Recently, I read an article that answered several questions I’ve had about grant makers for a long time. Not only that, but the article also addressed several questions that I often get from participants when I’m presenting my grants workshops.
The article is titled “Right-sizing the Grantmaking Process,” and it’s one in a series from a collaborative initiative of the Grants Managers Network. The network is made up of small family foundations, prominent national foundations, grant-making public charities, and socially responsible corporations. The documents were created by a group of individuals known as Project Streamline, which is an effort of funders and nonprofits to improve grant application, monitoring, and reporting practices.
The purpose of “Right-sizing the Grantmaking Process” is to help funders understand that one size might not fit all when it comes to grant applications and reporting requirements for grantees. Funders are encouraged to look at four core recommendations:
1. Know the net grant amount, and keep it as high as possible. The authors define the term “net grant” as “a grant received minus the cost of seeking, getting, managing, and reporting on a grant.” Seasoned grant writers have probably experienced expectations for grant proposals that seem out of balance in relationship to the amount of a grant award. In other words, is a 50-page proposal package really necessary when the maximum award amount is $5,000? The authors state that grant makers have a responsibility to keep their net grants high.
2. Figure out what information you really need for grant applications and reports. The authors suggest that grant makers periodically should assess what they are asking applicants for in the application package. Grant makers are encouraged to eliminate redundant questions and to ask only for information that is used in the actual decision-making process. This makes so much sense, it almost seems like it should not have to be stated! I have often wondered why a funder seems to be asking for the same pieces of information over and over again in an application. Other people have asked me the same question, and to be honest, I don’t know the answer. I agree with the authors, who recommend that grant makers should decide on the specific information they need to select grantees. If additional documents are necessary, they can be requested from grantees after funding decisions have been made.
3. Simplify the application and reporting process for small grants, renewal grants, operating support grants, and repeat grantees. The authors recommend that, rather than using the same application and reporting requirements to meet a variety of scenarios, grant makers should examine these and determine streamlined processes based on the size and type of the grant and the prior relationship the grant seeker might have with the organization. They also say they believe these types of grants have the best potential to be right-sized, even though grant makers must determine what kind of information they need based on the potential risk that a grant might incur.
4. Find ways to filter applications. In other words, the authors recommend that grant makers consider using eligibility quizzes and letters of inquiry to filter out potential applicants who shouldn’t go to the extent of submitting a full application package. The authors also suggest that grant makers compile a list of provisional grantees who then are asked to send organizational and/or additional program material that can used to make final funding decisions.
The document also includes a checklist of questions that applicants can ask themselves before applying for a grant, to determine if it’s worth the time and effort to do so. I’ll discuss this checklist in next month’s column.
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