Blog posts

Managing grants? How to use pipelines to track your progress

Chris Houghton
April 16, 2019

If you apply for a lot of grants at your organisation, you'll know that there's a lot more to the process than simply writing an application and sending it off.

There's all of those different deadline dates, application stages, primary contacts. When does the application need to be in by? Which are the urgent applications that have to be done by the end of the week?

For awarded grants, funders understandably want to know where their money goes, and the impact the money has had. Most trusts & foundations providing the grants ask for regular impact reports & statements.

There's also the question of finance - when will you get paid? Will it be in quarterly installments, or in one lump sum? This kind of information is really important for the nice folks in finance who need to keep the lights on.

So yes - there's quite a few moving pieces! The good news is - with a well defined process, this all becomes very manageable.

Pipelines are useful for defining and managing this process.

Introducing pipelines

The term "sales pipeline" has been in the commercial sector for decades. If you Google it, you'll likely see scary pictures like the below, often accompanied with strange business jargon like "sales qualified lead".


All very scary.

However, once you take away all of the jargon, pipelines are really quite straightforward. They show you each of the grants that you're applying for, grouped by the stage they're in, visualised in what's commonly known as a "kanban" or "pipeline" view.

Pipelines are a useful tool to understand quickly where you're at with all of your grant applications.

Below is an example of a very basic grants pipeline, storing the names of each of the grants you're working on. (Built using Trello)

Screenshot 2019-04-16 at 11.05.57

Technically speaking, the above is no different to a spreadsheet, where each of the grants are a row in a spreadsheet. But as you can see below, it's a lot less visual, and harder to flag up where action is needed.

Screenshot 2019-04-16 at 11.18.17

Defining pipeline stages

The above example is an oversimplistic example. For grant applications in practice, you'll probably want a set of stages that look more like this:

  • Potential
  • To-do
  • Next up
  • In progress
  • Applied
  • Won
  • Lost

The above stages aren't anything magical. They're just categories that describe the stage each grant is in.

When using pipelines, the first step is to define the stages that work for you.

The problem with spreadsheets

One of the challenges with using products like Trello or regular-old spreadsheets is that they're not designed to handle all of the data in place that's easy to work with and report on. These products are general purpose, built for general use-cases.

For example, what if you have 2-3 primary contacts for a given grant application? Or multiple deadline dates that each reflect different things? How would you reflect these in a spreadsheet?

On top of this, spreadsheets don't have pipelines built-in, which means it's hard to guage which grants you need to take action on - despite all of those validation rules and conditional formatting.

Managing grants in your CRM

Most nonprofit CRMs like Beacon have a pipeline feature. Typically they'll look a lot like the Trello screenshot above, but have specific CRM-style functionality that makes it easy to see information like the values of grants in each stage, and let you click and drag grants between stages:

Screen Recording 2019-04-16 at 12.04 pm

CRMs also make it easy to visualise things more in a summary reports as well:

Screenshot 2019-04-16 at 12.12.48

With grants, many organisations actually have two pipelines - one to manage the application process, and one to manage the follow-on stages like impact reporting.

Next steps

If you're just getting started with managing grants, often a tool like spreadsheets or Trello is a great way to get started. Expect to outgrow these though, and when you do, a CRM is where you should be storing things.

If you'd like to have a chat about the best ways to manage grants for your organisation, feel free to reach out to me by booking a demo of Beacon.