And the Winner of the 2nd "Ugliest" Grant Tracking Spreadsheet Contest Is…

The second annual "Ugliest" Grant Tracking Spreadsheet Contest received some truly impressive responses.   Entries were judged based on a number of criteria that make grant tracking spreadsheets difficult to work with, including their complexity, susceptibility to error, duplication of information, and reliance on one person’s specific knowledge to navigate.

Without further ado, the winner is…StreetLightUSA!

StreetLightUSA is a nonprofit that helps adolescent girls transition from trauma to triumph by helping them get out of the sex trade.

StreetLightUSA will receive one year of free access to the PhilanTrack online grants management system to replace their "ugly" grant tracking spreadsheets with an online system that will help the organization streamline all of its grant-related activities.

There were a number of compelling submissions in this year's contest.  Grantseekers are using Excel to manage everything from contact information to proposal status, and more.

Here are some of our favorites (note: some images have been modified slightly to minimize any identifying information):







In addition to some very illustrative visuals of challenging spreadsheets, there was one particularly impressive and detailed description of a grant tracking database (selection from the description included here):

ABOUT THE DATABASE TAB ORANGE field heading text means the column cells contain a function. A GREEN triangle in the upper left corner of a cell means there is a function in it that Excel thinks may be faulty. This is not the case, everything works fine. Ignore them. A RED triangle in the upper right corner of a field heading means there is a comment about the field there. Hover your cursor over the cell to see the comment. BLUE field heading text means the column is for the current year. Similar columns from past years are present, but hidden. Organization names in RED are ones of particular interest for research. A KEY to coded fields is in a sheet behind the Database. COLUMN / NAME / NOTES A / Organization Name / No organizations begin with "The". If there are people's name(s) in the organization title, the listing is by last name. Organizations may appear >once if there are >1 separate potential grants (see column B). B / Grant Name / The particular grant of interest given by the organization. C / Grant Range / Minimum and maximum theoretical amounts disbursed. D / Challenge Grant / Whether it is a challenge grant, yes or no. E / Match Grant / What matching ratio is required by the grant (usually X:1, grantor:X) F / Grantor Status / Whether it is a current, past, or future funder. See Key.

And it goes on.  It includes at key at the end (edited slightly to minimize identifying information):

KEY TAB A / Grantor Status / C = Current, F = Future, P = Past B / FY Codes / 0 = Did not apply, 1 = Applied and pending, 2 = Applied and awarded, 3 = Applied and denied, C / Programs, / D / App Codes / FP = Full Proposal, LOI = Letter of Inquiry, NOM = Nomination, PP = Pre-Proposal E / App Formats / EM = Email, OL = Online, PC = Phone Call, SM = Snail Mail

Thank you to all of the entrants in the most recent contest, and stay tuned for the next one towards the end of 2015.

Is your organization using an "ugly" grant tracking spreadsheet?  Request a free online demonstration to learn how PhilanTrack can replace the spreadsheet and help your organization streamline its grantseeking efforts.

Author: Dahna Goldstein
April 29, 2015, 12:52 PM

5 Signs Your Nonprofit Should Invest in Grants Management Software

Your organization relies on grants as a source of funding.  You would like to get more grants.  It would be great if all of your grant-related information could be stored and accessed more efficiently to save you time so that you can find more grant opportunities and write more grant proposals.  But grants management software costs money.  How do you know when the time is right to spend money on grants management software?

signs you're ready for grants management software

Here are five signs your nonprofit should invest in grants management software:

  1. You missed a report deadline.  You received a grant over a year ago and dutifully sent a thank you letter to the funder, and proceeded to do great work with the grant funds.  Things got busy, as they always do, and you realized, too late, that you missed the deadline for the annual progress report the funder had requested.  It happens more often than nonprofits would like to admit (just ask a funder), and can jeopardize your organization's relationship with that funder and chances of getting another grant.  And it doesn't need to happen.  With online grants management software, you can enter progress report due dates as soon as you receive the grant, see those due dates on a calendar, and even receive automated email reminders prior to due dates to help ensure you never miss another deadline.
  2. It takes hours to find the information needed to answer a question from your board or ED about past grants.  Nonprofit boards and other stakeholders (e.g., your executive director, if you're not the ED yourself) may ask you for information about how many grants you've applied for this year versus last year, or how many you've received this year for each program that is supported by grants.  Most nonprofits use a combination of Word, Excel, their email and calendaring software to track grant information.  With that combination of tools, tracking down the answer to even a relatively simple question can take a lot of time.  With online grants management software, you can filter your list of grants or proposals to see what was submitted or awarded when and answer your board or ED's question.
  3. You contacted a foundation without realizing someone else in your organization had already reached out to that foundation.  You may have several people working in your development department.  Or you might say, "Department?  We don't have a development department!  We just have me!"  Either way, you may be in a position where more than one person from your organization is interacting with a funder.  Perhaps one of the program staff at your organization had a conversation with a foundation's program officer, but didn't tell you about it.  If you then talk to that program officer, wouldn't it be great to know that your colleague had already had a conversation?  With online grants management software, you can track all interactions with funders, from the time that they are prospective funders that you're thinking about approaching.  That way, anyone at your organization who is interacting with your funders can see a complete record of who said what when, avoiding potentially embarrassing situations with funders, and helping everyone stay on the same page.
  4. You spent hours trying to track down part of a past grant application that had the perfect phrasing for a proposal you were working writing.  So many grantwriters have this experience: you're working on a proposal.  You come across a question and think, "I had a great answer to a question like this when I wrote a different proposal.  Which proposal was it?  Was it the one I wrote last month?  Or the one six months ago?"  Then the grantwriter spends hours trying to track down the proposal that had that perfect language so that the answer can be copied and pasted into the current proposal.  Reusing responses from past proposals can be a great way to save time by not reinventing wheels with each new proposal, as well as a way to create some institutional memory in terms of how the organization positions programs, outcomes, etc.  But the process of tracking down that perfect response from a past proposal can be really time consuming.  That's where grants management software comes in.  With PhilanTrack, once you have answered a question once, you can easily reuse past responses by clicking a "find similar questions" button in the grant proposal you're working on, reviewing past responses, and clicking "use this answer" to use that perfect phrasing in the current proposal.
  5. You have an ugly grant tracking spreadsheet that only one person in your organization knows how to use.  It's ok.  Most nonprofit organizations have one - a spreadsheet (or several spreadsheets) that tracks which proposal was submitted when, who's responsible for the next task, what reports need to be submitted when, which requests were declined and maybe what to do differently next time, contact information for funders, etc.  The problem is that it's hard to use, and it's particularly hard for someone who isn't deeply steeped in it to use.  Excel wasn't designed to manage grants.  And if the one person who knows how you use that grant tracking spreadsheet leaves the organization, much of the organization's institutional knowledge about grants can leave with them.  Online grants management software provides exactly what you need to manage the whole grant process and track all of your grant-related information.  And when there is staff turnover, all of the organization's grant-related information is stored in a safe online location that a new grantwriter or development director can access.

Do you think your nonprofit might be ready for grants management software?  See how PhilanTrack can help your organization. 

Request a demo


Image adapted from
Author: Dahna Goldstein
August 07, 2014, 10:34 AM

And the Winner of the "Ugliest" Grant Tracking Spreadsheet Contest Is…

PhilanTech's first "Ugliest" Grant Tracking Spreadsheet Contest received an amazing response, both in terms of the number of truly impressive "ugly" spreadsheets and grant tracking processes submitted, and the general reactions to the contest.  Entries were judged based on a number of criteria that make grant tracking spreadsheets difficult to work with, including their complexity, susceptibility to error, duplication of information, and reliance on one person’s specific knowledge to navigate.

Without further ado, the winner is… Web of Benefit!  Web of Benefit is a nonprofit that helps support survivors of domestic violence while breaking the intergenerational cycle of domestic abuse. 

Web of Benefit will receive one year of free access to the PhilanTrack online grants management system to replace their "ugly" grant tracking spreadsheets with an online system that will help Web of Benefit streamline all of its grant-related activities.

We've written previously on this blog about why Friends Shouldn't Let Friends Use Excel to Manage Grants, and wanted to share some examples of what can result from tracking grants in spreadsheets or with other offline systems and processes, drawn from submissions to the "Ugliest" Grant Tracking Spreadsheet Contest (note: some images have been modified slightly to minimize any identifying information):

Ugly Spreadsheet 1

Ugly Spreadsheet 2

Ugly Spreadsheet 3

Ugly Spreadsheet 4


In addition to some very illustrative visuals of challenging spreadsheets, several nonprofits submitted descriptions of the challenges of their grantseeking processes, such as:

  • "If our grant spreadsheet were a dog, it would be a shaggy one, just in from rolling around in some delicious mud puddles. Now, we love our shaggy dog. It's got a heart of gold, and is chock-a-block full of wonderful stuff. Underneath alllllll that mess is some beautiful information. Another way in which the information in our grant spreadsheet is like a shaggy dog: sometimes its hard to get our hands on it. We've worked hard collecting information about well-aligned grant opportunities, only to have them slip through our hands for lack of a useful project management system. Boy could we use your help!"
  • "We currently use one Excel workbook with multiple tabs to keep track of grants by status (Planned, Submitted, Approved, Denied), with multiple colors on the Planned tab to denote the degree of imminency of deadline. We also track grants on a separate workbook for board review, which includes a tab each for Grants tracked by Status and Grants tracked by Purpose, with a master sheet summarizing the data. I have to update each of these workbooks, in addition to our fundraising software, when the status of a grant changes. It's all very exhausting. Help!"
  • " have six columns listing funder, request, amount, deadline, sent and notes . . which is three columns too shorts, as I also need actual amount received, reason for delay, when I can resubmit. Then, there are seven color coding (this really is very ugly): green for actively received without decision; blue for available to resubmit now; tan for received in 2011 or 2012; purple for received in 2013; peach for erroneous information, beige for available next year; and white for who knows what. You really want to see this bad boy, don't you?"

