From the Other Side: Tips from a Former Grants Manager

the_dark_side.jpeg

Back in the day, before I joined the Altum team, I worked as a grants manager for a couple of non-profits.  In those roles, I used different grants management products, which will remain nameless. Over the course of many years as a client I became very familiar with the products, the companies, and the other clients from the user group meetings. Altum eventually offered me a job (at a time when I was no longer a client) because they understood how invaluable it would be to have someone who knows the ins and outs of every day grants management and could appreciate the demands put on grants managers. For me, it was an opportunity to broaden my grants experience by becoming intimately familiar with more grant making organizations and their processes. (What can I say, I still consider myself a grants manager at heart.)

Now that I’ve crossed over to the “dark side”*, as my grants management friends like to tease me, I can pass along the tips I’ve learned from the vendor perspective to help inform grants managers about things to consider when talking with vendors about their grants management software:

  • Trust but verify. If there’s a particular feature that’s incredibly important to your organization, make sure you can see it during a demo. It’s not that the vendor would mislead about the system’s functionality (at least they shouldn’t), but it’s possible that the vendor thinks you mean X, but you mean Y. If it’s a robust system, you’re likely not going to see everything that the system can do during a demo, but if it’s a function that is necessary to your process, make sure you’re on the same page.
  • Ask for references, but take them with a grain of salt. Most vendors will be happy to give you a couple of references to check. That being said, just like job references, you’re only going to get names of people who they’re confident will provide a good review.
  • Know the role of your vendor contact. If your contact at the vendor is strictly sales, there’s less incentive for them to focus on “fit” as opposed to “win.” If you’re interacting with someone who has other roles at the company where they would continue to interact, in some capacity, with existing clients, they’re more likely to want to make sure you would be a satisfied customer as opposed to getting a win and moving on. Please note that this recommendation does relate more to small companies than large ones, but perhaps that in itself is something to consider.
  • Understand the product’s direction. It’s helpful to know what factors are considered when they build their product roadmap (i.e. deciding what features get added). One would hope it’s based on client feedback, and that’s what you’re likely to hear, but follow up by asking for examples of features they’ve added in the last year or two. If you’re nodding your head along as you hear the list, it’s a good indicator that their roadmap would align with your organization’s needs.

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list of what you should be asking vendors, but rather topics frequently overlooked during the grants management software search. You should also be asking about: implementation, customizability, cost, specific features, security, etc. We’ve put together a vendor checklist to help you navigate the difficult journey of grants management software selection. Check it out here.

 

* I know Star Wars Episode 7 came out several months ago, but I couldn’t resist. I promise you (most) vendors aren’t like the Empire.

 

Image credit: http://static.tumblr.com/7587316435c3cb3376805226e1a3c8fe/swl9bzh/LoHnqpzgi/tumblr_static_9isao0czrkg8oow0c8kskwowg.jpg

Author: M. Dunbar
July 14, 2016, 11:19 AM

Six Tips for Looking for New Grants Management Software

Looking for New Grants Management Software

Evaluating grants management software options for your grantmaking organization can be a daunting task.  Not only are there many different software solutions to choose from with different features, benefits, and price points, but you also need to have an understanding of your organization’s processes, people, and needs to try to align them with whatever system you ultimately select.

 Keeping the big picture in mind can be hard when there are so many details and moving pieces to manage.  Here are some tips: 

  1. Talk to similar grantmaking organizations to see what grants management software they’re using and whether or not they like it. The more people you speak with the better chance you have of understanding the trends within your specific sector. Some solutions are a better fit for organizations with specific types of funding processes and needs. 
  1. Reach out to your applicants and reviewers to see if they have any recommendations or needs to keep in mind. Your goal should be to find a solution that benefits your users as much as your organization. Not only will this improve adoption and use after implementation, but it will help you sell your recommendation to the decision makers in your organization. 
  1. Make sure you understand the difference between your “must haves” and “nice to haves”. Of course you want a system that does everything, but keep in mind that no system has everything that everybody wants. And, the more custom a solution is, the higher the price tag. Understanding what you absolutely must have versus what you can live without will be crucial when narrowing the product list. 
  1. Engage both the decision makers and those who will use the system throughout the process. If everyone is on board in the beginning, you can prevent problems that may arise if a key player feels their voice hasn’t been heard when researching and selecting your proposed solution. 
  1. Keep an open mind regarding functions that are outside your existing process. Changing systems can present an opportunity to explore new and potentially better ways of doing things. A new system can have some features that might be able to remove steps from the process to save time, or make other improvements.  Often times, an organization can get caught up in existing processes and miss those opportunities. 
  1. When evaluating cost, keep in mind the time it takes for setup, implementation, and support. One of the goals of a grants management system is to allow you to reallocate the time you would have spent on clerical tasks to more meaningful, mission-related work. If you are going to spend a lot of time managing and supporting your users (i.e., colleagues, applicants, reviewers, and grantees), you may not be saving as much time, and therefore money, as you thought. Ease of use and good vendor support are key. 

