In 1997, Destiny’s Child burst onto the music scene with their debut single.
“No, No, No,” they sang.
It’s a catchy tune.
But, if you find yourself singing along with Beyoncé, Kelly, and Michelle while you toss piles of rejected grant applications into the shredder, it might mean that you need to take a closer look at your grant management processes and tools.
This is what tends to happen when foundations and grantmakers set their sights on the sheer volume of grant proposals without thinking through a strategy or process in place for dealing with them.
Honestly, it’s not that surprising. Fielding grant applications can feel like a numbers game.
Yes, in theory, if your group attracts more proposals, there is a better chance that they’ll receive top-quality applications from really important groups doing high-impact work.
In theory, of course, that’s a great and honorable goal.
But it only works if you can manage the volume of applications that you’re receiving.
If you want to increase your impact and focus on specific priorities grounded in your mission, you’ll need a strategic plan that guides you to, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” for a handful of your best grant applications.
The key to shifting your focus––and your time, energy, and money––from the applications you’re rejecting to the ones that offer the most promise is in the strategy that you foundation employs.
If your foundation were a vehicle, your strategic plan would be its onboard GPS.
So what are the key parts of a strategic plan that help you manage all of those grant proposals?
Setting your Sights on Grantmaking Strategy
The first step in preparing your organization for more grant applications is defining––and communicating––a funding strategy.
That means saying “no” upfront in order to say “yes” later.
In other words, you want to define which approach your organization will take in order to maximize the impact that you create.
To get started, you should set an overarching grantmaking strategy.
The Council on Foundations identified 4 core strategies that comprise most efforts:
- Responsive grantmaking
- Strategic grantmaking
- Proactive grantmaking
- Initiative grantmaking
Depending on which specific goals and focuses that you have in mind, one of these approaches will likely correlate with the best approach for you.
If your group hasn’t been able to pinpoint its overarching strategy, it will be difficult to define and difficult for you to remain committed to a core focus.
As you determine how to focus your funding, figure out your scope. Will you embrace broad program areas like technology or education? Or will you narrow to specific efforts such as increasing broadband access in low-income communities or expanding pre-K programs in urban areas?
You’ll also need a strategy to seek out and find organizations (or to at least alert them that you’re looking to fund organizations like theirs) aligned to your funding priorities. Armed with a sense of the universe of organizations out there, you’ll want to develop grant guidelines and a solid process for reviewing grant proposals.
Lastly, assuming you get some great applications in the door (you will), you’ll need a process for reviewing applications with your board and making final funding decisions.
When you’re awash in grant proposals, your strategic plan will help you stay focused on the mission and values that drive your grantmaking in the first place. Executed well, this plan will help your team navigate a sea of proposals of varying quality while pushing your grantees to deliver on the results they’ve committed to in their proposals.
That’s what you want. A process that drives impact and results.
How to Streamline Your Grant Management Process
While we often think about the people that we have in place during the grantmaking process, that’s only part of the picture.
If your process is screwed up, even the best talent will suffer, as will your grantmaking efforts.
One way to get around this is to build a strong foundation with proven processes and technology that makes the job of grants administration way more efficient and effective. This technology should give you back some time, cut down on paperwork, and improve the accuracy of your team’s work.
Think about the process you’re looking to run here, at the highest level:
- A grant seeker submits a request
- The request is reviewed
- The request is accepted (or rejected)
- The grant manager monitors progress
- Grant reporting occurs during and at the end of the grant cycle
Each step along the way is an opportunity to ease the burden of an individual or organization counting on your grant management software to deliver a more optimized workflow.
Whatever grant management software you choose, make sure your vendor supports your unique grantmaking needs and that their platform is scalable. Do your research on the specific features and customer service available to you.
You are embarking on a new relationship that is central to your grantmaking so take the time to vet various vendors and choose the best possible grants management software for your needs.
Beef Up Your Grant Review Process
As we discussed previously, the solution to receiving better grant applications is probably not to simply generate more applications on the whole.
Don’t forget that more applications will cost your team more resources. It’s just that simple.
The question you want to answer here is: How do we garner the highest concentration of top-quality grant proposals?
The grant application process is only half of the equation. The other half is the grant application review process that unfolds within your organization.
While it’s important to define and improve the grant seekers’ experience to help attract the best, high-quality, relevant, and complete applications, your team also needs to have the right resources and tools in order to quickly and easily identify the best applications to award funding.
In many foundations, grant review is the true bottleneck.
It can take hundreds or thousands of hours to sift through applications, compare them, make consensus decisions, and prioritize projects.
And, of course, generating more applications––even if they are higher quality––only exacerbates the problem. It puts more strain on your organization to then handle the influx of applications and there is less opportunity to quickly cut through those that are clearly not a fit.
Enter: Grant review software.
Purpose-built programs like Submittable make it super simple for teams, boards, and stakeholders to collaboratively review and respond to grant applications. In addition to streamlining the logistics of application intake, they also allow anonymous review processes, multiple rounds of review, numerical scoring, and other features that make it much easier
It turns out, with the right tools, your foundation actually can handle more grant applications.
But, you need to make sure you’re prepared for the fire before you pour on the gasoline.
Bulletproof Your Grant Review Process
Building a strong process is the first step toward driving more impact.
Learn how the right technology can enable your foundation to make more grants and make more impact by aligning your grantmaking strategy and reducing the overhead and complexity of your application review process.