Grant Accounting: Which Type of Grant is Best for You?

Written by Jason Granado
Startup Accounting

Grant accounting is the financial management process that revolves around the acquisition, allocation, and tracking of grants received by nonprofit organizations.

At Rooled, we understand that for nonprofit organizations, grants can be a lifeline, providing the necessary resources to carry out their missions and make a positive impact on the communities they serve. But grant accounting is not merely about receiving funds; it’s about responsible stewardship, compliance, and strategic financial planning.

In the nonprofit sector, grants come in various forms, each with its own set of rules and requirements. To navigate this complex landscape effectively, nonprofit leaders must be well-versed in grant accounting practices. In this article, we will explore the world of grant accounting and shed light on the three main types of grants: unconditional grants, conditional grants, and reimbursable grants. Understanding these grant types is crucial for nonprofit organizations for several reasons.

Grant accounting is essential because it directly impacts an organization’s financial health and sustainability. It ensures that funds are utilized for their intended purposes and reported accurately, instilling trust and confidence in donors and stakeholders. Familiarity with different types of grants is equally vital for individuals involved in nonprofit management. It enables them to tailor their fundraising efforts and grant-seeking strategies to align with their organization’s mission and goals. Understanding grant accounting contributes to an organization’s success in acquiring and managing funds by minimizing financial risks, ensuring compliance with grant terms, and optimizing resource allocation. It empowers nonprofit leaders to make informed decisions and leverage grant opportunities effectively.

So, how can a nonprofit organization initiate its journey into the world of grant accounting? The first step is aligning its mission with appropriate grant opportunities. By identifying grants that resonate with their mission and strategic objectives, nonprofits can increase their chances of securing funding that aligns with their purpose.

In the sections that follow, we will delve deeper into the three main types of grants, providing insights and considerations that will help nonprofit organizations navigate the grant landscape with confidence. At Rooled, we are committed to serving as a guiding light in the realm of grant accounting, assisting nonprofit organizations in achieving their financial goals and fulfilling their missions.

Conditional Grants

Conditional grants are a distinctive category of funding that nonprofit organizations may encounter in their quest to secure financial resources. These grants come with specific conditions, restrictions, and expectations, setting them apart from other forms of financial support. Here at Rooled, we believe that understanding the nuances of conditional grants is essential for nonprofit leaders seeking to make informed decisions about their funding sources.

What is a conditional grant? 

A conditional grant is a type of financial assistance provided to nonprofit organizations under certain conditions or requirements specified by the grantor. These conditions typically outline how the funds should be used and may include performance milestones, reporting obligations, and compliance with specific guidelines. Conditional grants are often associated with a clear purpose, such as funding a particular project, program, or initiative.

How do conditional grants differ from other grants?

Conditional grants differ significantly from unconditional grants, which provide organizations with more flexibility in how they use the funds. Unconditional grants typically have minimal or no specific requirements, allowing nonprofits to allocate the funds as they see fit within their mission. In contrast, conditional grants come with strings attached, requiring organizations to adhere to predetermined guidelines and objectives.


Potential Benefits and Challenges of Accepting a Conditional Grant


  • Focused Impact: Conditional grants can be highly advantageous for nonprofit organizations pursuing specific projects or programs. They provide targeted financial support, ensuring that resources are directed toward a particular goal or outcome.
  • Accountability: Conditional grants often require organizations to set clear objectives and milestones, fostering a culture of accountability. This can lead to improved project management and outcomes.


  • Restrictions: The conditions attached to conditional grants can be restrictive. Organizations may find it challenging to meet all the stipulated requirements, limiting their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Reporting Burden: Managing a conditional grant often involves extensive reporting to demonstrate compliance with grant terms. This can place a burden on an organization’s administrative resources.

Assessing the Fit for Your Organization

Determining whether a conditional grant is the right fit for your organization requires careful consideration. Here are some steps to help you assess compatibility:

  1. Alignment with Mission: Evaluate whether the conditions imposed by the grant align with your organization’s mission and objectives. If the grant supports a project or initiative that resonates with your mission, it may be a good fit.
  2. Capacity and Resources: Consider whether your organization has the capacity and resources to meet the grant’s conditions. Assess your team’s capabilities, infrastructure, and expertise to ensure you can fulfill the requirements.
  3. Impact vs. Restrictions: Weigh the potential impact of the grant against the restrictions it imposes. Determine whether the benefits of the grant outweigh the challenges posed by its conditions.
  4. Long-Term Viability: Consider the long-term viability of the project or program funded by the conditional grant. Assess whether it aligns with your organization’s strategic goals and sustainability.

