How to Manage Government Grant Funding
OpenGrants CEO, Sedale Turbovsky, and Atlas Solutions CEO, Ansley Fender, discuss the details of preparing for and managing a government grant award. This webinar is perfect for any private or public organization that is considering, applying, or has received government funding.
In This 1-Hour Session, We Covered:
- Pre-Award Preparation & Application Management
- Post-Award Grant Management
- Fiscal Policy & Controls
- Preparing for An Audit
About the Speakers
Sedale Turbovsky, Co-Founder & CEO, OpenGrants
Sedale Turbovsky is the CEO and co-founder of OpenGrants, a venture-backed startup focused on building modern infrastructure for funding. He has been an entrepreneur since childhood. After honing his leadership skills as an outdoor guide in his younger years, he started his professional career as an independent consultant focused on delivering data products and digital strategies to enterprise clients in South America. He is experienced in independent grant writing and public/private partnerships at the highest level, having worked directly with OpenGrants’ current strategic partner, Momentum.
Ansley Fender, Founder & CEO, Atlas Solutions
Ansley Fender is the CEO and Founder of Atlas Solutions, an end-to-end grant management platform that enables grant funders and recipients to collaboratively find, manage, and report on grant funding. She honed her grant management knowledge and abilities in her previous business as a financial consultant for nonprofit organizations, and became determined to streamline and automate the many processes involved in the grant cycle. Ansley is passionate about building software products that help mission-driven organizations and businesses make the world a better place.
Read the Transcription
Please note, this transcription is automatically generated and may contain some spelling and contextual errors.
All right. Awesome. Well, welcome everyone. Super excited to have you all here for this webinar about how to manage government grant funding. We will be diving in in just a few minutes. We’re gonna go ahead and let people kind of trickle in as attendees. But super excited to be here with Ansley, the CEO and founder of Atlas Solutions.
I’ll let her introduce herself in just a moment. Some housekeeping things. As you come in, you will notice that we do have chat to say, Well, that’s for your security and everyone else’s. But if we, as we are going through the presentation and the discussion today, please do know that a couple things will happen.
One is we will be having a bit of a fireside chat about how to manage government grant funding. So during that chat, if something piques your interest or if you have a question, please use the Q&A tool. To submit a question to us, we will open up the kind of Q&A section towards the end of the webinar.
As we see more or or less questions kind of flow in, we will address those and so we’ll have a section at the end also. This webinar will be recorded and then posted on YouTube a little bit later. And we will also send out an email with this recording. So if you’re unable to stay for the whole thing or you, you weren’t able to, to dive in properly because you got distracted this will be available later.
So super excited to have y’all here. My name is Sedale Turbovsky. I am the CEO and co-founder of OpenGrants, and we are the easy way to win grant funding. And I’m super excited to introduce Ansley Fender here. She is founder and CEO of Atlas Solutions. And Ansley, if you wanna just take a little bit of time to introduce yourself and introduce Atlas.
Yeah, thank you. So yeah, my name is Ansley and my company is, is called Atlas. And we are a post award grant management software. So we specialize after the award’s been given and we are the first grant management software to bring funders and recipients together into the same platform so that they can manage collaborative collaboratively and really understand what their collective impact.
Awesome. And for those of you who maybe are not aware of why that is, super cool, We are going to get into that in a little bit. But first I’m gonna go ahead and roll out a poll here. Would love to just hear you know, take, take the temperature of the room today hear how you’re doing, how you’re feeling.
So if you could just go ahead and respond to the poll. Let us know how you’re doing, what, what you’re kind of like excited about. And while we’re doing that just want to kind of like give a little bit of additional kind of framing to the discussion today. So today we’re gonna be chatting particularly and specifically about managing government grant funding.
And this is a great conversation to have if you’re a organization considering getting grants or maybe you’re an organization that has grants and you’re kind of hoping to optimize that process. Please do feel free to use the q and a tool once again to reach out with any specific questions you have about any content or any topics we discuss.
And then as we move through the conversation, you know, we will be cognizant of those and we’ll also open up the end of the discussion today for a. More of like a focus q and a session after we have our discussion. So thank you all for being here once again. And we’re gonna go ahead and dive right in.
So, I’ve seen a lot of folks who are, we’ll go ahead and share this with everyone. Seeing a lot of folks who are energetic and excited to learn some cautiously optimistic individuals, some folks looking for some midweek inspiration. And some folks in the other. So thank you all for for participating.
We’re excited. And hopefully this is a super useful session and something that you can really dig dig your teeth into. So once again, please feel free pop any questions you have in the Q&A. But we’re just gonna kick it off. So I’m gonna go ahead and Close the poll out and stop sharing the screen here.
And Ansley, I, you know, it’s super exciting what you’re doing with Atlas. Obviously you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about grant management and grants in general. What, like, high level, like why are we having this discussion? Obviously I think people know generally that maybe government grants might be hard to manage.
But you know, when when it comes to managing grants, like what are the things that people should expect? From that process. What, what’s the stuff, the, like, high level, if you had to like give people like three or four points, like what’s the stuff they should expect to be doing how is that gonna impact their organization if they get a big government grant or a small one?
Yeah. So I think a lot of people are totally unprepared for what, for what a government grant involves. And I think a lot of that is because there’s been a huge shift since Covid, that it’s more outcomes based. So from a high level, the biggest thing. You have to prove to the funder that you were a good investment, just like you would if this was like an actual, like investment.
So really understanding the finances, the budgets and the outcomes and seeing like how all that works together and why they made the right choice. Cause at the end of the day, like getting into their mindset, they have to go back to their stakeholders and tell them what they did. So it’s just this loop of I gave you money, you spent it, you produced these outcomes for, for you as a recipient and them as the funder.
So from a high level, that’s the, the big thing that you’re going, that you’re dealing with.
Awesome. No, that’s, that’s great context. So when you think about when you think about like, kind of like the best ways to, to be prepared for that or, you know, the best ways to build out that relationship, any, like, any tips and tricks that come to mind of like, or, well, how do we get prepared and how do we, how do we navigate that?
