Congratulations on receiving your CEPF grant! Now the work begins. That doesn’t just mean your conservation work on the ground, however. In addition to the CEPF regional implementation team in the biodiversity hotspot where you work, you’ll have two main CEPF Secretariat contacts: a grant director and a grants manager.
For large grants, your grant director oversees the technical, on-the-ground part of your project, while your grants manager makes sure you’re using the money CEPF is giving you according to the terms of the agreement you signed.
“Grantees tend to pay a lot more attention to the technical requirements than the financial requirements,” Grants Manager Eric Ramarijaona said. “However, both are important and should be weighted the same.”
To help you prepare to manage the financial requirements of your grant, here are 10 tips from Ramarijaona and CEPF’s other grants managers.
This may seem obvious, but the number one piece of advice given by every grants manager is to review the agreement. Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting 30 pages to read, but the document contains information that’s critical to your grant.
Sometimes your organization’s legal counsel may have reviewed the document, but it’s important that everyone who’s involved in the project understands the information.
“The requirements need to flow down to the people in the field and those doing the day-to-day work,” Grants Manager Deborah Miller said. “These are the people who have to know the ins and outs of the contract and how to manage the various situations they will encounter.”
Within three months of the countersigning of the grant agreement, you’ll be invited to a “new grantee orientation,” which is offered in several languages. If you’re confused or unclear about something in the grant agreement, this call is the perfect time to get your questions answered.
“Some grantees think that attending the call is just to do with compliance, but it’s actually very important because we reiterate the points of the agreement,” Grants Manager Florencia Renedo said.
Instead of just one person representing your organization, encourage your entire team to join the call.
If you don’t feel comfortable asking questions during the session, schedule a follow-up phone call with your grants manager instead.
“We are happy to talk with you to answer specific questions,” said Renedo. “It will save us both time in the long run.”
CEPF requires that you track many details of how you use funding. If your organization doesn’t have these forms already created, we have templates you can use.
One of the most important templates to use as guidance is the one for detailed transaction reports. “That’s a very good example of what we want to see when a grantee submits that report,” Miller said.
If you need a template in another language, check with your regional implementation team—they may have one to send you.
This is the component of the grant agreement that usually causes grantees the most problems.
Procurement policies help grantees make sure that goods and services of $US5,000 or more (and vehicles at any price point) are from suppliers who are reputable and whose prices are competitive. (At the CEPF Secretariat, we have to follow procurement procedures, too.) CEPF’s requirements are outlined in Attachment 2 of your grant agreement.
Are you going to do your own finances? If so, how? Will you be using Excel? An accounting system? Or will you be employing a third party?
If only one person has control over the finances, there could be mismanagement or fraud. Therefore, we require that grantees have a multi-person system. There should be a clear line between who asks for a payment, who approves that payment and who issues the check.
Ramarijaona recommended having written procedures in place. “I’ve seen very simple ones,” he said. “For example, ‘This person writes checks on this day’ or, ‘If you need a travel advance, submit your request with the appropriate supporting documentation to accounting two weeks before the trip.’ That type of thing.”
If your organization already has systems and policies in place, you’ll still want to ensure that they are applied consistently across your organization and that they align with CEPF’s requirements.
“You always have to be able to explain how the expense is related to the project. Always think about that on the supporting documentation side,” said Grants Manager Priscila Borba. “Unfortunately, if we don’t have a full picture of why and how the money was spent, we will have to disallow costs.”
In some instances, documentation may require a bit of creativity. “With CEPF funds, we see all kinds of documents,” she added.
For example, if you’re traveling by boat in a remote area and run out of fuel, you may need to buy fuel on the side of the road. It helps to think about how you’ll document that transaction ahead of time—perhaps asking the seller to sign a hand-written receipt and provide their phone number.
“I always tell my grantees that, when it comes to reports, there is never too much information they can send me,” said Miller. “I want everything you’ve got because the more information you provide, the fewer questions I have, and the faster your payment is processed.”
For example, don’t just write “toilet paper” as an expense. Was the toilet paper for your office or for a campsite in the middle of the forest? It may not seem important, but details give your grants manager the needed context, helping them feel confident in approving the expense.
Was the cost reasonable, allocable and allowable? That’s what CEPF’s grants managers are looking for when they approve your expenses.
“‘Reasonable’ means, would someone else have made a purchase that looked similar to yours if they were in the same situation,” Borba said.
CEPF would not normally approve the price of a luxury hotel room as part of a project’s expenses, for example. However, what if you were avoiding a nearby hurricane and that hotel was the only place you could stay? “That would be reasonable,” said Borba. “I would have done the same thing in that situation.”
An expense is “allowable” if it is eligible under the terms of your grant agreement. CEPF does not allow our funds to be used for the capitalization of trust funds, the removal or alteration of any physical cultural property, the purchase of land, or the relocation of people.
Expenses are considered “allocable” if they are included in your approved proposal budget. If you have more than one donor, you’ll need to be particularly careful that the expenses you charge to us are clearly linked to your CEPF grant. For example, if you are holding a workshop related to your project, the associated expenses can be charged to CEPF. However, if the day after the workshop, you take a taxi to visit another donor, you can’t charge that ride to CEPF.
“We are happy to pay allowable costs, but you have to be able to show how and why,” said Borba. “If it’s not clearly related to the project, you can’t charge it.”
Sometimes the realities of a project do not fit the project’s original proposal. CEPF’s grant directors and grants managers understand this and can work with you to make needed adjustments. However, it is imperative that as soon as you realize your project needs to be altered, you reach out to them.
Any substantial changes need to be approved before they are made. “If there are changes you want to make to your project, talk to us about it beforehand,” said Miller. “Otherwise you have a proposal budget that does not reflect the actual costs you are incurring and that won’t be acceptable.”
If you are changing more than 15 percent of your project’s original budget, a “budget realignment” is required ahead of time, otherwise, expenses related to this budget change will not be approved.
Your grants manager is available to help whenever you need clarity. Contact them by email, phone or Skype. “If grantees are not 100 percent sure about whether they can procure something or hire someone who wasn’t in the proposal, they can always ask,” Renedo said. “It’s much better to contact us before making a mistake.”