For Pete’s Sake, Electronic Grant Applications Should Be Standard in 2020


Producing a successful grant is a lengthy process.

Finalizing those nitty-gritty details? Even more so.

Making electronic grant applications the go-to practice can help speed up those tasks but it’s 2020 and they’re still not exactly standard yet.

At some point during your grantmaking process, the time will come to review applications and check supporting documents. You’ll want to ensure everything’s been done to tip-top standard. The reviewing process is there so that you’re left with the strongest, most promising applicants.

Caroline Fiennes, author of It Ain’t What You Give, But How You Give It found that millions of pounds are wasted every year in the United Kingdom on inefficient application processes. Funders aren’t always clear on what they will and won’t fund, leaving candidates to jump through big hoops and causing funders to wade through tons of applications that are poor fits for their mission.

Fiennes isn’t alone on this, either.

A report by the Center for Effective Philanthropy showed that lengthy admin costs result in an estimated total of 13 percent of every foundation grant dollar.

Regardless of the statistics, paper grant applications persist. As 2020 begins, the majority of grant writers prefer electronic forms, so why haven’t electronic grant applications become completely standard yet?

The list of reasons why electronic grant applications are better is long, for both grant writers and grant reviewers.

Electronic grant applications are faster for everyone. It’s also easier to fix errors, track the grants, communicate with grant seekers, and ultimately report on the grants. Unlike paper grants, electronic grants can be reviewed by large teams, and from almost anywhere. In fact, the more complex an application form is, the more reasons there are to go electronic.

If all other inefficient processes can damage your company, sticking to paper forms can too.

Before we dive into why you should take the digital plunge, let’s discuss some specifics around electronic grant applications.

How electronic grant applicants ensure higher-quality applicants and happier employees

How electronic grant applicants ensure higher-quality applicants and happier employees

Your grant application process should accomplish two big goals:

Bring in high-quality applicants and make your team’s work as efficient as possible.

That means you need the right underlying submission platform to process electronic grant applications and manage the whole process. Keep in mind that most grant application processes follow the same lifecycle from inception to completion. That cycle is mostly linear and generally goes like this:

  • Pre-Award Phase. You create the funding opportunity, publicly announce your grant and are ready for the anticipated influx of grant seeker applications.
  • Award Phase. The applications have come in and you’ve chosen your winning candidate. The successful applicant receives the official notice, the grant becomes legally binding, and the ball starts rolling.
  • Post Award Phase. This is often the longest phase in the grantmaking cycle. It’s time to implement the program, smooth out the reporting details, and engage in closeout processes.

Now, let’s think about some specifics within those three main phases. There are numerous jobs that can seem small but can also hold up your entire operation if not managed well.

Creating the grant application itself may take you between four to six weeks. Collecting data on prospective applicants can set you back hours. Sifting through incomplete forms and misplaced documents can gobble up your team’s time.

It just isn’t enough to sit back and wonder how your application wasn’t clear enough to filter out unsuitable candidates. It’s time to start streamlining your process, minimize tedious tasks and maximize efficiency. Luckily, electronic grant applications can do just that.

If a grant applicant prefers to complete an application online, only to find that it’s a paper-only form, you might unknowingly be deterring them from taking their application any further.

Don’t chase away quality applicants.

By going digital, you can chuck the guesswork, manual labor, and tedious tasks out of the equation. Your grant application should be transparent and easy to complete. Most of all, it should be operational. Applying for a grant is a long and winding road and applicants will typically spend several weeks completing their application.

By having a streamlined process and effectively using technology for your grant, you’re putting yourself ahead of other grantmakers while showing your candidates that you value their time.

Grant-seekers save time and resources with electronic grant applications

Grant-seekers save time and resources with electronic grant applications

So how do electronic grant applications benefit grant-seekers?

Save time

On a centralized digital platform, applicants can regularly check their eligibility themselves. This saves unsuitable applicants from filling out a lengthy paper form only to find on page 14 that they don’t meet the criteria.

Filling out digital forms can be significantly faster than paper counterparts. Electronically, grantseekers can apply for your grant almost anywhere and in a much shorter space of time.

Give applicants greater control

While organizations are busy making social change happen, they’re also applying for funding.

It’s a tough reality for nonprofits, but a necessary one.

Given this context, giving applicants more control over the applications process is a huge help. With electronic grant applications, grant-seekers can save their progress, edit as they go, and make updates on the fly.

This leads to more thoughtful applications and hopefully, higher quality grantmaking decisions.

Minimize repetitive work

This works on both sides of the grant applications.