Yeah, that’s, that’s a hard one. I mean, I think the biggest thing. Really, like before you ever apply, making sure that you have the controls in place, like trying to, to be prepared after you’ve already won. The funding is too late in a lot of cases, and there’s a lot at stake if you mismanage something.
So just, just auditing your systems and just saying, Okay, is the, is our accounting software prepared? Do we have some way of managing these outcomes? What is our workflow gonna be? And obviously that’s gonna change as you go and, and get more familiar. But really just, just auditing the whole thing. I mean, I’m biased, I’m gonna say get care management software cuz it’s just gonna be an all in one tool.
But really just understanding the ins and outs of, of the contract and, and what all goes into it.
Yeah, no, I, I that’s, that’s super super valuable. And I think, you know, one of the things that you talked about there, just like making sure you have controls in place, I. I find that it’s super hard, of course, because every agency and, and every, sometimes even within agencies, there are different requirements.
So I’ve seen everything from like, Oh, you need time tracking for all your employees to, hey, you need you know, this kind of like compliant software or processes around your data collection. Are, are there any frameworks that you’ve seen, like so Atlas Solutions like there’s, there’s a lot of tools, but any like, sort of frameworks.
First steps people should take to understand what those specific requirements are. I think typically I’ve seen them published in like the RFPs themselves, but sometimes they’re not there. Sometimes you gotta like click through several links to like some federal or, or state statute about like how data gets treated.
Anything, any thinking there, like how do you, how do you even start that process?
So I think for federal grants it’s really important, like obviously you know what you’re trying to fund with a grant, go to those agencies and stay up to date. Most of them have newsletters, so like for instance, if you’re getting money from the Department of Defense, CMMC compliance, staying up to date on all the regulations with that S B I R, knowing if it’s gonna be reapproved or not, which luckily it was.
But just really staying up to date on the programs, the whole ecosystem around what the agency does, what they’re funding how they’re changing is really, really helpful. Those are not the things you wanna find out after it’s been awarded. So, you know, being inside their ecosystem is also gonna keep you aware of what’s available.
Yeah. Awesome. And I think, so grant management, it’s not like a, it’s not. People go to school to get a degree in grant management. This is like this very this very strange kind of mystical thing that you have people do. What, you know, do you have any thoughts on like what kind of people like what kind of other skills translate well to this space?
Is kind of what I’m getting at, right? Like, is it your accountant? Like is it, is it a grant writer or is it just, you know, how do you find grant manager.
That’s hard. They’re very type A people. I mean, so I guess maybe the easiest way to answer this is so my background, like, so I did grant management and grant analysis.
My background spans financial consulting, project management you know, like all sorts of different things inside of the area that, that I was working in. So it is one part finance, one part, just keeping everything together. I would say if you had to pick one, they’ve got to understand finance. But to be perfectly honest, CPAs are not always the best grant managers because grant management is not accounting.
It’s close, but it’s not the same thing. So I think it’s probably better to have a mix of finance background and someone who understands the initiative that you’re wanting to fund with this grant. Like what are the programs, what kind of outcomes can you expect from this? And, and can be able to speak intelligently about that specific, you know, impact.
I think that’s, I think that’s fair. You know, having managed and, and worked in this space for a long time as well. I think, I think the, that’s definitely a fair assessment. I also think though, there’s, you know, there’s so much There’s project management that goes into it as well. There’s, there’s the, the finance side is really where you get in trouble, right?
Like, that’s the one you wanna make sure you got down because Sure. You know, if you mess that up, you, you end up in real hot water with the government. But there’s also project management and, and other kinds of, you know, you’re managing subcontractors sometimes and, and civil war DS and those kinds of folks.
So one of the things that I think. Maybe people discount sometimes or they try to loop into the same boat. It’s like, it’s a very specific and nuanced kind of skill. Certainly, and it’s probably not something that you just want to throw somebody at because that’s like pretty risky. And you can end up in, in some, in some problems.
So I think, you know, Atlas does a great solution, does a great job of providing the software. And you know, at open grants we certainly have grant management, you know, professionals who will, you know, come in and, and manage grants for you. Any thoughts on, you know, at what stage do you go from, Hey, we’re gonna get an internal person to use some tools, or we’re gonna go hire like an outside firm to do this for us?
And those are all options, of course. I just wondered, you know, do you have thoughts on what makes sense for different size orgs? Like is there, is there like a clear point where you should be like, Oh, I should just hire a grant manager? Or is it something you feel like you should always outsource?
I honestly, I don’t think it’s something that should be outsourced most of the time. I mean, if it’s your first time getting a grant and it’s a relatively small grant, or you’re a really, really small. And it doesn’t make sense to hire someone cuz hiring is expensive. Then sure, outsource. But I think.
It’s one of those things where it’s like the chicken or the egg problem. You know, should you have a person or should you have software or a combination of the two? I mean, you could buy the software in the world, but if you don’t have a person to manage it, it doesn’t matter. So it’s a combination of both.
And I think it’s why a lot of software platforms also offer like a consulting side. So if you can’t afford a person or you just don’t want to hire a person, you can get the Software plus service. But I think there’s a critical. Mass of either number of grants or total grant funding where it’s like, okay, this is now like a revenue line item.
Like this is something we do all of the time. We should have someone to manage this. And, and usually it starts as, you know, someone’s, it’s just another thing that they do as part of their job. And then it expands into we need a dedicated person for this. And then you end up getting a grant’s team. But I think making sure that you’re balancing software and humans is, is important because managing a grant totally, manually.
Not a great idea typically.
Yeah, I, I would a hundred percent agree with that. So we’ve talked a little bit about, about the people and somewhat about like how to prepare in terms of like being aware of what kinds of controls you have in place. And I wanna elaborate a bit on that because. You know, overall, I’m hoping folks will take away from this some general like understanding and tips and tricks about grant management.
And so, you know, in the space of kind of like auditing controls, there’s, there’s kind of financial controls that you need to be aware of. There’s sort of hr, like human resources controls that you need to be aware of. There’s data integrity and, and kind of reporting controls that you need to be aware of.
And then there’s also. You know, project management, so like kind of integrity in terms of like hitting your deadlines and, and those kinds of things. So when we talk about you know, that there’s that pre-work and then there’s the, the work of like getting it done and you’re probably bringing in a person to, to tackle that.