What are your best tips?  Please use the comments section to add the tips you heard, or wish you had heard, when looking for a new grants management system.

Author: M. Dunbar
December 03, 2015, 02:05 PM

5 Tips for New Staff Making Grants Management Software Changes

Leading grants management software changes

Does this sound familiar? You recently started a new grants management job and are embarking on the tough journey of changing the grants management solution (or lack thereof). If only you could talk with someone who just went through this to get some advice…

Lucky for you, I did just that.

During the past year I worked with Sally* as she successfully convinced her new bosses and colleagues to change their grants management software. Afterwards, I spent some time with her discussing lessons learned and suggestions for others. Here are her pearls of wisdom.

  • Do Your Research: This isn’t merely market research, but also research within your organization. You need to understand the existing operations, including your organization’s unique challenges and inefficiencies. But, don’t forget to keep in mind what does work well. Once you understand the current state of affairs, you can start looking at different grants management solutions. Having learned what does and does not work well will help steer your conversations with the vendors. Make sure to get supporting data on your proposed solution that will help you “sell” it internally.
  • Expect Pushback: Even if, during your interviews, management expressed a desire to make changes to improve their process, don’t be surprised if these same individuals now seem opposed to the idea. Some people can embrace change in theory, but can’t seem to move forward when actually faced with it. This is likely to be even more the case if you weren’t tasked with this as the new hire.
  • Frame the Conversation: When responding to the inevitable naysayers, frame the conversation in terms of existing problems and how your solution will address them. This includes juxtaposing the existing software (if any) with the proposed software, and potentially other competitors, to show how your recommendation would have the most significant positive impact. Couching your ideas in that manner will make it harder for someone to reject them.
  • Engage Your Team: For some organizations, the grants management “team” is really an army of one. For those in a management position, you should involve your team during the entire process. You’re much more likely to get help in the areas above if they’ve felt it was genuinely a team decision and not a dictatorship. Additionally, having the support of the team goes a long way towards convincing the ultimate decision makers.
  • Set Expectations: Be careful when persuading your audience that you don’t oversell it. When you implement the new grants management solution, some things will work as expected while others may work better or worse. Don’t set yourself up for failure by promising the moon; you’ve done your research and your proposed solution is better, but nothing is perfect. When facing continued challenges, Sally closed the deal with, “Some things will work, some won’t, but we should give it a shot.”

*Name has been changed to protect the innocent.

Author: M. Dunbar
November 03, 2015, 01:49 PM

"Best for Community Impact" - B Corporation Honor

Best for the World Community Impact 2014

PhilanTech is honored to have been named to the "Best for the World - Community Impact" list again for 2014.  We joined 85 other companies in 60 countries in being recognized as companies doing the most to improve the lives of our customers, suppliers, and neighbors.

Read the full press release here.

Receiving this honor for the second time, along with also being named to the "Best for the World - Overall Impact" list for the second time this year, means a lot to us.  We exist to help social sector organizations maximize the social impact of their programs by helping them redirect resources from grants administration to service delivery.  We care deeply about supporting organizations doing good work.  But we also care deeply about being an organization that does good work, and we believe in the power of businesses, not only nonprofits, to create positive social impact.  Our mission and our values align with those of our clients, and we're honored to have those values recognized through our inclusion in these "Best for the World" lists.

Learn more about how PhilanTech can help your organization increase its social impact through grantmaking or grantseeking.

Author: Dahna Goldstein
July 23, 2014, 04:15 PM

GuideStar Partnership - Grant Management Software

GuideStar logo

PhilanTech is delighted to announce that we have partnered with GuideStar to offer discounted access to PhilanTrack® online grants management software for nonprofits to GuideStar Exchange Gold and Silver participants. 

The GuideStar Exchange provides an opportunity for nonprofit organizations to demonstrate their commitment to transparency and share information with potential donors.  Nonprofits can claim and update their reports to provide program and mission information, financial information beyond the information in the organization's 990, and more.  By providing more information, nonprofits can become Bronze, Silver or Gold participants, and receive increasing benefits for providing more information.

