How to Speed up the Grant Review Process in 8 Steps

10/15/2020

Smart grantmakers, thoughtful nonprofits, and forward-thinking foundations are always honing their processes. 

You ask probing questions and regularly refine systems. 

You want to know how to be more inclusive and how to make a wider impact. 

And you want to know how to speed up the grant review process to save time for delivering on your mission. 

The following eight suggestions for improving up your assessment and selection process can help your organization stay focused, save resources, and preserve sanity. 

1. Plan ahead

No matter the deadline for launching your grant, thinking through the full process beforehand is essential. Time spent up front will yield massive returns in time saved during review. 

Establish strategies and high-level goals for each stage of the process: 

Collection

Consider how best to organize application collection to accelerate your review. 

For example, will you assign applications to reviewers as you go or wait until all applications are received? Will you assess for completeness and eligibility as things come in? 

Consider how best to get the right applications (in a consistent format) to the right reviewers as quickly as possible.

Review

If possible, establish a full plan for review before you begin accepting applications, including a decision regarding whether you’ll use any scoring mechanism. 

If you plan to review in stages, determine which reviewers will participate in which stage and how. Or perhaps your process is simple and your application pool is small—will stages speed things up or slow them down?

Steps to consider when planning ahead - how to speed up the grant review process

Selection

Determine how grantees will be chosen, how you’ll deal with potential disagreement or stalemate among reviewers, and how you’ll communicate your final decisions to all applicants. 

This step in your grant application process can be the most exciting but also the most time-consuming. Make a plan about how to speed up the grant review process that accounts for time potentially lost to meetings—limit the extent of deliberations and stick to the time you’ve allotted. 

Reporting

If any part of the review process will be important for data analysis, make a plan for collecting the information you need. 

Perhaps you want to track how much time reviewers spend per application or how individual reviewers think the process could be improved. Think ahead to the end of your process and what you’ll want to know for future improvements.

2. Build a thoughtful application

Every piece of information you request in a grant application should be something you truly need. 

And some things you require as an administrator won’t be relevant or useful for reviewers. In fact, giving reviewers access to all application data may (unwittingly) encourage bias. 

Also consider that you may wish to create a very short initial application to narrow the pool, then request additional details from potential grantees at a later stage. Depending on your timeline, this could help move things along. 

Questions to ask when building a thoughtful application

To minimize burden for their grantees and disperse COVID-19 relief more rapidly to grantees, Brooklyn Community Foundation used Submittable’s grant management software. They created a short initial grant application, including only the questions they needed to award funding (not those related to information they would need down the road). 

Of course, if you need to make awards and report quickly, it may not make sense to break your application into stages.

Whichever way you go, when planning for review, be conscientious in your application-building. Consider customizing applications for certain groups or previous grantees, from whom certain information is less important (or you already have it on file). 

Gif showing a grant application that changes based on applicant response.
Grant software like Submittable (get a 14-day free trial) will allow you to create different versions of an application depending on applicant response.

Be stringent in formatting requirements to ensure consistency across applications—asking reviewers to manage a variety of formats and materials can be distracting and time consuming.

For each application question or field, ask:

  • Do we really need this information at this stage?
  • Do we need this information from everyone or just certain applicants?
  • Who will review or have access to this information?
  • Will this information be required or optional?
  • Will this data be important for reporting purposes?

3. Establish a clear assessment framework

As you build your application, consider how you’ll evaluate the information you’ve requested. Standardized review criteria, like a rubric, can be useful for a number of reasons:

  • It keeps reviewers focused on what matters most to you
  • It can help minimize bias
  • It provides a handy way to address reviewer disputes

Articulating what the ideal application would include can be a great starting point. Think through your assessment criteria, rating scale, and how application components will be weighed against each other.

Clarity of language and concision here will result in a better experience for reviewers incorporating your framework.    

screenshot of Submittable review designer
If you’re using Submittable, custom review forms allow you to directly map your rubric onto the review process and include a point scale.

4. Ensure the best fit

Save everyone time by weeding out inappropriate applications right away. 

Better yet, clarify guidelines, add safeguards, and make applicants triple check that they are eligible and a good fit for your grant before applications even come in.

Gif showing a form that confirms eligibility

With Submittable, you can build eligibility questions into your application form to save time using form logic or eligibility screening.