But post award there’s also just kind of. Final reports, and there’s a lot of value in kind of maintaining those relationships with your funders because you might get, you know, you can potentially go and apply for more grant funding and if you’ve done a good job, they’re usually pretty excited to continue to fund you.
So what any thoughts on how like grant management relates to that? Do you have Any suggestions for folks about how to continue to build those relationships and double down on, you know, a successful engagement with a funder who’s given you capital already?
Yeah, so I think it’s, it’s, there’s two parts.
And I, I. Touched on this briefly a little bit ago, but getting inside the mind of your funder. They have a, especially at the government level, they have a ton of money that they’re giving out and they’re giving it out pretty much every year, unless it’s like covid relief funding or something. And they have to go back to their boss and Congress and the taxpayers and say, Yeah, we didn’t screw up here.
So they need to know that you’re a safe bet and that they are actually helping you. So being able to articul. What it is that you’re gonna do and how you’re gonna measure it, and then being able to approve to, to prove that you did that, But also being able to convince them that they are the unique partner to get this done with you.
Like you applied to them for a reason, not just because they’re, you know, they have money. And I, I mean, everyone likes to like, feel like they’re doing good by helping you out. So I think just playing both sides of those things and being really, really clear on what it is that you do and that you’ve proven that you’ve done it.
Based on that, you can do it again if they’re willing to, to give you money again.
Yeah, those, those are great suggestions. And so for folks listening you know, one thing I wanna, I wanna highlight or, or articulate is that this, you know, we’re talking in very general terms because the space is so huge and like, you know, it, it means different things to manage a research grant to you know, a grant for city government.
To but you know, the government grant funding space is huge and it covers so many different things. So these are kind of a first principal’s approach and a first principal’s discussion to how do you optimize this relationship? How do you make sure you don’t get in trouble? How do you make sure that you can go back and ask for more funds and feel confident in that relat?
And these are all really good tips. And then they can be applied specifically to specific agencies based on the nuances. And, and what Ansley said, I think is huge. It’s like getting them the mind of your your partner and they are your partner. So also think of them that way, right? So don’t just don’t have some weird kind of antagonistic or, or other, Kind of relationship with them, Like think of them like a partner because that’s, you know, effectively if you do your job the right way, that’s what they become and they can become a really long term partner in many cases with years and years of funding, potentially, depending on what you’re trying to do.
So You know, I think that you know, for those listening, these are, these are definitely like first principles and we’re happy to answer questions that go more specifically towards maybe a use case. So feel free to ask those specific questions to the q and a and, and we’ll definitely get into ’em.
One thing that I want to touch on, because it is at the core of this, is at the end of the day, , you can have delays on projects and you can have you can have slipups and deliverables but one thing you better not do is mess up the money the government and, you know, just everyone in general actually can get very touchy about , about that.
And it can lead to some very real legal problems for your org. So any thoughts, suggestions you have for folks who are, you know, exploring useful frameworks for implementing policy and financial controls for government grants?
Yes. Definitely check in the RFP and obviously in the, the contract, but what sort of financial compliance you need to adhere to?
Usually it’s gap compliance. And that has some massive implications for the organization. If it’s an award to a non-profit, they’re usually a little less concerned about that. S B I R. Yeah. Gap compliance all the way and that’s the case for most, you know, federal contractors or, or any for-profits getting money.
One thing that I always try to make people aware of though, is that accounting and grant management are not necessarily the same thing. So while your books need to be gap compliant and need to be consistent, and you need to file your taxes and do all that stuff on. Grant management can run next to that.
And sort of alongside that, you, if, if you’re applying for reimbursements, you might be able to change a date on something to reflect when the value is actually received by your organization. So just being really clear on what you’re allowed to do inside that framework, but making sure that at the end of the day your accounting software is clean, like your books are, are up to standard and squeaky, squeaky clean.
Passing an audit is no small thing, and if you don’t. That’s huge.
Yeah. Awesome. And just for those who maybe don’t know, the term you used is, is gap compliance, and that’s an acronym, which means something general.
Yeah, general generally accepted accounting principles.
Yeah. I, I honestly, I’m like, I think that’s what it means, but I don’t know.
So I’ll, I’ll let you tell everybody. , So yeah, I can’t, I. Yeah. No, that, that’s very good. Yeah, we, we do like we like acronyms in this space. So no, that’s great feedback. And I think you know, echoing that it’s definitely you want to have that that stuff really dialed in because it really does, you know, at the end of the day a lot of this does come down to money and reporting and making sure that there is there is a real.
Like they’re there for the agency to come back to you and say, Hey, they did great. They didn’t do anything terrible. I was on a call with an agency once and they were like 70% of our audit findings came back with like negative results, of like, people messed up something. And so it’s, it’s not uncommon for folks to struggle with this.
And that can be a real stepping, like a stumbling block for folks because if you do it wrong, The sometimes you’re not gonna get another chance. In fact and it can, it can be a real problem for your org. So definitely dial that stuff in. Everyone. Ultimately, and, and that’s the segue to this next part.
Like everyone, eventually if you get a lot of government grants in particular, you’re going to get audited. And I know that like audit is not a word that people enjoy, but it also doesn’t have to be a scary, terrible word. It can be just like, Oh, we, we have an audit and we are. We did all our recording and, and, and accounting properly, and we’re just gonna submit all this stuff and it’s all gonna go very smoothly.
Like, that’s the ideal situation. So when you talk about audits in particular with the federal government, but also state governments will audit come in and do audits what are the things that companies should do to prepare for those? I, is there, you know, are, are there tools that help you prepare?
What should we be doing?
The biggest one is making sure your books are in order. Like these audits start with the finances. Then if they find problems, they’ll start digging into everything else and. Like, this is a sidebar, but I was, I was on a call with, with someone who’s a like fraud investigator for the S B I R program.
And she’s like, the amount of accidental fraud committed would boggle your mind. I mean, you see occasional headlines where it’s like, you know, some researcher from some university committed millions of dollars worth of fraud. Like that’s super rare. By and large, it’s everyday people that just didn’t realize they were supposed to do something.