With PhilanTrack, GuideStar Exchange Gold and Silver participants can:

  • Find funders: Search currently-available funding opportunities, research past grants awarded by potential funders, and research contacts in the funding organization.
  • Write proposals efficiently: Easily reuse content from past proposals when writing new grant requests and avoid reinventing wheels in each new grant proposal.
  • Manage funder relationships: Track contact information and interactions with funders and prospective funders to build relationships and institutional memory.
  • Track deadlines and requirements: Track deadlines for proposals and progress reports and receive automated email reminders about them.
  • Store grant-related documents: Store your organization's 501(c)(3) determination letter, audited financial statements, annual reports, and other documents requested by funders in PhilanTrack's document library.
  • And more!

GuideStar Exchange Silver and Gold participants can access discounted access to PhilanTrack by going to their "Manage Nonprofit Reports" page, then logging in and clicking "Benefits" to access the relevant discount code for Silver or Gold participants.

Learn more about the GuideStar Exchange.

Learn more about PhilanTrack for grantseekers.

 

GuideStar and the GuideStar logo are registered trademarks of GuideStar, used with permission.
Author: Dahna Goldstein
July 09, 2014, 10:35 AM

6 Signs Your Foundation Should Invest in Grants Management Software

5 signs your foundation is ready for grants management software

If you've been thinking about whether or not grants management software is a worthwhile investment for your foundation, you may be weighing the cost and benefits of buying or licensing software versus just sticking with the status quo, whether that's using a spreadsheet to track applicants, getting proposals in on paper or via email, or something else.

Here are six signs that your foundation should invest in grants management software:

  1. Your grant documents are kept in binders or in filing cabinets.  If your foundation has been accepting paper grant applications or applications via email that are then printed and stored, you may have binders or filing cabinets full of paper grant applications and progress reports.  With paper copies of grant applications and progress, it can be difficult to find the information you need about your grantees when you need it.  Do you find yourself flipping through piles of paper to find information?  Or typing in – or copying and pasting - grantee contact information from applications so that you’re able to keep all of your grantee contact information in one place?  Online grants management software will help you move your application and reporting processes into the cloud and store all grant- and grantee-related information in one centralized online location for easy access and so that you don’t have to manually enter any grant information.
  2. You have at least one board member who does not live in the same city as the foundation's office.  You may even have staff members who work remotely.  Or perhaps you like to work from home every now and then, or you think it would be nice to be able to access your grant information without having to go into the office.  That’s where online grants management software comes in.  Remote staff or board members can easily log into the grants management system to access any needed information.  Whether you’re on a site visit or sitting at your kitchen table, all you need is a web browser and internet access to securely access all of your foundation’s grant information.
  3. The application packets you receive from grant applicants are more than an inch thick.  Or on paper altogether.  Think of the trees!  Many foundations still ask their grant applicants to submit many paper copies of grant applications so that board packets can be compiled.  Increasingly, however, board members, particularly those who are next generation family members, prefer to access information online, rather than paper copies in the mail.  With online grants management software, applicants only need to enter information once, and everyone at the foundation who needs to read or review an application can easily do so.
  4. It takes you hours or days to compile information on the grants awarded by your foundation in the past year or two.  How well is your foundation meeting its mission?  You want to know.  Your board wants to know.  How do you find out?  You see what your grantees are doing with your granted funds that help pursue your mission.  With paper or email applications, you might spend hours or days trying to find that information by looking in different documents and extracting pieces of information to try to put together a comprehensive picture.  With online grant management software, you can collect quantitative information from grantees and easily display visualizations of the outcomes your grant dollars are achieving, and you can compile narrative information at a couple of button clicks to help tell the stories of your grants, rather than spending copious amounts of time manually aggregating that information.
  5. Producing a board book requires lots of copying and pasting, or making many copies.  Putting together a board book can take a day or more.  It requires compiling information from many different documents, then making copies of each board member, and putting those copies in the mail.  Think of all of the time you can save – not to mention the better information you can provide – by compiling a board book in a matter of minutes by clicking a few buttons.  What if you have a board member or two who still prefer to get board books on paper?  You can still print the board book and send it to those board members while your other board members access their information online.  Everyone is able to look at the same thing at the same time, and you’re able to provide richer information with much less effort.
  6. You ask for the same documents from grantees each time they apply, even though you already have copies of those documents somewhere in your files.   Most foundations ask their applicants to submit a copy of their 501(c)(3) determination letter, their audited financials, and other information.  That’s a good practice.  But what happens to those documents once they’ve been submitted?  Do you ask your applicants to submit the same documents each time they apply for a grant, even if you’ve funded them before and even if you have requested those documents before?  With an online grants management system, you can store grantee-uploaded documents so that you can easily access documents submitted last year or for a prior grant application, and you don’t have to require your applicants to keep re-submitting the same information.