Conditional grants can be powerful tools for nonprofit organizations when used strategically. They provide targeted support for specific initiatives, but it’s crucial to carefully evaluate their compatibility with your organization’s mission, capacity, and long-term objectives. At Rooled, we’re here to help you navigate the intricacies of conditional grants and make informed decisions that drive your nonprofit’s success. Stay tuned as we explore more grant types and their implications in our journey through the world of grant accounting.

Unconditional Grants

Unconditional grants represent a more flexible form of financial support that nonprofit organizations may encounter on their journey to secure funding. These grants, as the name suggests, come without many of the stringent conditions typically associated with other grant types. Let’s delve into the nature of unconditional grants, their benefits, challenges, and how nonprofit organizations can determine if they align with their needs and objectives.

What is an unconditional grant, and how does it differ from other grants?

An unconditional grant is a form of financial assistance provided to nonprofit organizations without the strict conditions and requirements often seen in conditional grants. Unlike conditional grants, which specify how the funds must be used and may include performance milestones, reporting obligations, and compliance criteria, unconditional grants offer nonprofits greater flexibility in allocating and utilizing the funds. Essentially, these grants entrust organizations with the discretion to determine how best to deploy the resources within the broader framework of their mission.


Primary Advantages and Disadvantages of Unconditional Grants 


  • Flexibility: Unconditional grants provide nonprofits with the freedom to allocate funds based on their current needs and priorities. This flexibility allows organizations to adapt to changing circumstances and seize new opportunities.
  • Streamlined Administration: With fewer reporting and compliance requirements, managing unconditional grants can be less administratively burdensome, allowing organizations to focus more on their mission-driven work.


  • Accountability: While unconditional grants offer flexibility, they also place a significant degree of responsibility on organizations to use the funds wisely and in line with their mission. This requires a strong internal governance and oversight structure.
  • Strategic Alignment: Nonprofits must ensure that the use of unconditional grant funds aligns with their strategic goals and does not lead to mission drift. Without clear guidelines, it can be challenging to maintain alignment.

Assessing Suitability for Your Organization

Determining if an unconditional grant is the right fit for your organization involves careful consideration of your needs and objectives:

  1. Mission Alignment: Assess whether the grant aligns with your organization’s mission and objectives, even in the absence of specific conditions. Ensure that the grant contributes positively to your overall goals.
  2. Capacity and Oversight: Consider whether your organization has the necessary capacity to manage the funds responsibly. Adequate internal controls and oversight mechanisms are essential when handling unconditional grants.
  3. Strategic Impact: Evaluate the potential impact of the grant on your organization’s long-term strategy. Does it help you advance your mission and strategic goals without compromising your core values?
  4. Financial Sustainability: Reflect on the financial sustainability of your organization. Ensure that the grant supports your ongoing operations and does not create dependency or financial instability.

Common Challenges in Applying for and Managing Unconditional Grants

  1. Competitive Landscape: Unconditional grants can be highly competitive, as many nonprofits vie for flexible funding. Securing such grants may require a compelling proposal and a well-established track record.
  2. Stewardship and Accountability: Nonprofits must exercise prudent stewardship and financial accountability when managing unconditional grants, as the absence of strict conditions places greater responsibility on them.
  3. Monitoring and Reporting: While unconditional grants may have fewer reporting requirements, organizations must still demonstrate the responsible use of funds to maintain donor trust and transparency.

Unconditional grants offer nonprofits the autonomy to address their most pressing needs, but they also require a high level of responsibility and alignment with organizational goals. At Rooled, we understand the importance of making informed decisions about grant opportunities. We’re here to help you navigate the intricacies of unconditional grants and explore the diverse world of grant accounting to empower your nonprofit’s mission. Stay tuned as we continue our exploration of grant types and their impact on nonprofit financial management.

Reimbursable Grants

Reimbursable grants are a unique category of funding that nonprofit organizations may encounter in their pursuit of financial support. These grants have distinct characteristics that set them apart from other grant types. Let’s explore what reimbursable grants are, their advantages and disadvantages, and how nonprofit organizations can determine if this type of grant aligns with their financial needs, goals, and operations.