Mm-hmm. . And the government doesn’t care if you didn’t realize it. I mean that. Fortunate, but that’s, that’s how it is. So the biggest thing is making sure that your books are, are in order, your taxes are being filed. You know, if you don’t have a CPA that you use like month to month, that’s fine. But your CPA definitely take a look at your books before you file your taxes.
So that’s the biggest one. The next one is if they, if they find any problems, they’re gonna start digging and they’re gonna dig deep. So making sure that you have documentation for everything, that you have. Receipts ideally. Those transactions are tagged with those receipts already so that you’re not having to like, open up every software platform you use and turn it over to the government.
And, you know, like that just, it gets tedious and it gets time, time consuming. And if they think that you’re not organized, they will dig deeper. So the biggest thing is, you know, if, if they ask for something, you can give them all the documentation that goes with. And to the point of being ridiculous because they will see, like, you absolutely know what you’re talking about.
You can back up this information and usually they’ll leave you alone. They, they don’t wanna be there anymore than you want them to be there, to be perfectly honest. So if you can make their lives easy, they’ll be quick and they’ll get out of there.
So I think, you know, this is one of those tensions that, that I am always, you know, Hoping to, to explain and like really in evangelize about, which is the fact that the minute you the minute you get a government grant you are not only you, you know, the money is great, but it comes with some strings and some requirements and I, I think for early stage companies in particular, but also organizations, it’s a great opportunity.
To really build a super robust and, you know, well developed ecosystem for your company. And it’s ni when you’re early, you know, and there’s like four employees, it’s easy to lay this framework in place to make sure you can pass an audit and it sets you up for so much success. And if you are in the business of going after government money, you’re gonna need this stuff anyways.
So take the time please. Find either a consultant or do it yourself, but like, get this stuff in place? I think I have been through a variety of audits on behalf of, of customers and, you know, it’s really nice to be able to just say, Hey, here’s the files. It’s all here, it’s all tagged, it’s all ready to go.
And, and they can just take it and roll through it. And it, it’s a great practice to put in place for your company. It just makes you that much more Ready to scale and grow as, as an organization? I honestly, I feel like it’s harder for if, if you get to a, you know, you know the, the enterprise side of things and you’re big and you’ve got 200 employees that, you know, at that point, it’s a bit harder to put all this stuff in place.
But early on, It’s, it’s really worth it. And so I see grants as this opportunity as in particular, if you’re getting a government grant, it’s a great opportunity to just put this stuff in place and, and get off on the right foot professionally. And it’ll, you know, you can maintain a very high standard of operational kind of organization.
There’s one other thing inside that too, that, that I run into a lot with, with customers is, Make sure that you’re setting up your accounting software for grant. And that’s something that people are like, I don’t like. What is, what does that even mean? And, and so it can, it can look a lot of different ways, but to make sure that your accounting software and your grant accounting can like run on parallel tracks.
You do not wanna overhaul your accounting system. For one grant, that may never happen again. Because you need those month to month and you know, like just period over period comparisons. And if you have line items that are constantly coming and going and fluctuating because you’ve put your grant and all your budget line items in your chart of accounts, like the income expense categories, that’s not a great way to do that.
Lots of people have opinions about this and like if people have specific questions, like, I’m happy to talk more about this, but making sure that, that you talk to a CPA or. Probably more specifically a grant consultant about how to set up all of that. Because it will absolutely affect your ability to, if you’re a for profit, raise money if you’re, you know, venture backable or get a loan or any of those other things.
So, so making sure that you’re, you’re looking at this in the grand scheme of your finances as well because if you don’t, you can mesh yourself up in other places down the road because you, you went all in on managing your grants and neglected the rest of the, the financial ecosystem.
Yeah. And there, I think, you know to add some additional complexity or, or, you know, potentially there’s a lot of different other kind of, there’s a lot of other capital products and other grants that you might need.
So there’s, you know, for example, one of the really cool ones that just got announced is if you’re happen to be in the climate and during planet which is a really cool company that, that we’re big fans of. If you get a grant to work on something in the climate arena, they will actually deploy that capital for you ahead of when you might receive that grant because it does take some time.
So sometimes it’s like six months. So definitely you know, if you’ve got something like that going on, You’re like, Look, we have all of these activities going on. We’ve got, we’ve got venture dollars coming in, we have debt instruments, we have all these, you know, we have this complex ecosystem. And, and frequently that’s the case, right?
So for, for an early stage company in particular, you probably, you know, Pulling capital from a variety of spaces. And maybe grants is something that happens as a one off or maybe something that you’re gonna do seriously. But either way you need to be, you know, managing your business. On top of like, you don’t wanna just be the grant business, right?
Like hopefully you’re, you’re out there trying to. Create a product or, or, you know, maybe you are at the grant business, maybe you’re a research lab or something. But you know, there’s, there’s a whole universe of capital out there can be used very tactically. And so you wanna be setting yourself up for success which is, which is huge.
I see a good stack of questions in here, Ansley, so maybe we’ll dive into that a little bit. Sure. But I also want to the question I was gonna ask Are there and this is your, this is you, you’ve, like, you, you haven’t talked about Atlas solutions very much. , which I think is super, you know, that’s cool, but also is a very, it’s a very cool product.
And I just wanna like, touch briefly on what kind of tools do exist to help you get set up? You know, a lot of people use, a lot of people use QuickBook. We’ve seen people use Excel sheets, which I don’t recommend cuz that’s terrible. And you know, it’s 2022, so we can probably do away with the Excel sheets for budgets please.
And then do something that’s easier. Any thoughts? I, you know, I, I, I know there’s an evolution of tooling and Providers in this space. Any thoughts on maybe two things? One, any good? Like firms that you’d recommend that might do this kind of very specific grant accounting work. And then any tools that you might recommend for grant accounting and like managing that.
Sure. So it’s, so, it’s so easy to hate on like the spreadsheet grant managers, but to be perfectly honest, until pretty recently it was, here’s your basically free spreadsheet or a hundred thousand dollars piece of software. Like that is not a choice. You’re gonna go with a free option, obviously, and you’re gonna just do a bunch of extra manual work.