You might think, “but wait!  It doesn’t cost my foundation anything to get grant applications in the mail, or by email, and grants management software will cost my foundation money!”  Yes, there is a licensing cost to grants management software, but there are time costs to everything listed above – not only for your foundation, but also for your grantees.  Did you know that 13% of every foundation grant dollar is spent administering the grants (Center for Effective Philanthropy)?  While only 1.5% of that cost is borne by the foundation, 11.5% is borne by your grantees.  Think about how much further your grant dollars will go towards meeting your mission and your grantees’ missions by helping your grantees apply to your foundation more easily, without having to produce multiple paper copies or re-enter information unnecessarily each time they submit a new grant application.

Do you think your foundation may be ready for grants management software?  See how PhilanTrack can help streamline your grants management processes.

Request a demo

 

Photo credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AItalian_traffic_signs_-_semaforo_verticale.svg
Author: Dahna Goldstein
June 17, 2014, 03:09 PM

Best for the World - Grants Management Software

PhilanTech is honored to have been named a "Best for the World" company again in 2014 for scoring in the top 10% of B Corporations and creating overall social and environmental impact.

PhilanTech Best for the World 2014

This matters a lot to us, and we hope it does to you, too.  As the for-profit and nonprofit sectors are becoming more aligned, with more for-profits thinking about how their operations can positively impact the world, and as the B Corporation movement recently hit a major milestone, PhilanTech continues to live the values that have been in place since the company started.  Early on, we described ourselves as a "nice for-profit" -- an organization that is not structured as a 501(c)(3) but is nevertheless committed to being mission-driven and values-driven.  A company that has social and environmental responsibility baked into our DNA. 

We think this is right way to do business, and are humbled to be in the company of great businesses like Seventh Generation, Patagonia, King Arthur Flour and over 1,000 other certified B Corporations.

So why does this matter to you? Our values align with yours. We want to help you be successful in pursuing your own social mission. And we have the right tools to help.

Does your organization give grants? Learn more about how PhilanTrack can help you achieve your grantmaking goals.

Does your organization seek grants? Learn more about how PhilanTrack can help you achieve your grantseeking goals.


Author: Dahna Goldstein
May 29, 2014, 04:35 PM

New Partnerships - Grants Management Software

Grassroots.org logo
GEO logo Philanthropy Ohio logo forum logo

PhilanTech is pleased to announce four new partnerships!  We have partnered with Grassroots.org to offer discounted PhilanTrack for Nonprofits access to their members, and with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), Philanthropy Ohio, and the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers to offer discounted PhilanTrack for Foundations access to their members.

Grassroots.org is a nonprofit that provides free and discounted technology tools to other nonprofits to catalyze social change.

With PhilanTrack for Nonprofits, Grassroots.org members can:

  • Find funders: Search currently-available funding opportunities, research past grants awarded by potential funders, and research contacts in the funding organization.
  • Write proposals efficiently: Easily reuse content from past proposals when writing new grant requests and avoid reinventing wheels in each new grant proposal.
  • Manage funder relationships: Track contact information and interactions with funders and prospective funders to build relationships and institutional memory.
  • Track deadlines and requirements: Track deadlines for proposals and progress reports and receive automated email reminders about them.
  • Store grant-related documents: Store the organization's 501(c)(3) determination letter, audited financial statements, annual reports, and other documents requested by funders in PhilanTrack's document library.
  • And more.

Grassroots.org members can access the discount by logging into their account.

With PhilanTrack for Foundations, GEO and Philanthropy Ohio members, as well as members of Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers member organizations, can:

  • Verify applicant eligibility for grant programs: Verify 501(c)(3) status as well as specific program eligibility automatically online.
  • Accept and evaluate proposals online: Tailor online grant proposal forms to request information that will support informed grant decision-making.
  • Manage grantee relationships: Track and view updated grantee information as well as the grantmaker’s giving history with the grantee organization.
  • Monitor and evaluate grant progress reports: Request progress reports at whatever intervals support your organization’s monitoring and evaluation processes, and receive reports submitted online.
  • Dynamically generate reports: Aggregate grantee information for key staff, trustees, and other stakeholders with a couple of button clicks, including generating graphs and analyzing grantees’ financial performance.
  • And more.