What is a reimbursable grant, and how does it differ from other grants?

A reimbursable grant, also known as a reimbursement grant, is a form of financial assistance provided to nonprofit organizations with a particular structure. Unlike unconditional grants, where funds are provided upfront with flexibility in use, reimbursable grants require organizations to spend their own resources on approved activities or projects first. After the expenditures have been incurred, nonprofits can then submit documentation for reimbursement, typically in accordance with the grantor’s guidelines and reporting requirements.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Reimbursable Grants


  • Cost Control: Reimbursable grants can help organizations maintain better control over expenses because they only reimburse for eligible costs incurred. This can prevent overspending and ensure funds are used efficiently.
  • Accountability: Reimbursable grants often come with clear reporting and documentation requirements, promoting transparency and accountability in the use of funds.


  • Cash Flow Impact: Nonprofits must have sufficient cash flow to cover project expenses until reimbursement is received. This can strain an organization’s liquidity, especially for smaller nonprofits.
  • Administrative Burden: Managing reimbursable grants can be administratively intensive. Organizations must carefully track expenses, maintain accurate records, and adhere to grantor guidelines.

Ensuring Alignment with Financial Needs

To ensure that a reimbursable grant aligns with your organization’s financial needs, consider the following:

  1. Cash Flow Analysis: Assess your organization’s cash flow and liquidity to determine if you have the financial capacity to cover project expenses upfront while awaiting reimbursement.
  2. Budget Planning: Develop a detailed budget for the project or activities funded by the reimbursable grant. Ensure that the grant amount is sufficient to cover expenses and that your organization can manage any funding gaps.
  3. Reporting Capacity: Evaluate your organization’s ability to meet the reporting and documentation requirements specified by the grantor. Adequate systems and processes are essential to ensure compliance.

Assessing Suitability for Your Organization

Determining if a reimbursable grant is the right fit for your organization involves a comprehensive evaluation:

  1. Mission Alignment: Ensure that the activities or projects funded by the reimbursable grant align with your organization’s mission and objectives. The grant should support your core mission and not divert resources from your primary focus.
  2. Cash Flow Management: Assess your organization’s ability to manage cash flow effectively. Consider whether you have the financial reserves or access to short-term financing to cover expenses until reimbursement is received.
  3. Administrative Capacity: Evaluate your organization’s administrative capacity to handle the documentation, reporting, and compliance requirements associated with reimbursable grants.
  4. Long-Term Impact: Consider the long-term impact of the reimbursable grant on your organization’s financial stability and sustainability. Ensure that it contributes positively to your mission without creating financial strain.

Reimbursable grants can be a valuable source of funding, especially for organizations with strong financial management capabilities. However, they require careful planning, budgeting, and adherence to grantor guidelines to ensure they align with your organization’s financial needs and mission. At Rooled, we specialize in helping nonprofit organizations navigate grant opportunities and make informed decisions to advance their missions effectively. Stay tuned as we continue our exploration of grant accounting to empower your nonprofit’s financial success.

Accounting Tips for Nonprofits When Accepting a Grant

Effective grant accounting is essential for nonprofit organizations to ensure financial transparency, compliance, and responsible stewardship of funds. Whether you’re dealing with conditional, unconditional, or reimbursable grants, following best practices can significantly enhance the efficiency and transparency of grant management. Let’s explore some essential accounting practices, potential challenges, and the impact of grant type on the accounting process for nonprofit organizations.

Essential Accounting Practices for Grant Management

  1. Segregate Funds: Maintain separate accounts or funds for each grant to ensure that grant funds are used exclusively for their intended purposes and can be tracked accurately.
  2. Document Expenses: Keep detailed records of all expenses related to the grant, including invoices, receipts, and payroll records. This documentation is crucial for compliance and reporting.
  3. Regular Reconciliation: Reconcile grant-specific accounts regularly to ensure that the reported expenditures match the funds disbursed and that no discrepancies exist.
  4. Accrual Accounting: Consider using accrual accounting, which records revenues and expenses when they are earned or incurred, providing a more accurate picture of financial activity.
  5. Compliance Monitoring: Implement internal controls and processes to monitor compliance with grant terms and conditions. This includes meeting reporting deadlines and performance milestones.
  6. Grant Tracking Software: Invest in grant tracking software to streamline the management of multiple grants, enhance reporting accuracy, and ensure compliance.