So I. I think there are a couple things that you wanna make sure with accounting software, and, I mean, I’ll just speak from Atlas as like sort of the baseline framework, cuz obviously that’s what I know. Cause it’s my company. So the, the big thing is like having a way to, like I’ve said, like run your, run your accounting and your grant management parallel to each other.
Get that information out of your accounting software. Do your grant management inside a great management software. CPAs are happy, the IRS is happy. Your grant people are, When everyone’s happy, you can be happy too. The other side of that is being able to see your real time data. That is why spreadsheets don’t work.
It is not real time. You’re always being reactive instead of proactive. So, Get that account informa, like the, the accounting information, transaction level information inside your accounting software. See that real time budget versus actual, you can split transactions between different budget line items.
If you’re over in one place and under on another and it’s something that can be moved, you can do that really easily. Cause they’re all things that are not easy in a spreadsheet. Then being able to track your outcome metrics and track those back to a specific funding source or a specific program that is being funded by.
That’s really helpful too because you might be more efficient or more effective with one grant or at one program, and being able to compare internally between different programs and grants, but also with other similar organizations. What are you doing? What does your program design look like? Are you more efficient?
Why what are you measuring? Like all of these things, This sort of like knowledge hub hasn’t really existed previously because people are not managing data in real time and they’re certainly not sharing it with each other. It’s all in spreadsheets. So I think that is one big shift that will happen over the next few years.
And then lastly, just being able to have all of your tasks and documents in one place. It sounds so simple, but like we’ve said with auditing, you need to have all of that in one place that’s really, really easily accessible. And then something to just remind you in your whole team without you having to walk down the hall to, you know, Craig in Office five and say, Hey, I need you to do this.
Or, you know, with. Constant emails or Slack messages. And then lastly, reporting if it’s on a spreadsheet or you’re just using your accounting software, it ends up in a spreadsheet anyway. And then, I mean, I think that the average is like eight hours fair grant report. It could be up to 12 full working days inside a year long grant cycle.
That’s, that’s insane. So yeah, I mean be, so you want to be able to tell your financial story and your. Story in the same place. And that data has to be able to communicate with each other. Otherwise, you’re getting a tiny sliver of the picture. So, like, the way I like to describe it is with great management software, you’re looking at something at 360 degrees with a spreadsheet.
It’s like one dimensional, maybe two if you’re really, really good at spreadsheets. But you’re, you’re just missing, You’re not, you’re not building your capacity as an organization. You’re, you’re surviving basical.
Yeah, no, those, those are great points. And I think that is one of the big benefits I think of just modern technology in general.
And really super exciting to, to hear you talk about that because it is one of those things that you know, as we think about like the real reason that we wanna deploy grant money and, and create impacts in the world, it’s like, yeah, we, you know obviously this is about money, but it’s also about creating.
Transformational change and offering services to people and understanding how effective the capital is and making those things happen. And it’s a level of intelligence and like data driven, sort of empirical decision making that hasn’t super, you know, been very like, hasn’t existed unfortunately in this space.
And that really like. Really impacts the efficacy and utility of this capital in a, in a very significant way. Right? So very excited to see that brought to fruition. There are a lot of questions here, so I’m gonna go ahead and, and open up the Q&A panel here. And so great questions.
So we’ll start right here at the top. How often should we communicate with our funder? I’ll throw that one your way.
I, you know, that. I think that’s unique. I think it’s a case by case basis type of thing. I mean, typically people will say, especially in the SBIR/STTR world, when you send in your proposal, reach out to the program manager.
I mean if you really think about it, any agency is giving out hundreds of grants. Like if every person is trying to interface with them all the time, they would never get anything done. So I definitely reach out if you have a question or a concern or whatever, but I. Most of this information’s in the RFP or the contract, so if you, if you can handle it yourself, try to, but definitely reach out if you have questions.
Do not assume anything.
Yeah, I’ll just tag onto that. I’ll highlight the rfp. Probably per the terms of your contract, there’s like a specific amount of time you should be reaching out. And then you may want to reach out more depending on how you’re looking at that relationship and building it.
So great questions here. How much does software, the software cost and assume they’re talking about Atlas? If you wanna go ahead and answer that.
Yeah. So. Because we’re funder side and recipient side, there’s two different pricing models. If you’re a funder it’s 2% of funds disperse, and all of your recipients get to use it for free.
There is a, an upper limit. Like you don’t, if you have a billion dollars in grants, you’re not paying 2% of a billion. But. On the recipient side, it’s tiered based on the total dollar amount of grants that you’re managing. So under $50,000 a year, you’re paying 50 bucks a month. The top tier is seven 50 to a million.
You’re paying a thousand bucks a month, over a million. And federal grants especially, you are being audited. And so we custom quote that cuz there’s some other considerations in there of, you know, we’re very high touch, so we will be interfacing with you a lot more if you have several million dollars in grants.
But yeah, that’s the basics.
Awesome. Thank you. Alright. A really great question here and there’s a few similar to it. What are the ramifications of shortfalls and project milestones? How does a grant manager best present such short falls to the government? I’ll ansley your take on this would be great and I’m happy to chime in, but I, you know, would love to hear your.
Yeah, I mean, honestly, you’re, you’re guessing you don’t know what you’re gonna be capable of. In a lot of cases. You haven’t had a windfall of funding for specific project or programs, so you’re, you’re guessing. And a lot of times, I know, especially in the nonprofit space, but even in the government space, if you just reach out and say, Hey, this thing happened, we need to adjust this.
they’re usually pretty flexible, but you need to reach out and get buy-in from them. Usually it’s like a formal request to change a budget or to change an outcome or something like that. But at the end of the day, they just want you to succeed. They can’t just like take the money back unless you’ve done something illegal or fraudulent.
So they just wanna make sure that, that you’re able to spend the money. If you don’t spend it all, they’re probably gonna have you repay it. But yeah, just be super proactive about reaching out and saying, This is what happened. This is why we can’t do this. This is what we’re gonna do instead. This is our request.
Yeah, great advice. And I will say that this extends, like, I, I know that maybe some of the questions here about research, but this extends to all projects, right? Like the government as a partner is very aware of the fact that like, the world exists, like , it’s like, like, Oh, I’m gonna build a building.
