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What are the Various Stages in the Grant LifeCycle?

Better application management of scholarships, grants, awards, and more.

What are the Various Stages in the Grant LifeCycle?

Whether you're a new grantmaker looking to understand the lifecycle, or a seasoned pro seeking to enhance your current processes, at some point you might start thinking about the stages of a grant lifecycle.

What are the stages? And, what can you do to make the work involved with each stage take less time and energy?

Below, we'll walk through the grant lifecycle from the grantmaker's perspective, spotlighting best practices to optimize impact and efficiency at each stage.

3 Stages in the Grant Lifecycle

There are three generally accepted stages in a grant lifecycle:

  1. Pre-award stage - The planning and preparation phase where grant opportunities are identified, proposals developed, and applications submitted.
  2. Award stage - The decision-making and contracting phase where grantors select, notify, and obligate funds to recipients through signed agreements.
  3. Post-award stage - The implementation and oversight phase where recipients carry out grant-funded projects according to agreed plans and report progress to grantors.

Now that you know what the three stages are, let’s break them down further so you know exactly what to do in each stage.


What Happens in the Pre-Award Stage of the Grant Lifecycle?

The pre-award stage is crucial for grantmakers to plan and execute a robust competitive process leading up to project selection and award decisions. Key pre-award activities for grantmakers might include:

  • Designing the grant program and outlining goals, priorities, eligibility, budget parameters, and selection criteria.
  • Promoting the funding opportunity through outreach channels to attract qualified applicants.
  • Providing clear application instructions, forms, and submission systems for applicants.
  • Assembling a qualified review committee and facilitating a thorough evaluation process against the defined criteria.
  • Selecting the most meritorious applications to receive funding based on reviews and program priorities.
  • Conducting due diligence on applicant organizations to verify eligibility and assess capacity if not already done.
  • Working with leadership and grants management to finalize approvals and prepare award packages.
  • Notifying applicants of award decisions and providing helpful feedback to those declined.

With strategic planning and an organized pre-award process, grantmakers can ensure they receive and select from the most competitive pool of proposals to fund impactful projects aligned with their mission.


What Happens in the Award Stage of the Grant Lifecycle?

This is perhaps the most exciting, and most stressful time in the grant lifecycle. Now it’s time to actually pick your recipients and give them their funds.

The key activities in the award stage of the grant lifecycle might include:

Selection & Verification

The grantor reviews applications and selects recipients based on criteria like merit, need, and potential impact.

Once recipients are chosen, the grantor will then go through and verify each recipient's eligibility and compliance before officially approving the award. This may involve reviewing finances, policies, past performance, etc.

Additional vetting may occur before finalizing awards to verify organizational capacity, financial health, regulatory compliance, past performance, etc.


A grant agreement is drawn up detailing the terms and conditions, allowable expenses, reporting requirements, disbursement schedule, and more. Both parties sign the binding contract.

This document will be used as a reference point to ensure the grantee is using the funds as intended. In many cases, a clause will be added stating what will happen in the event the funds are not used correctly.

Some of the potential consequences grantees may face if they violate the terms of their grant award agreement could include, but aren’t necessarily limited to:

  • Suspension of funding: Grantors can temporarily stop further payments if violations are suspected.
  • Clawbacks: Requirement to return funds already disbursed if they were improperly spent or guidelines breached.
  • Payment delays: Slowing down reimbursement requests or scheduled installments.
  • Increased oversight: More frequent reporting, site visits, or prior approvals may be imposed.
  • Probationary status: Grantee may need to implement corrective actions or lose eligibility for future funding.
  • Financial penalties: Some agreements specify fines or repayment of grantor's administrative costs related to noncompliance.
  • Termination: The grantor can cancel the remainder of the award if serious violations occur.
  • Legal action: Grantors could sue for return of funds if fraud or other crimes are involved.
  • Barring from other grants: Grantees may be barred from receiving other federal grants for a period of time.

The consequences vary based on the severity and type of noncompliance. Grantees should thoroughly understand award terms and get clarification to avoid unintended violations.

Acceptance, Disbursement and Public Announcement

The recipient formally accepts the award and agrees to the grantor's terms. Then, the first installment of funds is processed and transferred to the recipient organization per the signed agreement.

The grantor and recipient will likely also publicly announce the award details to stakeholders, media, etc.

Pro Tip: Meet with your recipients to develop an implementation plan.

During an implementation planning session, the recipient develops a work plan, assigns staff, and prepares to launch the funded project/program.

Clear communication, legal contracting, and initial disbursement enable the recipient organization to transition from proposal to activation during the award stage.


What Happens in the Post-Award Stage of the Grant Lifecycle?

The post-award stage involves grant management, oversight, and reporting after funds have been awarded. During this stage, recipients must submit regular reports detailing project activities, milestones achieved, funds expended, and results.

Grant expenses are carefully documented and monitored to ensure compliance with the approved budget. In many cases, there are performance evaluations as well. During one of these evaluations, the grantor assesses if the recipient is meeting goals outlined in the proposal and grant agreement.

Depending on the nature of the grant, there may also be onsite reviews where grantors conduct site visits to observe operations and verify information.

Throughout the post award stage of the grant lifecycle, installments of the grant continue to be distributed as dictated in the agreement. Any funds remaining unspent at project end are often returned to the grantor. The conditions of what to do if there are funds leftover should be stipulated within your grant agreement.

Pro Tip: Random audits may be done anytime to ensure appropriate financial controls are in place.

Grantors may provide guidance to recipients if struggles arise during implementation of the use of grant funds. Then, as a last step, oftentimes recipients may reapply for continued funding upon project completion.

Oversight and transparency during the post-award stage helps ensure the highest standards and strongest outcomes from grant investments.

How SmarterSelect Can Help You Navigate all Three Stages in the Grant Lifecycle

SmarterSelect is an end-to-end grant management software designed to optimize every phase of the grant lifecycle:

Pre-Award Stage

  • Streamline collaboration and review of proposals
  • Automate assembling required documents and attachments
  • Simplify budget creation and ensure accuracy
  • Guide users through the entire submission process

Award Stage

  • Digitally manage grant agreements and required paperwork
  • Automate milestone tracking and notifications
  • Enable smooth approval workflows for acceptances and disbursements

Post-Award Stage

  • Schedule automatic progress report reminders
  • Maintain all grant records in one secure, centralized repository
  • Provide user-friendly portals for grantors to review reports and deliverables

With SmarterSelect, grantseekers, recipients, and funders alike can work smarter throughout each phase of the process. Automation and seamless workflows reduce administrative burdens so you can focus on impact. Let us help you conquer every stage in the grant lifecycle!

Schedule a demo now to see what we can do for you!


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