Don’t Accept the Status Quo: How to Pick a Grant Management System That’s Right For You

September 26, 2022
By Gary McNally, Senior Grants Portfolio Manager at Flexigrant

Your applicants, reviewers and grants staff all deserve better so you don’t need the stress of a dis-jointed clunky system and laborious processes holding you back!

It’s a bit of an Urban Myth that all the grant management systems are the same and you should just buy the cheapest one. In reality the biggest decision-making factors combine the functionality of the software with the level of service provided, and of course the whole of life costs (not just the headline initial costs). 

What is the cost? 

Typically, that will be the first question at the forefront of your mind when considering the purchase of an online Grant Management System. In these financially constrained times when fundraising is stretched and endowments are shrinking it’s an important question to ask.  But there are many other aspects to consider.  

In terms of costs the first thing is to understand what your particular needs are. Quite often someone might contact us out of sheer frustration and stress that comes from trying to juggle multiple Excel spreadsheets, outdated bespoke systems and overwhelmed by the demands of applicants, reviewers and Committee Members. The high turnover of staff in the grant giving sector is undoubtedly not helped by staff having to cope with antiquated systems and processes. 

Buying a new grant management system is an investment in you and your staff, and should not be considered a sunk cost. The right system will repay your organisation in so many ways: happier applicants, reviewers and staff, improved outcomes and outputs, more effective and efficient processing of grants, to name but a few benefits, freeing your staff so they can focus on doing the key work of the organisation. 

A note on Bespoke / Custom solutions.  

Many clients come to us after getting fed up with an old bespoke solution or trying to build their own custom solutions. Be very wary of self-build options, as this will invariably mean that you will have to dedicate considerable staff and IT resources to build a solution that will often never have the rich functionality of a best in breed grants management system and will typically not be maintained or have regular updates and or improvements once launched. 

A bespoke system will suit some clients’ short-term needs, but most grant managers want something modern, that can be self-served, to allow for scalability, is highly secure, built on modern technology, and kept up to date with regular maintenance releases. 

Where should you start?

As you embark on your journey to acquire an online grants management system, we would recommend you consider the following key actions:

(1) Speak to a handful of reputable UK Grant management system suppliers. This way you get a very quick and effective sense of the functionality in the market place and get an indicative range of costs to start thinking about building your business case and supporting budget. Makes sure you have engaged with all relevant stakeholders including IT, Finance and Procurement. 

Start collating a list of key functional and technical requirements (click here see our recommended Grant Management Systems requirements checklist) which we have built up over many years having supported many individuals who have approached us not knowing where to begin. 

A good place to start is to think through your pain points. What are the things that cause you to bang the desk in frustration and throw you laptop against the wall (we obviously wouldn’t recommend you ever do this); what really annoys your reviewers and most importantly what causes applicants to complain and possibly have second thoughts about submitting an application? 

Speak to all your stakeholders involved in the grants management lifecycle and document these issues, and get in the habit of repeating this on a frequent basis (annually if possible). This is essential to understanding the problem you are trying to resolve. But be flexible and listen to a supplier which is proposing modern grant making practices. 

(2) Why now? It’s important that you consciously know why you are looking for a grant management system right now. Predictably over the last 8 years at Fluent we will get requests for a new grant management system at the start of December with the hope they will have a new system by Christmas. That’s an unrealistic expectation for a full end-to-end system implementation (unless you are of course prepared to pay a premium cost for the luxury). Speak to Suppliers about timescales for Implementation and what your staff commitment is during this time. Also, don’t take too long, we have witnessed clients taking over two years to procure a new system. This means a lot of wasted opportunity for improvements during that time and grants staff often leaving with frustration with the procurement process. Our suggestion would be to allow roughly 1-2 months for your internal thinking/ requirements gathering, 4-6 weeks for procurement and typically around 2-3 months for implementation, training and ready for Go-Live (this latter timeframe will be dependent on the scale and scope of the project). 

Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and work shoulder to shoulder with your supplier (when you do, these projects tend to be the most successful).  True partnership is never one sided. Constructive and honest communication is critical to building momentum on the project. Your supplier should not shy away from difficult conversations and they should relish getting down into the detail and Understanding your needs.

Whilst there is risk in either changing to a new system or procuring one for the first time, these are far out-weighed by the risks associated with putting up with the status quo. 

What you need to do

Commit to reviewing at least 3 suppliers. Take note of who acts promptly and is helpful this a useful indicator of future cultural norms. Furthermore, ensure you have a technical expert to appraise the technical elements of the system, paying particular attention to the supplier approach to security, data compliance, stability etc. 

The following can be used as a checklist that you should run through with potential grant management system suppliers you approach: 

Core questions Specific Supplier Questions
Does the software support an end-to-end grant lifecycle? Does the product deal with the grant application form through to checking, scoring, award letter, online acceptance and on-going payments/claims and monitoring reports?Does it have dedicated portals for Applicant and Reviewers within the software? Can applicants and reviewers perform all their tasks easily  within the software? 
How secure is the data and is the data stored in the UK?  Is the service a fully managed Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) by a reputable UK provider e.g. Microsoft, RackSpace etc? Is the product subject to at least an annual independent third-party penetration test? Is the supplier ISO27001 and Cyber Security certified?Is the minimum uptime availability rate at least 99.95%? Do they have a live publicly available service Status indictor with 90 day history?
Are the supplier’s Support and Technical staff based in the UK? Where are the front-line Support staff based (not the UK agent/consultants)? Are there time zone differences leading to restricted windows of communication? Do they use subcontracted Support agency workers?Is the supplier well established in the UK with reference sites that you can have unfettered access to? 
How Future-proofed is the Technology? How often are new releases to the software made? Is there a published Product Roadmap? Are clients proactively engaged with ideas for the Product Roadmap?What interfacing /API options are there e.g. with Finance and Award data? Is there a visual dashboard and reporting option? 
Usability – Is the product built on an ethos of Self-service by admin users Can your staff can easily create, copy and amend application forms with custom fields, grant processes, templates and reviewer questions without recourse to the supplier team? Can your staff add unlimited grant schemes and application forms without extra costs? 
Does the Supplier listen to you and are they solution oriented? Does the Supplier do more than just listen, are they inquisitive and probing of your grant needs and processes? Do you feel they are committed to help resolve your pain points? Do they have a detailed process for your data migration?  
Is there a good Cultural Fit with your organisation? Could you work with the supplier team long term? Are they easy to work with, ethical, responsive and interested in a long-term partnership? Do their team have real-world experience in the grants sector? Are they committed and do they have passion for the sector? Do they have a User Community & on-line platform for sharing and promoting good practice and peer-to peer learning?
Is the Implementation phase well planned  Does the supplier supply a tailored project plan, and project logs? Do they make your staff commitments clear from the outset? Do they offer a weekly Highlight report to summarise progress on the project / highlight issues? 
What’s the customer care journey Post Implementation? Do they offer a dedicated Customer Success Manager with regular account management meetings?Is there User Group with dedicated online support platform? 
Are the software costs clear and unambiguous?  Is the licensing and Implementation costs transparent? Is the on-line training live with recording options? Are there no-cost options to increase grant schemes, or modifying application forms or workflows? Are there any hidden costs e.g. Are prices artificially discounted initially leaving you with higher legacy costs? Is there transparency of costs from the outset with optional upgrade costs clearly identified? 


If you can answer the above questions, you’re well on your way to finding a Grant Management System that will work for you both now and in the longer term. By taking a moment to pause, think through your procurement process, functional requirements, and key business drivers, you’ll be in a lot better place when it comes to system selection.

Because, above all else, not all Grant Management Systems are made equally – and it’s important you choose the one that’s right for you.

If you’re looking for Grants Management Software or just want to learn more about how Flexigrant can allow you to get the best out of your team then get in touch. 

We can arrange a demo at a time that suits you, or simply discuss your thoughts on the topic. 

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