Even if reviewers can quickly determine which applications aren’t right for full review, it’s not the best use of their time to do so. It also requires another step when they need to communicate this to you (and in turn, you need to communicate it to the applicant). 

Using a team member on the administrative side to give applications a once-over before review board work begins can be much more efficient, helping to keep reviewers focused. 

5. Group and pair for success

Many organizations accept applications from a diverse pool of grant applicants, across industries, specialities, regions, and identities. For example, your foundation grant for educators may be limited to high school teachers but include instructors in a variety of STEM disciplines. 

In this case, labeling and grouping applications as they come in by field (biology, algebra, mechanics etc.) will be useful for assessing applications against similar ones. 

Similarly, each reviewer brings distinct skill sets, experiences, and identifications to their work. For many processes, it can be useful to group reviewers by speciality and assign them the most relevant applications. 

Submittable product shot of assignment features and permission levels
Not all reviewers will need access to all information. If you’re using software like Submittable, you can incorporate permission levels and assign by groups and roles.

For other processes, you may want to get perspectives only from individuals outside the field, or incorporate scores from a mix of people. 

Regardless of the approach you take, having a strategic plan for how applications will be sorted and assigned, based on your missions and goals, will help move the process along.

6. Help reviewers focus

Although most organizations review in teams to make better decisions, together, don’t underestimate the value of concentrated solo time. 

Encourage reviewers to assess applications thoroughly on their own before any meetings. 

Provide review forms or specific steps for these reviewers to complete prior to in-person or even virtual discussion sessions. This helps make sure everyone is prepared to make the best choices.

Image of Submittable grant application
In Submittable, review forms appear alongside each grant application so it’s easy for each reviewer to make their assessment.

For large workloads, setting smaller deadlines for reviewers along the way—completing half their review by a set time, for example—can help encourage review completion.  

7. Keep meetings productive

Everyone has been in a meeting that went on too long. 

Take a good, critical look at your meetings. Good meetings have a pre-set agenda, respect their pre-established timeframe, and stay on topic. 

The bulk of preparation for decision-making gatherings should happen beforehand. 

New Belgium Family Foundation logo
The New Belgium Family Foundation uses the review features in Submittable to cut their meeting times in half.

Encourage reviewers to bring a specific number of top contenders to the meeting—they should be prepared to discuss applicants’ strengths and weaknesses. 

Ask reviewers to have applications, review forms, and any notes at the ready to keep things moving—nothing is more frustrating than waiting for people looking to locate specific information or support they seem to recall but can’t find.  

Find out how easy it is to set up a review process with Submittable in this three minute video:

8. Use streamlining technology 

Digital tools can really increase efficiency. 

For some organizations, these tools may even be the single most important answer for how to speed up the grant review process. 

graphic showing what streamlining technology like Submittable can accomplish.

Whether you’re thinking of building or buying a solution to manage your grants process, be sure it can:

  • Help you systematize a thoughtful, rigorous strategy for grant review
  • Allow you to easily build application forms that are intuitive, customized, and accessible 
  • Fit perfectly with your review criteria and rating system
  • Help you quickly weed out inappropriate and ineligible applications 
  • Automate organization as applications come in, routing the right applications to the right people and applying labels for easy sorting
  • Accommodate reviews of all kinds by teams of all sizes, in stages or in a single round
  • Centralize your process, allowing reviewers to access everything they need in one place
  • Help reviewers be prepared for meetings—and make those meetings shorter 

While some organizations combine technologies, an all-in-one grants management solution like Submittable may save you even more time.

Want to speed up your grant review process?

Submittable simplifies even robust grant review and selection processes to save you time. Try it free for 14 days.

Focused giving with time left over

While it may require a bit more time up front, for those organizations dedicated to figuring out how to speed up the grant review process, planning and strategic decisions can go a long way. Because, after all, if your administrators and reviewers can conserve resources for more mission-driven work, isn’t that the ultimate solution?

Submittable knows how to speed up the grant review process. Find out more and schedule a free demo today. Looking for more great content focused on grants best practices? We’ve got you covered. 

Rachel Mindell

Rachel Mindell is Senior Editor for Submittable's Marketing Team. She also writes and teaches poetry. You can find Rachel's creative work here: rachelmindell.com