When candidates can save their details and pick up where they left off, it reduces the amount of time they spend putting in the same information over and over again. If an applicant wants to apply for future grants, most of the form can auto-fill based on previous data.

On the grantmaker side, electronic applications allow for pre-qualifying candidates at an early stage while also carrying over and verifying information so that grant managers can avoid these tedious tasks.

Ensure transparency

What methods do you have in place for candidates to check the status of their application?

Using an electronic platform lets your grantseekers easily sign in to their account and track their application. No need to send emails, make phone calls or wait for lengthy updates.

If candidates have submitted multiple electronic applications, they can check the status of each application in the same place, too.

Reduce errors

Digital application forms can easily perform preliminary checks to make sure applicants have submitted all the required forms. This can seriously slash reviewing time in half and you can say goodbye to trashing incomplete forms and missing information.

Grant managers can rejoice at the fact that they won’t need to chase down applicants for further information. The right electronic platform can also help grant managers double check their work to ensure they’re making the right funding decisions based on a correct understanding of the information provided by applicants.

With digital applications, it’s much harder to lose applications. Also, if there is missing information, it’s easy to ask applicants for it and upload it directly to the application.

Eliminate waste

By applying online, candidates can completely reduce the paperwork needed in preparing and submitting a grant. Mistakes on the form can be fixed in seconds. Paper application forms are impractical in this sense. With every mistake, a long paper form is thrown out and a new one is printed.

While there will always be a few who prefer paper copies, most people find paper applications unproductive, unnecessary or plain and simply, just annoying.

Sifting through paper applications is about as manual as it gets. Six years ago, a McKinsey study showed that office workers spend around 1.8 hours each day searching and gathering information. That’s around 9.3 hours a week. More recent studies by IDC found that the average office employee spends about 2.5 hours a day on juggling papers.

That’s 30% of the working day spent solely on locating and organizing documents gone astray.

It’s time to move beyond these massive time wasters and embrace electronic grant applications.

How grantmakers can use electronic grant applications to refine their processes and eliminate costly errors

Here are some of the ways that choosing electronic applications as your default can help to optimize your grantmaking process:

  • Say goodbye to illegible writing. We know that paper forms can be a pain to fill out but reading messy handwriting is worse. With digital forms, you’ll never need to squint to decipher an applicant’s words.
  • Tackle bias. Your electronic grant will be accessible to everyone. Paper forms can pose challenges to those with sight and learning differences. By going digital, you’ll provide access to potential candidates of all ability levels. Another advantage for electronic applications is that you can easily implement anonymous review processes.
  • Save time on data handling. At some point, you’ll need to digitize application results. Whether you choose to use spreadsheets or software, you’ll need to transfer data from paper to an electronic format. Let’s say you spend 2 hours a day managing email communications and inputting data. That’s 10 hours a week. 40 hours a month. That’s an entire week a month. Taking everything digital will free up tons of time for you to focus on other, less tedious parts of the process
  • Cut out repetitive tasks. With an online system, you don’t need to waste time on manual, repetitive tasks like sending the same email to different addresses or inputting basic information on clients over and over again. Replace clerical tasks with swift, effective processes.
  • Produce more accurate data. Just because you can do a task manually doesn’t mean that you should. For accuracy standard’s sake, go electronic to build a stronger foundation for your grants data.
  • Refine candidate searches quickly. With digital applications, you can apply filters and specific criteria to show you the best, most relevant applications. It’s much less time consuming than physically going through every single page of every application to find those top applicants.
  • Maintain your workflow (while optimizing it). You don’t need to change all workflows if you go digital. The difference is that you can centralize all your work and keep everything in the same place. Never lose documents. Attach forms to relevant projects. Fix the spots that need fixing and keep those that already work well.

The benefits of electronic applications for grantmakers and grant-seekers are multi-fold and offer a real chance to improve the entire grantmaking process.

Electronic grant applications increase impact by streamlining grants management

Grantmakers want a lean but effective grant management system. Why?

So they make more time for the aspects of grantmaking that matter: the impact they’re making in communities through their giving. A streamlined application process that leverages electronic applications is one key part of improving grants management.

In 2020, grantmakers can reap these benefits by moving their grantmaking onto one modern submission platform. Grantmakers can then supplement those electronic applications with automated, smart workflows that make things so much easier for all stakeholders.

For Pete’s sake, it’s 2020. It’s time for electronic grant applications. Let’s get it done.

author photo of Sabreen Swan
Sabreen Swan

Sabreen Swan is a writer who works closely with B2B and SaaS companies. When she’s not jargon-busting, you’ll find her buried under an old book and drinking too much tea. You can read some of her work on her website.