Well, there was a problem with the foundation and something cracked, and I need a million more dollars. Like, they’re aware that like these things. But you do definitely like . Don’t hide it from them. And definitely as soon as you’re aware there’s a problem, let them know and say, Look, this is happening.
What can we do? Because that’s really like, they’re your partner in this they do wanna see you succeed. Definitely. So everything Ansley said a hundred percent and then. Really and I’ve been in this position, the best way to present it is just, you know, ideally come to them with the problem and the solution as suggestions on how to fix it.
But, you know, make them aware of the problem as soon as possible. And if it’s gonna take you some time to figure out the solution, then maybe make them aware of the problem first. The other thing that I will say is the government moves super. Right. So it is like that’s kind of a saving grace for you as someone who’s on the other end of the arrangement is like in private industry in particular it’s like, Hey, we need things done now.
The government, you know, you might come to ’em and look, look, we’re like six months behind, and they’ll be like, Oh, that’s fine. Like , they have projects that are 10 years behind. So six months is just fine. So definitely right. Don’t aspire obviously to miss and have shortfalls, but at the same time, It’s not an insurmountable problem.
And don’t be, don’t be afraid to bring that up. As long as like what Ansley said, as long as you haven’t done anything fraudulent or illegal, you’re good. You know, you’re trying to do the best. They’re trying to do the best. It’s, you know, it’s all good. Some questions here about what’s the typical size of a grant you consider using software for or a person for?
Like, are there, are there money, like, you know, at a hundred grand at 10 grand? Does it make sense? What are your thoughts there on like the right size of project?
That’s a really tough question. And it’s a combination of quantity of grants and total dollar amount of grants. There’s a reason why our lowest tier is up to $50,000 because it’s, it’s one, like I’ve seen grants that are $20,000 that require monthly reporting and just like ridiculous stuff.
You don’t wanna do that in a spreadsheet, but you also don’t wanna buy software that costs the total amount of the grant cuz you can’t. So. I think it’s, it’s a combination of how big is your team? How adept are they at finance and at grant management? And are you wanting to become a grant funded organization long term?
If you’re small, if you don’t have the requisite experience inside your team and you want to keep getting grants, the time to get grant software is yesterday. And you know, like we also have a free tier too, so shameless plug, but. So I, I think it, it’s, it’s a combination of where you want to go. Like if, if you looked at your organization at five x the size it is, or five years down the road, what does that look like?
If there’s a ton of grants there, probably start thinking about your internal controls and how software can fit into that. It might be that in the short term, it’s a hack together, like duct taped tech stack with Zapier, making everything communicate. That’s okay in the short term. But just make sure you’re being agile with the tools that you’re.
Great advice. There’s a few questions that kind of focus around this. I know we brought up and we talked a bit about like accounting software versus grant management software, and I wonder if you could go a bit deeper on that and, and like really address, like how does accounting software not work for grant management and why, why do you need something else?
Like, what’s wrong with just QuickBooks
Yeah, so I, there’s actually an article on our website about how to manage your grants and QuickBooks and at what point you don’t wanna do that. So if you wanna go like down the rabbit hole, I would point you there. And I think the link is actually in the chat to just the general website, but, To try to be as quick as possible about this.
There’s two ways to manage grants in accounting software, and I’ll specifically use QuickBooks cuz it’s the most popular by along shot. So you can embed it into your chart of accounts, which is the income expense, asset liability equity accounts that are like the backbone of your accounting system. Or you can use something like classes or tags or anything that’s basically gonna turn your reports into like a matrix.
The problem with putting it into your chart of accounts is, You, you should not add or delete things unless it’s like a permanent fixture inside your organization because it limits your ability to do period over period comparisons. So if you constantly have things adding and falling off, it’s really complicated.
The other side of that is if you’ve created expense items for all of your grant budget line items, well, that’s a payroll expense, not just like grant budget, line item, a expense. So you’re, you’re still, you’re, you’re ending up in spreadsheets. Like the, the goal is to get out of spreadsheets. Of the two methods I mentioned, do not put it in your chart of accounts, like please.
That’s, it drives me crazy personally, but it’s just bad for the organization in general. The other option is something like classes where again, it’s gonna turn it into a matrix. So if you run like a profit and loss by class or tag or whatever, you’re gonna see your account down one side and then the class is across.
It will end up in a spreadsheet again because of the way that accounting software actually generates those reports. But it is easier. You can definitely, it’s a great short term solution if you’re already using QuickBooks. There’s really no additional cost which is great. So, That, that’s how I would do that.
In a, in a perfect world though, you’re pulling that stuff out of your accounting software. So your accounting software is literally just for like the CPAs, the beam counters, the people who need to keep that stuff in order. They don’t care about the details of your grants and about your grant reporting.
So if you can pull that information out now, you can split things based on budget line items. You can split things based on different grants or different programs. You can get into the weeds because you’re focusing on a very small, Area of your finances. This is also where you can potentially, depending on what’s in your grant contract, change dates.
If you’re requesting reimbursements you know, if something clears the first of the month, but you actually spent it the last month based on gap compliance, you may not be able to do that in your accounting software, but you may be able to do that for your grants. So just sort of like, like what, what is the long term goal here?
It’s very different than the goal of your accounting software. So that was a very quick and dirty version. But that’s, that’s generally the landscape of how those things fit together.
Awesome. Thank you so much. That was great. Here’s a cool one. I don’t know if I have a really kind of deep answer here, but perhaps you do Ansley, I know you’ve seen probably more of this in, in considerations.
What considerations you have you seen for 5 0 1 c three fiscal sponsors that manage government grants at one time? You know, that might be managing multiple projects.
Yeah, I see this a lot actually. So what was the question? What considerations mm-hmm. , So that’s a pretty broad question, so I’m going to make some assumptions here.
So if you’re talking about a fiscal sponsor that is then like stub granting, like has sub-recipients and now has sort of that sort of path through relationship, absolutely used the software for that. Because you now have to take their information and roll it up into a report that you have to submit.
