Connections for Success



Look Before You Leap: Factors To Consider Before Accepting a Grant
Kelly H. Buchheit

Most not-for-profit organizations look to government and/or foundation grants to help finance their programs. These grants are fundamental in expanding an organization’s reach. But you may find it difficult to quantify all the costs and benefits associated with a potential grant. If your not-for-profit organization does not do its research before accepting grant funds, it could cause problems down the road.

What are the risks?

By its very nature, the not-for-profit industry has long been resource-challenged and the COVID-19 pandemic has increased financial uncertainty for many not-for-profit organizations. Under such ongoing financial pressures, you cannot afford to ignore offers of support, and yet, you also should avoid blindly accepting grants. Doing so could leave you shouldering excessive administrative burdens, cost inefficiencies and lost opportunities.

Related Read: Navigating the New Normal: Things To Consider To Ensure That Your Not-for-Profit Organization Survives in This Uncertain Time

Smaller or newer not-for-profit organizations are not the only ones at risk of such unexpected consequences. You might think that larger, more mature organizations would have formal grant evaluation processes in place, but that is not always the case.

As an organization grows, it has significantly more opportunities to expand the scope of its programming. This expansion can open the door to more grants, including some that are outside of the organization’s expertise and experience. The organization could end up accepting a grant with requirements that need to be fulfilled and struggles that were not anticipated.

Related Read: Should You Accept That New Grant?

What about administrative requirements?

Even small grants can bring sizable administrative burdens. For example, you could be caught off guard by the reporting requirements that come with a small grant. You might not have staff with the requisite reporting experience or you may lack the processes and controls to collect necessary data. Government funds passed through to your not-for-profit often carry the requirements that are associated with the original funding, which can be extensive.

Grants that go outside of your organization’s original mission can pose problems, too. Not only might the grant not consider your learning curve and additional costs, but you might also face IRS scrutiny regarding your exempt status. In addition, new grants from either Federal or foundation sources may have explicit administrative requirements that your organization must satisfy. This can create unforeseen inefficiencies that undermine the grant’s face value.

What about costs?

As the saying goes, there is no such thing as free money. To start, your not-for-profit organization might incur expenses to complete a program that may not be allowable or reimbursable under the grant. As part of your initial grant research, be sure to calculate all these costs against the original grant amount to determine its ultimate benefit to your organization.

If you decide to go ahead with the grant, analyze any lost opportunity considerations. For unreimbursed costs associated with new grants, consider how else your organization could spend that money. Also, think about how the grant affects staffing. For example, do you have staff resources in place or will you need to hire additional staff? Could you get more mission-related bang for your buck if you spent funds on an existing program as opposed to a new program?

Quantifying the benefit of a new grant or program can be equally (or more) challenging than identifying its costs. You should evaluate every program to quantify its impact on your organization’s mission. This will allow you to answer critical questions when evaluating a potential grant, such as: Are there existing programs that can be expanded using the same funds to yield a greater benefit to your organization’s mission? 

Avoid unpleasant surprises

Government agency and private foundation grants are among the most important funding sources for many not-for-profit organizations. But accepting grants without performing the necessary due diligence can backfire in costly and time-consuming ways.

For more information contact Kelly Buchheit at [email protected], or call her at 312.670.7444. Visit to learn more about our Not-For-Profit Group.

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