intuitive systems that integrate with your existing system of record (SoR). A grants management system that integrates with your financial system allows you to manage both programmatic and financial grant data and eliminates opportunities for duplication of effort.
- Experience with Local Governments. One of the most important aspects of the local government procurement process is ensuring that vendors have the necessary experience. When purchasing a grants management system, make sure the vendor has good references and a history of successful implementations among local governments. A well-established grants management system provider ensures reliability and experience.
- User Adoption. The best grants management systems focus on effective implementations that lead to high user adoption. These systems dramatically improve a local government’s time to value (TTV). The faster a grants management system can achieve TTV, the faster users are able to find highly relevant grant funding. Experienced grants management vendors will support the migration of existing grants data and files into their system to achieve maximum results.
- Customer Support. Ask your vendor about their customer support. How do they provide technical support and training and address ongoing questions? Is the cost of support included, or is there an additional cost? Do they include onsite training? The best grants management systems will provide dedicated support so your department(s) and users deal with someone who knows your organization and is experienced working with grants management in local government.
- Grant-Seeking Support. Most local governments interested in a grants management system are committed to increasing the amount of grant funding being pursued. A complete grants management system will include features that allow you to easily find relevant grant opportunities for your local government as well as manage tasks, create approval workflows, and provide grant-writing support.
- End-to-End Grants Lifecycle Support. Some local governments act as both a grantor and grantee, and small local governments have opportunities to work with community-based organizations. A comprehensive grants management system will allow local governments to manage both grantor and grantee activities in both the pre-award and post-award phases of a grant. Also, look for a grants management system that can map to your internal policies and procedures, or even help you create them.
- Continuous Improvement. The top grants management systems will respond quickly to customer needs and adapt to changing federal requirements. Look for grants management systems that have a history of system improvements and experience dealing with changes in federal requirements over the past several years. Such systems will have a demonstrated track record of dealing with ARRA grants and incorporating the recent FAIN requirements from the Data Act. Ask local government staff how often changes and improvements are made to the system.
If you are in the process of selecting a grants management system for your local government, or plan to include the cost in a future budget cycle, use these seven keys to formulate a good review process.
eCivis is the leading cloud-based grants management system in the nation for state and local governments and school districts. Our innovative solutions address both programmatic and fiscal grant funding requirements throughout the grant lifecycle, helping clients easily overcome the challenges and heavy workload that come with finding and managing grants. For more information about eCivis, visit www.ecivis.com. For media inquiries, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.