Enhancing Efficiency and Transparency

Proper accounting methods can significantly enhance grant management in several ways:

  • Transparency: Accurate and transparent accounting practices build trust with donors, grantors, and stakeholders. They demonstrate responsible financial stewardship.
  • Compliance: Following accounting best practices ensures compliance with grant terms and reporting requirements, reducing the risk of penalties or grant revocation.
  • Efficiency: Effective grant accounting streamlines financial processes, making it easier to track funds, prepare reports, and manage grant-related expenses.

Mitigating Accounting Challenges

Nonprofit organizations may face various accounting challenges when managing grants. To mitigate these challenges:

  1. Cash Flow Management: Develop a cash flow projection to anticipate the timing of grant disbursements and plan for any delays in reimbursement or unexpected expenses.
  2. Reporting Accuracy: Implement rigorous internal controls and a robust reporting process to minimize errors and ensure the accuracy of financial statements and grant reports.
  3. Audit Preparedness: Maintain well-organized financial records to facilitate audits or reviews by grantors, demonstrating compliance and transparency.

Impact of Grant Type on Accounting

The choice of grant type significantly affects the accounting process for nonprofit organizations:

  • Conditional Grants: These require strict adherence to grant conditions and necessitate detailed tracking and reporting to demonstrate compliance.
  • Unconditional Grants: These offer more flexibility in fund allocation but still require responsible accounting practices to ensure that funds align with the organization’s mission.
  • Reimbursable Grants: Managing cash flow and adhering to reimbursement guidelines are critical for these grants, making accurate and timely expense tracking essential.

Effective grant accounting is essential for nonprofit organizations to fulfill their missions and meet the expectations of donors and grantors. By implementing sound accounting practices, nonprofits can enhance transparency, compliance, and financial efficiency. Understanding the nuances of different grant types and tailoring accounting processes to meet their specific requirements is key to successful grant management. At Rooled, we are committed to supporting nonprofit organizations in navigating the complex world of grant accounting and financial management to achieve their goals with confidence.

Connecting with Rooled’s CFO Services

In this exploration of grant accounting, we’ve delved into the intricate world of nonprofit funding, from conditional grants to unconditional grants and reimbursable grants. Understanding these grant types and the best practices surrounding them is vital for nonprofit organizations committed to financial transparency, compliance, and mission-driven success.

At Rooled, we recognize that navigating the grant landscape can be a challenging endeavor. That’s where our CFO services come into play, designed specifically to assist nonprofit organizations in achieving their financial goals with precision and expertise.

How Can Rooled’s CFO Services Assist Nonprofit Organizations?

Our seasoned team of financial experts stands ready to guide you through the complexities of grant accounting, offering tailored solutions to your unique needs. We understand that each nonprofit is distinctive, with its own mission, objectives, and financial landscape. Our CFO services are customized to your organization’s specific requirements, ensuring that you can access the right grants to fuel your mission.

Tailored Funding Strategies for Success and Sustainability

Tailored funding strategies are the cornerstone of nonprofit success and sustainability. By leveraging our CFO services, you gain access to the expertise needed to identify grant opportunities that align seamlessly with your mission and financial needs. We work collaboratively with you to craft funding strategies that maximize your potential for success, providing the financial foundation necessary to drive your mission forward.

Engaging with Rooled to Explore Grant Opportunities 

Engaging with Rooled is a simple yet transformative process. Connect with our team, and we’ll start by understanding your nonprofit’s goals, mission, and financial landscape. From there, we collaborate to develop a tailored funding strategy that unlocks the right grant opportunities for your organization. Our experts are with you every step of the way, offering guidance, insights, and support to ensure your nonprofit thrives.

Grant accounting is a critical aspect of nonprofit financial management. By partnering with Rooled and availing our CFO services, you gain a trusted ally in your quest to access the right grants and fuel your mission. Empower your nonprofit with the financial expertise needed to achieve your goals with confidence. Contact Rooled today, and let’s embark on a journey to transform your nonprofit’s financial landscape and make a lasting impact on the communities you serve. Your mission is our mission, and together, we can achieve remarkable results.

About the Author

Jason Granado

Co-founder of Rooled and Director of Accounting, Jason has been involved in the outsourced accounting industry for 17+ years. Jason graduated from San Jose State University where he received his Bachelor of Science, Accounting degree.