Like at the end of the day, you’re the one on the line, not them. Typically. So I, I think just getting really clear, like making sure that everything you have to comply with is now pushed off on them. Like that they are able to adhere to those things that they have, the financial controls and the fiscal management and all that kinda stuff to be able to report to you so that you are not outside compliance.
That that’s the biggest one. And that relationship. Harry quickly.
Yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much. Couple other really good ones here. One is a great question. And maybe well, I’ll throw it your way first. How do private entities differ from government agencies? And I’m gonna say in terms of sort of like grant management requirements.
Like, so thinking about like foundations in other groups, and I’m happy to tackle this one more. Definitely something that we deal with a lot in our space if you want, but Yeah, for sure. Go ahead. So I think, you know, the big difference here, and, and this’ll be really quick, in fact big difference is just like, who Who you’re reporting to and what their requirements are.
Right. So in any grant situation and I know we’re mostly talking about government grants, but in any grant situation, you’re typically signing a contract that has a bunch of requirements. And honestly, the government can be a bit more heavy handed in the requirements because they have the legal team and the money to back it up.
And you know, frequently private entities are a little more lightweight in terms of like the requirements they’re putting on you. At the same time there’s some that are very bureaucratic and large and for no other reason than they have all these systems in place, they have to put a lot of constraints.
So, you know, there’s a big difference between your, maybe your local community foundation who might have like a million dollars and the Ford Foundation who literally just like influences how medical research happens. So, Like there’s there’s big differences between the size of the private entities and there’s just you know, if you don’t think there’s any standardization in government, there’s even less standardization out there.
So just get ready to like, read through those requirements. Make sure the contract you’re signing makes sense and that you’re ready to comply with all of the controls and other things they’re gonna impose.
Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say. Exactly. The biggest difference is gonna be in the reporting.
It’s usually not reimbursement. It’s usually not monthly. It’s usually longer term.
Yeah, a great question here that I’ll send your way. Ansley this individual was hired by their team to project manage the plan the first year of a five year Department of Education demonstration grant.
And they think they think, they’re like, I’m starting to worry about the financial accounting aspect. How do they make sure the project. Is set up appropriately from a financial perspective. I think obviously the, the specific answer is a lot more nuanced, but maybe some high level stuff about like red flags what things you should do to make things run smoothly.
Yeah, that’s tough. That relationship gets really hard when finance and project management are like really segregated, so, I would say you need to spend a whole bunch of time with whoever’s managing the book because the, the biggest, like you’re not a finance person, but now you are if you’re managing a grant, unfortunately.
So when it comes time for, I mean, if it’s a five year grant, there’s. Gonna be more than one report due within that period of time. It’s at least gonna be annual, probably more often than that. So getting really clear on how your books are set up, on how your financial person thinks, how they tag transactions with accounts and things like that.
They need to understand your job as well as you do, and you need to understand their job as well as they do. Maybe not all the way, but pretty darn close. Because if any of those two things fail, your reporting just got really janky.
Good luck to, but free to reach out. There’s, there’s lots of reasons.
Yeah, for sure. That you email us. Yeah, . Awesome. Well, that sounds terrible. Let’s see. Lots of good questions here. I really appreciate it. Everyone I will, we will get through these as best as possible and then also send follow ups. A great question here. Working on an RPA e concept paper how should I, should, how I manage the project be included in the paper?
Interest. You wanna take this one? Sure. Yeah. I’ll just say a couple things. One is without like a reading, the reading, the, the solicitation or the invitation I’m not really sure if it should be or not, but what I will say that people sometimes forget to do is that for many government grants, the, a work of grant management is frequently eligible for funding.
And so as you put in your proposals, be sure to budget. And allocate money for grant management and grant management software, if that’s something that you think you’re going to buy, because the government will fully pay for that and will indeed reimburse you. And, and, and that’s an eligible expense. So you know, the specific answer to your question about the RPA e paper.
Don’t know without reading it. Unfortunately there’s almost no standardization out there, as we’ve mentioned several times, so hard to say. But we’ll say that as you, hopefully you get invited to submit a full proposal and when you do, be sure to include money for somebody to manage that grant for you, even if it’s just for you.
Be sure to include that in your budget because it’s generally speaking in an eligible expense. So be sure to do that.
Yeah, the only thing I would add. Sometimes they’re not saying like it, something won’t be included in an RFP that is like open knowledge among that agency. So for instance, S B I.
They like NSF specifically, they want you to show that you’re likely to fail. That’s a weird thing. Like unless you’re a researcher where you fail all the time you don’t typically think in those terms. So doing some research, talking to the program director and stuff about that kind of thing.
Because if, if you miss out on funding just because you didn’t realize they were looking at this through a slightly different framework than you are would sink. So I think this is a. Reason to reach out to a program manager and say, Hey, like, what, what kind of things should I put in here? They are gonna be part of the review process.
So the more they know about you and what you’re doing, the more they can advocate on your behalf.
Yeah, definitely build up that relationship a hundred percent. Great, great. Great question here. What KPIs are typically tracked with gran accounting software? And is grant accounting software typically tied via API to general ledger accounting software?
Interesting. I can’t speak for any others. I will speak specifically for what I know. So grant management software is not gonna include any KPIs you are going to, you are going to decide what those are. So I know in the case of Atlas you are giving it a name an amount and unit. So a hundred meetings, 10 case management, whatever, like, whatever that looks like, whatever you need, and you’re giving it a start and end date.
In terms of interfacing with accounting software, it’s one way sync. You do not want stuff that you’ve changed from your accounting software in your great management software. Going back soft accounting software is king for sure. So information comes in, it does not go back out. And that’s on purpose.
That would potentially be bad. So, Yeah, I mean there, there is like if you’re not using QuickBooks, you can upload or manually add. It really comes down to your transaction volume specifically for your grants versus your general transaction volume. If you do a thousand transactions a month and have 10 grant transactions, you do not want a thousand transactions coming in from your accounting software.
That’s just noise. So yeah, short answer to your question, this is all figured out in the course of onboarding and all that kind of stuff.
And unfortunately not to like sound the refrain again, but because the recording reporting requirements are diverse across, even within agencies, depending on the program you’re participating in it makes much more sense to have something in place, whether it’s Atlas or another solution or, or even in, in a spreadsheet.
