8 Competencies for Grant Professionals – Grants Management


In order to become a certified grant professional, people have to demonstrate my competency in 8 areas as defined by the Grant Professionals Certification Institute.  These eight competencies are critical to the work we do. Five GPC’s have written a series of short articles about the competencies to coincide with weekly grantchats on each one on twitter. The links to the articles are below:

1: Effective Grant Applications by Diane Leonard

2: Program & Project Design & Development – Jo Miller

3: Funding Resources  – Diane Leonard

4: Organization Development – Jo Miller

5: Ethical Practices – Heather Strombaugh

6: Grant Management – Jana Hexter

7: Cultivate & Maintain Relationships – Mark Whitacre

8: Raise the Level of Professionalism – Heather Strombaugh

What are your thoughts about the competencies required of those working to become certified grant professionals?  Do you agree that they are all critical skills for grant professionals to hold?  Do you think that there are any competencies that are overlooked in this list of eight?

If you would like to have more dialogue about these 8 competencies for certified grant professionals, I encourage you to join co-moderators Diane Leonard (@dianehleonard) and Jo Miller (@jm_grants) during #grantchat (a weekly Twitter chat for grant professionals on Tuesdays at 12pm ET) as we complete an eight week series discussing one of the competencies each week.  You can find more information about the upcoming chats and take a peek at the previous week’s dialogues here.

Grants Management

This article addresses the Grant Professional Certification Institute (GPCI) competency ‘knowledge of post-award grant management practices sufficient to inform effective grant design and development.’

The GPCI doesn’t require you have to be an expert in grant management but you do have to know enough a) not be dangerous, and b) when you are out of your depth. If you design a federal or state budget without knowing the OMB circulars or cost principles that it is governed by you could make a very expensive error that could hold you up by months or force you hire someone at a salary range you didn’t anticipate. So, this article will walk you through a series of questions to keep you on the straight and narrow.

A Caveat

I managed federal grants for years when I worked at Cornell University and still keep abreast of changes through writing federal grants for large institutions. I also completed Management Concepts Grants Management Certification Program in Washington, D.C. which entails 15 days of training and is recommended by the National Grants Management Association. If you are interested in developing your grants management skills, I found that their programs to be excellent. The trainers were mostly recently retired federal program officers and they really knew their stuff, the class exercises are well-designed, and the manuals are a great resource. You also meet federal program officers who are taking the class and so it’s a good way to understand life from their perspective. The classes are expensive but well worth it.

Another great resource is Thompson’s Federal Grants Management Handbook which is 8 inches of information about managing federal grants.

A little caveat…this article isn’t legal advice…merely my, hopefully helpful, suggestions about the basics of grants management based on years in the field.  If you want or need more information make sure that you seek it.

The Basics

All public sector grants are governed by laws, national policy requirements (such as civil rights and labor standards) program regulations, specific grant terms and conditions, and agency policy directives. There is A LOT that you are legally responsible to comply with when you accept federal or state funding and so it is VERY important that you know what you are signing up for. This especially true in the case of construction where complying with federal standards can boost construction costs by 20-30%.

At the federal level all grants must comply with the codified regulations outlined in the OMB circulars. There are two Uniform Administrative Requirements  – A-110 for Higher Education, Hospitals and Non-Profits and A-102 for State and Local Governments. And there is A-133 that outline auditing requirements for states, local governments, and nonprofit organizations.

These circulars cover such things as

  • Changes in budget and scope
  • Sub-granting
  • Financial system standards
  • Property standards
  • Procure standards
  • Cost-sharing
  • Program Income
  • Valuing in-kind contributions and donations
  • Reporting requirements
  • Record retention requirements
  • Termination, enforcement, and penalties

Sometimes you may get what you think is state grant money but find out that is it federal money that has been flowed down to the states.

Cost Principles

There are also OMB circulars covering the cost principles for different sectors: Non-profits (A-122); State, Local, & Tribal Governments (A-87); Educational Institutions (A-21); Commercial Organizations (FAR); and Hospital Research Grants (45 CFR 74 Appendix E) – note they now have new numbers that begin with CFR but everyone I know still refers to the A numbers.

The circulars outline what you can and can’t spend money on. They are similar in many ways but with distinct differences that can catch up if you move from one sector to another.

The concept of flow-through is important

The cost principles apply to the main recipient and flow down to subrecipients. So, if a university gets a grant and then subcontracts with a non-profit and a hospital, the two subrecipients will need to follow the A-21 cost principles and not the ones that usually govern their organization.

Cost Principles Basic Terms to Understand

All federal expenses need to meet three standards for:

1) Allowability – there is a lengthy definition of this and it varies slightly by the circular.

2) Allocability – if a cost is treated consistently as similar costs incurred and meets one of the following a) it is incurred for the grant b) it benefits the grant and can be distributed in proportion to the benefit it creates, and c) it is necessary to the overall operation of the grant but cannot be direcly related to a cost objective (i.e. and indirect cost.

3) Reasonableness – that a cost by both its nature and amount doesn’t exceed that that which a ‘prudent person’ would consider reasonable if they were in the same circumstances at the same time as the decision was made. For example, this allows for buying a new generator for an emergency medical unit above the prevailing price during a hurricane.

4) Direct vs. Indirect Expenses – knowing whether to classify a cost as a direct expense that can be related to a specific grant project or an indirect cost that is incurred to benefit the grant overall but can’t be identified with a particular cost line (i.e. accounting, management, heating for research facilities etc). These also vary slightly depending on which cost principles you are governed by.

All large intuitions have an indirect cost rate that they negotiate with the agency that they have the most grants with (called the cognizant agency and is usually HHS).  If you are working with a smaller agency and you don’t have an indirect cost rate negotiated you can use a provisional rate for the proposal and negotiate the final one with the agency. However, BEWARE, if your agency doesn’t have an indirect cost rate you may well not have the infrastructure or personnel expertise in place to manage a federal grant.

Does your agency have these?

In order not to end up in civil or criminal court (yes, it has been known to happen), it is vital that you have the capacity to manage a large grant before you submit the proposal. Here is a brief checklist of what you need to have in place  – all of these need to meet federal standards.

  • Accounting internal controls
  • Cash Management that meets standards in the Cash Management Improvement Act
  • Budget Controls
  • Records Retention Policy
  • Procurement system and internal controls
  • Personnel System that complies with all laws and regulations
  • Time keeping system
  • Property Management System
  • Travel policy
  • Auditing policies and procedures that meet standards in A-133

A final word…or 15

Only step into federal and state grants if you are ready to manage  them…please.



Great piece Jana! Such a critical piece for an organization to take in to consideration as they are looking at their grant readiness to apply for grant funding. Your basic definitions and outlines helped make a very overwhelming and legal feeling topic much easier for all to understand. Looking forward to discussing Grant Management in more detail on #grantchat on 8/26!


[…] Knowledge of post-award grant management practices sufficient to inform effective grant design and d… […]


[…] for some more information about this competency? Here is a little pre-reading on Competency 6 from Jana Hexter, GPC (@GrantsChampion) as part of the recent GPC Competency Linky […]


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