How Government Grantmakers Create a Positive Citizen Experience

Like any relationship, a citizen’s experience with government programs is made up of a series of small details that build or erode trust. The stakes are high—each interaction with a government grant program is a data point for people that shapes their relationship with public institutions more generally. 

Government grantmakers are keenly aware of their role in this relationship. That’s why so many are embracing digital transformation. They want to meet citizens where they are, so they can create programs that make a real impact. 

As they make this transition, government grantmakers have to be intentional about the details that shape the citizen experience, with an awareness of how those details fit into broader cultural and operational goals.

Let constituents guide you

Citizens themselves are the ones who know best what they need. Seek out input from community members and follow through on folding their feedback into your program. 

Doing so can help you take a collaborative approach to governance, which in turn will help you create more accessible grant programs citizens will come to trust. Plus, it creates a positive dynamic in which citizens feel inspired to stay civically engaged.

Don’t wait to start outreach. Build community engagement into grant programs now so that you can hear what people want and need before their needs become urgent. In New York City, the city council introduced participatory budgeting, which allows community members to directly influence how the public budget is allocated. This kind of feedback loop ensures that public input is consistently folded into the decision making process and is not a one-time thing. 

When you learn what communities actually need, you can create grant programs that work from the get-go. Without their insights, you run the risk of starting down the wrong path and setting yourself up for a course correction later. 

The federal program to save rural hospitals is a prime example. Though the overall intention aligned with what communities needed, the details didn’t. Not many hospitals opted into the program because it forced communities to give up some things they really needed, such as inpatient services. 

Now, program administrators are trying to tweak requirements to attract more applicants. But once you have a fizzled launch like this, it can be hard to recover. Public sentiment sours and community members aren’t keen to collaborate when they feel like program administrators aren’t in tune with their daily realities. 

Seeking out community feedback early sets your team on the right track. And ensures you’ll  be ready for sudden surges in need when crises hit. 

Stop trying to go it alone

Citizens don’t often know the details of how agencies and departments are divided. Many see their interactions with specific government programs as part of a single relationship. If departments and programs aren’t connected, the citizen experience can become disjointed and frustrating. Community members who interact with multiple agencies might start to feel like one one hand doesn’t know what the other’s doing. 

Look to break down the silos between programs and align your efforts with other public institutions. In Houston, officials formed a coalition between public agencies and local and regional nonprofits with a goal of ending homelessness in the city. This meant that rather than each organization trying to solve this massive problem alone, they could collaborate and share resources. 

The coalition worked together to make it easier for citizens facing homelessness to access services. These citizens did not have to deal with conflicting policies and processes across agencies or navigate the gaps that inevitably open up when programs aren’t coordinated. The approach has made a huge impact, helping to cut homelessness in the city by nearly two-thirds

Giving citizens a consistent experience across programs helps them to understand what to expect when they engage with government agencies. Over time, they’ll develop a competency for how public programs work in their area, making it easier for them to get and stay engaged. 

As you look to adopt government grant management software, explore whether one solution can serve multiple departments and agencies. This gives citizens a consistent experience and allows you to share knowledge and findings across teams. To make the transition smooth, consider using one program as a testing ground and then scaling the solution more broadly. 

Choose the right back-end details 

At this point, most government agencies understand the necessity of digital transformation. But in order to do it well, your grant management system needs to include the right back-end technology to create a great front-end experience for citizens.

Goal #1: Provide clarity 

When grant application processes are confusing and complicated, people either don’t bother applying or don’t get what they need. 

Nothing illustrates the high stakes better than the Americans who are struggling to get federal disaster aid. Many of them have trouble navigating the requirements for these programs, which means that in a time of incredible need, they aren’t getting help. As a result, many are facing homelessness. 

Complicated processes can also perpetuate inequities. That’s part of the reason federal recovery programs favor wealthy white homeowners

As you adopt new software, aim to simplify applications and give citizens clarity about what exactly they need to do at every stage to qualify for funding. 

Features to look for in a grant management software

  • Easy to navigate platform with clear instructions up front
  • Ability to download the whole form 
  • Eligibility quiz to prevent ineligible applicants from spending time on the application
  • In-app communication

Goal #2: Prioritize accessibility 

Accessibility ensures that everyone who should be able to access grant funding can indeed do so. At a baseline, accessibility within a grant management system is about checking boxes that ensure people of all abilities have the access they need. The great thing about it is that when you improve accessibility for some, you improve usability for everyone. 

But true accessibility goes beyond a check-the-box approach to meet people where they are. It requires you to understand how people’s unique situations shape their experience of your program. For instance, someone’s ability to access your program could be impacted by housing insecurity, a recent natural disaster, illness, injury, or any number of factors. When you’re aware of these circumstances, you can do your part to create the on-ramps citizens need.

Features to look for in a grant management software

  • Mobile-friendly application 
  • Localization for specific communities 
  • Real-time collaboration 
  • Live technical support for applicants

Goal #3: Reduce the time tax 

“Time tax” is the amount of time it takes for citizens to engage with a government program. It includes all the time that goes into finding funding opportunities, filling out applications, and waiting for payment. 

Reducing the time tax lessens the burdens on people and organizations who are trying to get funding, and improves the experience for everyone. 

The Minnesota Frontline Worker Program is an example of how technology can help reduce the tax time associated with a program. The Department of Labor and Industry, the Department of Employment and Economic Development, and the Department of Revenue all teamed up to deliver more than $500 million to frontline workers. 

With the right software partner, they were able to launch their program, review more than 1.2 million applications, and distribute funds in less than six months. The applicant portal was easy to access, and made it simple to submit. Because of the positive citizen experience, the program won awards and was celebrated as a bipartisan success story. 

Features to look for in a grant management software

  • Single sign-on for applicants 
  • Smart form autofill 
  • Saved drafts 
  • ACH funds distribution 

Goal #4 Free your team up to go deeper

As important as it is for the part of your grant application that is public-facing to be straightforward and easy to use, the citizen experience also hinges on how easy it is for your team to manage. If your team is spending the bulk of its time stuck in administrative tasks, they won’t have the bandwidth to do much else. 

The time you save on administrative tasks frees you up to do things such as community outreach, program development, and strategic planning—all essential to creating a positive citizen experience. 

Features to look for in a grant management software

  • Forms that are easy to build and adjust
  • Workflow automations 
  • Ability to adjust forms autonomously after a program is live 
  • Comprehensive reporting and compliance
  • An implementation expert to help guide you

Connecting the dots

Digital transformation is not about adopting a new software to get a laundry list of new features. It’s about connecting the dots to understand how each new feature improves the citizen experience. Taking a more holistic approach will help you build trust and encourage stronger engagement from community members.

As the most-trusted grant management software for governments, Submittable was built to help you deliver a great citizen experience for every program you run. 

Laura Steele

Laura Steele is a social impact writer and editor at Submittable focused on the world of grantmaking and corporate giving. Her work often explores the connection between technology, equity, and social good. She also writes fiction and nonfiction. You can read some of her stories and essays at