You generally, you’re gonna define the KPIs. In fact, when you submit your grant proposal, you’re gonna say, Oh, we’re gonna build three buildings and we’re gonna educate 200 people. Or, you know, something along those lines. Or we’re gonna, you know, discover a new intervention for cancer. What, whatever it is that you’re working on, you’re defining, generally speaking.
And it’s actually one of the cool things about grants is generally speaking, you are defin. The metrics by which you are going to be gay, like judged with your funder. And so that’s something that you wanna be aware of. And then generally you in terms of framework, you want to then set up at a very early stage, the ability to track progress towards those metrics and track those metrics.
And to the extent you can automate it, I mean, that’s amazing. So great questions around the board kpi. Key program indicators. It’s, it’s your metrics key performance.
Yeah. Performance. I, yeah. Yeah. One other thing to be clear about with KPIs or, you know, whatever acronym you wanna give them, outputs and outcomes are not the same thing.
Be really clear about what the difference is. An output. Like, let’s talk, I mean, obviously homeless shelter, like let’s just use a homeless shelter. It’s really easy. An output is meals served. An outcome is people permanently housed. You’re not paying them to serve meals, you’re paying them to permanently house people.
There’s a difference there. I, I don’t like, the government doesn’t really care about your outputs. They wanna know about your outcomes. So just be really, really clear on what those two things are. And they do work together. They’re both important, but they wanna know what your outcomes are.
Awesome. We have about five minutes left and I think this last this last question I think is great and I want to go a little deep on it and then we will we will kick to sort of like last kind of closing, closing notes here. But this is a great question. What do you mean, what do we mean by framework?
If we have an accounting software we use and protocols for receipts, what else comes into a framework? What any thoughts you wanna share, and I’m happy to share some thoughts as well.
Yeah, so if you think about the grand scheme of a grant, you’re dealing with finances, outcomes, programs or projects, task documents and reporting.
If your framework does not include those five or six things, it’s insufficient. You might, you might actually have those other things, but not be thinking of them as part of your framework. But the biggest thing is you have got to hit on all of those things, or you have a deficiency somewhere and your chances of mismanaging your grant or forgetting something, skyrocketed.
This is especially important if you have a grant that’s paid as reimbursements. If you miss a deadline, they’re just not gonna pay you for it, like, period most of the time. So yeah, that, that would be what I would consider as a complete f.
Yeah. And I, I would, I would add, you know, I think we, we have been vague about this term just because it is a space where there’s not a lot of standardization.
But I would say, you know, generally speaking, your framework for accounting is an important piece of kind of a larger grants management framework That includes, you know, typically whatever compliance guardrails you need to set in place. So just as an example, there’s frequently. That require that you have time tracking in place for all your employees and it, it may even require.
It’s not just employees who are on the grant, it’s all your employees so that if you’re audited, the agency can understand indirect and direct costs and, and all those things. So making sure that you have developed based on the requirements compliance requirements of the grant the framework or guardrails to keep you from, at the end of the day, failing an audit really.
The point of the framework itself is it’s to make sure one, the capital keeps flowing in, as Ansley mentioned, you if you’re off and it’s a reimbursement kind of grant, they’re just not gonna pay you until you get that right. And so that’s a real bummer, . And then the other side of the for, you know, the other part of the framework is more about just protecting, you know, preparing for an audit and putting yourself in a place to be successful through an audit process.
So tho those are two, I think important. First principle approaches to the framework is one, be audit ready at all times, and two, be, you know, be capable of, of continuing. Flow cash out of the grant into your program. I want to thank you. Thank you all for being here. This was super fun. Ansley in particular, thank you so much for spending some time with us and having this discussion.
Love what You’all are doing at Atlas. There’s some links in the chat. We will be sending out emails with contact and, and other info on how to get in touch. Thank you everyone for being part of. Discussion and for submitting questions. Really appreciated all, all your thoughts. There’s a, a few minutes left, so maybe we’ll hit a couple of these in like a a kind of rapid fire.
Any advice on additional grant training for new grant administrator or any courses or thoughts? Ansley.
No, there’s not a lot unfortunately. Problem, I mean, use, use the contract as your guide. Like, that’s the best thing I can say. I mean, I know you guys put out articles, we put out articles we also put out video, it’s like soup to nuts, like really trying to be like obnoxiously like.
Simple up to like more complex. So that’s unfortunately, yeah. This, this industry is kind of on their own.
Yeah, it’s hard. I learned from really good mentors that was, is trial by fire. Yeah. Is there a state focus or federal focus for most grants and RFP responders? Yeah. I mean that just depends.
Let’s see, what else do we got here? Let’s see. Okay, Grant.
Right. A lot of people are asking about CRMs.
If CRMs can be, You wanna tackle that real fast and then we’ll close?
Yeah. The short answer is no. The, the reason being that they will do some things. But again, it goes back to this framework.
Do you want a all in one solution or do you want a duct taped tech stack? That is a personal decision, but a CRM is gonna lead you to pack together or something like Salesforce is gonna lead you to a $40,000 a year consultant to build something custom for you. It really all comes down to decisions.
Yeah. But specifically donor management software, is that gonna do your great management? No, I see that a lot. It, it, it doesn’t.
Yeah, I am in full agreement having tested many of these . So well Ansley, once again. Thank you so much. Thank you. Everyone who attended the questions were great. If we didn’t get yours, we’ll send out info.
Also, just reach out to us. Feel free to visit open grants.io. Visit Atlas Solutions. Check it out. We have a cool perk. At Open grants. If you wanna get Atlas Solutions, you can sign up and get cool discount. So all kinds of cool stuff out there to help you on your journey. Hopefully this was helpful.
Ansley, any last like closing remarks? Anything you want to encourage folks to do as we close up?
Read your rfp, read your contract. Just, just audit. Just audit all your system systems top to bottom. You’d rather find out now that you have a deficiency than when a report is due or an audit.
A hundred percent.
Don’t fail your audits and make your life easier by streamlining your reporting. That’s my takeaway from the day. Thank you all. We will see you next month. And feel free to reach out if you have any other questions.