Understanding grant terminology – Part I

The world of grants is like a lot of other disciplines — there is a whole new vocabulary you need to know if you want to be an effective grant manager for your agency.  So here are a few of the most common words and phrases — and their meanings — you will encounter as you navigate the world of grants.  Please note that, although these terms relate specifically to federal grants, most funders use similar terminology.

Cognizant Federal Agency — In most federal applications, the grant applicant will be asked for their Cognizant Federal Agency. This is the agency that provides the most federal financial assistance to the applicant. If your police department is part of a larger government group (city or county, etc.), that is the entity under consideration for the appropriate Cognizant Federal Agency, which is assigned by the federal Office of Budget and Management (OMB). If in doubt, check with your own budget department.

Solicitation – This is the document that tells you everything you need to know about the grant being offered.  It could also be referred to as a Request for Proposal. Be sure to read everything in the solicitation, particularly the section that tells you what the funder is looking for. Don’t rely on what was requested in past solicitations by the same name, since funders (including the federal government) change the details from year to year. Everything in the document is vital, so be sure to read and review it thoroughly.

Grant (or Project) Period — The actual grant period is determined by the funder and will be delineated in your award documents. Typically these are called the “start date” and the “end date.” It’s important to know your start date, because nothing can be expended on your project prior to that exact date. If you spend before that date, you won’t be able to request reimbursement. If you have a delay getting your project started, you can’t set your own start date. But you can request an extension as you get closer to the assigned end date, if allowed by the funder.

High Risk — A High Risk agency is determined by the funder based on an unsatisfactory performance regarding financial management of federal funds, financial instability, an inadequate financial system, or poor performance in prior awards. Being named a High Risk agency doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get another grant, but you may have to submit additional reports during the grant life cycle and will probably be more closely monitored for compliance.

Match — This is the amount you agree to spend on the grant project out of your own pocket. It is added to the amount requested from the funder to create the total budget in your application. A match can be cash or in-kind, which is the value of donated services. You need to figure this out during the application process, and you will need to carefully track the match throughout the life of the grant and include it in your regular financial reports. Failure to meet your grant match may compromise the amount you receive from the funder. Not all grants require a match, but check the guidance.

Reasonable costs — When filling out your grant application budget, be sure to get updated quotes from vendors so you can determine how much you will actually need for the equipment you want to buy. You may be able to add a few dollars assuming the price will go up before you are ready to spend the funds, but your costs need to be reasonable. The reviewers of your grant application are experts in your field, and they know how much things cost. Padding your budget will only hurt your chances of getting funded. So don’t do it.

Draw or Drawdown — Most federal grants are handled on a reimbursement basis, meaning you will expend your own money for your grant program, then request reimbursement for those costs on a regular basis throughout the active grant period. These drawdowns are typically done through an online system, and you will be required to submit proof of the expenditures. Some funders will actually send you the awarded amount at the beginning of your grant, meaning you won’t have to pay out of your own pocket then request reimbursement. In some hardship cases, the federal government may allow you to request the funds upfront, but there are strict criteria for that to occur.

Next time, more terminology.

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