Navigating Federal Grants With the Right Crew on Board

by | Jul 4, 2023 | Grants, Uncategorized

Imagine you’re surrounded by darkness as you’re steering a ship at night and suddenly you see a light in the distance. You maneuver the ship toward the light and as you approach, it gets brighter and brighter. You realize the light is from a beacon atop a lighthouse. Because of the light, you avoid the dangerous rocky parts of the coast and safely shift the helm toward land.

This is what an effective federal grant manager or grant consultant with post-award experience can do for an organization’s federal grants—guide the organization through the initial stages of the award, stay abreast of its obligations as a recipient, implement the steps required to use the award effectively and compliantly, and facilitate preparation for the annual audit and any site visits.

An experienced and effective federal grant manager or grant consultant with post-award expertise is the light you follow, the lighthouse that beams the light miles away, and the lightkeeper that lights the beacon.

All Hands On Deck 

Whether the job title is post-award specialist, research administrator, grant compliance officer, grant administrator, or grant manager, this role can serve as the organization’s Mate or 1st Officer for its federal or other government grants. The bulk of a grant manager’s responsibilities is typically in the post-award stage of the grant. However, some grant managers also oversee pre-award activities such as coordinating complex grant applications, preparing the grant application budget, and writing some of the components of the application in collaboration with a grant writer.

Some of the responsibilities of a grant manager include:

  • Reading, understanding, and communicating the award terms, regulatory requirements, and statutory guidelines.
  • Leading any required organizational policy and procedure changes.
  • Building, monitoring, and modifying complex budgets.
  • Ensuring reports are submitted on time.
  • Advocating for compliance

The grant manager collaborates with several teams and gets all hands on deck.

Beacon of Leadership

I often share that I entered the federal grant management space when I decided to leave my full-time marketing career and find a part-time job so I could be more available for my three children.

I landed a part-time, 20-hours-per-week job managing nine federal, state, and local government grants for an Atlanta, GA nonprofit. The organization also received foundation grants, but because the bulk of its funding at the time was from public sources, they invested in a grant manager. I was hired to replace the outgoing grant manager.

I share the story to demonstrate the foresight of the organization’s leaders to hire a grant manager to keep an eye on its current grants and partner with the finance team.

When the previous grant manager was leaving, the leaders of this small organization didn’t try to save money and reallocate the funds budgeted for the grant manager’s salary, they swiftly hired a replacement because they understood the value of the position.

Going Adrift

As a federal grant consultant, I’m familiar with organizations that are unaware of how a grant manager can alleviate much of the confusion, frustration, and incoordination of managing their federal and other government grants.

Others are aware but use several approaches to “save money” such as assigning federal grant management responsibilities to a grant writer (pre-award specialist) or someone on the accounting or finance team, and they do this without investing in grant management training.

In the first scenario, the grant writer is expected to monitor the funding landscape to identify mission-aligned grants, prepare proposals and applications and carry out the grant management functions listed above.

Making Headway

To successfully manage federal grants, an organization should hire a full- or part-time post-award specialist or engage a grant consultant with post-award expertise. I’m aware of organizations that use a combination of the two approaches.

If there is a belief that the cost is out of reach, consider the time and resources needed to comply after the compliance challenges have been identified.

Engaging a grant consultant when the organization receives its first federal or other government grant can place it on the path of successful grant management because, in addition to other benefits, the consultant can clarify regulatory requirements, reduce resistance to organizational change, and advise on the systems needed to effectively manage the grants. Finding, hiring, and onboarding a grant consultant accelerates the organization’s readiness and they can lay the groundwork for a newly-hired grant manager.

To find out how Grants Works can help your organization manage federal and other government grants, contact us. Interested in learning more about our Federal Grants Simplified Membership Program? Visit this page. Your organization can use the resources and tools in the program to train your team, host Lunch and Learns, and more.


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