In our work with research-focused institutions, we often refer to the concept of a “grant life cycle.”
The term takes into consideration the many phases research organizations move through in grant management – from concept to completion. Each phase of the grant life cycle has its own set of exact requirements for reporting, accounting, administration and management.
As an example, the “pre-award” phase of the lifecycle includes searching for funding, developing proposals and working with internal teams on grant applications.
The steps in the “post-award” phase are made up of project start up, documentation, award management, grant and contract analysis, effort certification as well as award close-out and end of project reporting.
Note that each federal funding agency issues its own mandates as related to the grant life cycle. For example, the CDC requires grantees to submit a variety of programmatic and financial reports which are due at specific times during the life cycle of a grant award. All reports must be accurate, complete, and submitted on time.
Pre-Award Management Challenges
Many of the organizations we speak with attempt to manually manage the entire grants life cycle with paper-based reports, spreadsheets and silos of information. While the organization may eventually complete all the required steps throughout the cycle, there is often wasted effort, administrative bottlenecks and duplicate data entry.
When it comes to the pre-award phase, this approach can quickly break down. That’s because the pre-award phase involves many internal parties and departments that must collaborate during pre award activities.
As an example, a typical Office of Sponsored Research at a research university is usually tasked with pre-award activities that cover the “cradle-to-submission” process for proposals. Tasks include looking for funding opportunities, tracking the approval process for grant submissions, managing commonly requested information for grant applications, and managing forms and policies.
An Office of Sponsored Research may help develop the proposal and budget; provide background information and documentation for audit reports; assist in obtaining or providing institutional approval signatures; and solve submission problems. When the office uses spreadsheets, paper, emails, Access reports or other stand-alone systems, the complex pre-award phase can be extremely time-consuming and prone to error.
Grants Management Software for Pre-Award Administration
Leading research institutions avoid the problems of manual administration by using grants management software to handle the pre-award phase. By automating each step, documentation flows from one central source. Approvals and proposal review are accomplished electronically, with minimal manual intervention.
Grant management systems can even automate the preparation of financial reports mandated by federal agencies which are due at specific times during the life cycle of a grant award.
Other areas of pre-award administration that are significantly improved with an automated solution include:
- Tracking the number of submissions. A software solution makes it easy to insure that an adequate funding pipeline line is maintained. Monitoring future proposals requires tracking the number being submitted, who is submitting them, the amount of future funding, anticipated start dates, etc.
- Monitoring success rates. An automated system can help measure success rates by investigator and by funding agency to identify who may need help with proposal development.
- Managing resubmissions. It’s a best practice to centrally manage documentation and financial reports associated with resubmissions. This helps encourage the modification and resubmission of rejected proposals when appropriate.
- Automating current and pending support. Tracking current and pending support is necessary for the creation of Current and Pending Support or Other Support pages needed for the submissions to NSF, NIH and other federal agencies. Automating their generation greatly expedites proposal development. As in post-award administration, these areas involve different administrative functions and can be streamlined with grants management software solutions.
Grant Life Cycle Next Steps
This blog post took a high-level view of the pre-award phase and how research institutions can work smarter.
In an upcoming blog post, we’ll look at the “post-award” phase, offering best practices to improve project start up, documentation, award management, grant and contract analysis, effort certification and other key areas.
Looking for insight into improving your grant life cycle? Contact IT Works today to see how an automated solution streamlines operations, minimizes errors and lets research organizations work smarter.