GEO members can access the discount by emailing [email protected].

Philanthropy Ohio members can access the discount at http://blog.philantech.com/philanthropy-ohio.

Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers members should contact the Forum to set up a discount program for their members.

Members of regional associations of grantmakers that are Forum members should ask their regional association to contact the Forum to request access to the discount program.

 

All logos are property of the respective organizations.
Author: Dahna Goldstein
December 01, 2013, 09:38 PM

PhilanTech Partners with TechSoup - Grant Management Software

TechSoup Logo

PhilanTech is delighted to announce that we have partnered with TechSoup to offer PhilanTrack® online grants management software for nonprofits to TechSoup's members. 

TechSoup is a nonprofit that connects other nonprofits with technology products and resources to make informed decisions about technology.

With PhilanTrack, TechSoup members can:

  • Find funders: Search currently-available funding opportunities, research past grants awarded by potential funders, and research contacts in the funding organization.
  • Write proposals efficiently: Easily reuse content from past proposals when writing new grant requests and avoid reinventing wheels in each new grant proposal.
  • Manage funder relationships: Track contact information and interactions with funders and prospective funders to build relationships and institutional memory.
  • Track deadlines and requirements: Track deadlines for proposals and progress reports and receive automated email reminders about them.
  • Store grant-related documents: Store your organization's 501(c)(3) determination letter, audited financial statements, annual reports, and other documents requested by funders in PhilanTrack's document library.
  • And more!

TechSoup members can apply for discounted access to PhilanTrack via the TechSoup website:

If your organization is not a TechSoup member, learn about TechSoup and other discounted and donated technology products available for qualified nonprofits.

 

TechSoup and the TechSoup logo are registered trademarks of TechSoup Global, used with permission.
Author: Dahna Goldstein
October 31, 2013, 03:00 PM

Grant Management Tools – Assessing Project Streamline

Project Streamline

It's been five years since Project Streamline launched to identify areas for improvement in grantmaking processes and develop principles and tools to support improved practices.  Taking a page from its own book, the initiative is taking stock of its own activities, successes, and areas for improvement.

Earlier this year, Project Streamline conducted a survey of grantmakers and grantseekers to learn how the streamlining principles are being translated into practice, and just released a report detailing the outcomes.

Those who are regular readers of the somewhat irregular posts on this blog will likely know that we at PhilanTech are fans of what Project Streamline is pursuing and promoting.  So we were happy to read about some of the successes of the past five years, and unfortunately not surprised to read about some areas still in need of improvement.

A few key findings:

  • While the majority of the 460 grantmakers who responded to the survey indicated that they were aware of streamlining principles and had put some into practice, the majority of the 300 grantseekers who responded had not seen noticeable improvements with their funders;
  • For each streamlining principle, there is a disconnect between the grantmaker perspective and the grantseeker perspective.  For example, over half of the grantmakers surveyed indicated that they had right-sized either their applications or reports to align the amount of required information with the size of the grant.  But 72% of of grantseekers indicated that applications for small grants were rarely right-sized.
  • Strategic philanthropy and streamlining can be at odds.  Some funders’ approach to more strategic giving has resulted in narrow funding areas and very specific outcome reporting requirements.  Those specific reporting requirements can create additional burdens for grantees.
  • There is an increasing interest in streamlining.  A majority of grantmakers reported that streamlining is more important today than it was five years ago.  And there is little question that grantseekers feel the same way.
  • The benefits of streamlining are significant to both parties – when done correctly.  Grantmakers say staff time can be spent on what matters, grantseekers spend less time on application processes, grantmakers get better data, and both sides benefit from a better relationship.

My main takeaways are threefold:

  • There has been some progress since Project Streamline launched.
  • There needs to be more.  I support Project Steamline’s efforts and look forward the progress it will continue to make as more grantmakers streamline their grantmaking – and involve their grantees in the process.
  • What we’re doing at PhilanTech is important to this effort – we provide tools that help both grantmakers and grantseekers streamline the process so that more grant dollars can be dedicated to program and service delivery, rather than to grant administration.

Request a demo to learn how PhilanTrack can help streamline your grantmaking or grantseeking

 

Image from http://www.projstreamline.org/
Author: Dahna Goldstein
May 28, 2013, 04:37 PM

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