Is your organization using an "ugly" grant tracking spreadsheet?  Request a free online demonstration to learn how PhilanTrack can replace the spreadsheet and help your organization streamline its grantseeking efforts.

Author: Dahna Goldstein
December 18, 2013, 04:46 PM

Not Getting Enough Funder Love? Try These Grantwriting Tips

grantseeking tips

I’ve written before about grant dating (here, and here, among other places).  As strange as it seems, the grantseeking process does bear some resemblance to dating, so revisiting it on Valentine’s Day seemed apropos.

So if things are not working out in your pursuit of a funder marriage, it may be because your dating approach needs to be adjusted.  Here are a few tips to help you get to that long-term funder relationship:

  • Make sure you’re dating the right foundations.  A good relationship starts with meeting the right foundations.  If you have nothing in common, the chances are not good that a relationship will work out.  You can start by doing thorough research on the foundations you’re approaching.  Study their mission statements and their guidelines.  See which organizations they’ve funded in the past, and which organizations they’re currently funding.  Do your programs seem like a good fit?  Trying to fit square pegs into round holes by tweaking your program descriptions to meet funding requirements that you don’t naturally fit is not a recipe for a lasting relationship.
  • Make sure you’re speaking their language.  Many foundations have specific requirements for grant applications – everything from the specific information that they want to receive (specific questions to answer, issues to address, documents to provide) to when and how they want to receive it.  Be sure that the request you’re putting together meets those requirements, whatever they are.  (And we’ll be happy to show you how PhilanTrack can help you manage multiple proposals to multiple foundations.)
  • It’s not all about you.  Many nonprofits take an “it’s not you, it’s me” approach to writing grant proposals.  They talk extensively about their programs, their constituents, their successes, their plans.  While grant applications should absolutely include those things, they also need to position your programs in terms of the foundation’s priorities and its mission.  One of the things Marty Teitel talks about in his book “The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants” is the importance of aligning the proposal with what the foundation – and the people in the foundation, including both the program officer and the directors – is trying to accomplish.  Part of the grantwriter’s job is to make it easy for the proposal reader to see how the program in question will help the foundation further its own goals.
  • Presentation matters.  Think about how you’re coming across.  Just as you would probably choose your outfit carefully for your first date, think about how you’re presenting yourself to a funder.  Is your proposal well written?  Is it persuasive?  Your organization can be doing great work, but if you don’t convey it clearly, you’ll have a hard time getting it funded.  Program officers and trustees generally read many more proposals than they are able to fund.  Think about it from their perspective – it’s so much better to read a proposal that is well written!  Have someone else proof-read your submission to make sure there aren’t any mistakes and that the prose is clear, and supported by relevant quantitative information.  First impressions matter!
  • Once you’re in a relationship, don’t neglect your funder.  Funder relationships, like all relationships, take time and care.  Don’t take your funder for granted.  If the funder asks for updates, provide them in a timely manner, and with the information requested.  Don’t overwhelm the funder with communications (they don’t need to be copied on every email that you send to your supporters), but keep them up to date on key developments that relate to the grant they’ve given you, even if there isn’t a report due for a few months.  Of course, if a funder makes it clear that they don’t want to hear from you aside from reports, then respect that (some funders need their space).
  • If it doesn’t work out, ask for feedback to help your next relationship.  Sometimes funders will break up with you for no reason – or what seems to be no reason.  Maybe you’ve been in a relationship for several years and the board decides to change priorities in a way that no longer includes your organization’s mission and programs.  It can be heartbreaking, but it happens, and there isn’t much you can do about it.  But sometimes, funders will break up with you for a clear and explainable reason.  While they may be inclined to spare your feelings by not coming right out and telling you the reason for the breakup, it’s frequently worth asking the question.  The truth may hurt, but it might help position you for greater success as you pursue your next funder relationship.

Feel free to share your grant dating tips in the comments below!


Photo credit:
Author: Dahna Goldstein
February 14, 2013, 10:30 AM

Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Excel to Manage Grants


Most nonprofits rely on grant funding to support their programs and services.  In fact, 46% report that grants make up over a quarter of their funding.

Given how critical grants are for many nonprofits, having good systems in place to manage the grantwriting process from end-to-end.  Yet 75% of nonprofits use simple spreadsheets to manage what can amount to millions of dollars of grant funds.

While some nonprofits may think that the systems they’ve pieced together are working well enough, there is a significant cost to inefficient grants management.  The Center for Effective Philanthropy determined that 13% of every foundation grant dollar is spent administering the grant.  Of that 13%, 11.5% is spent by the nonprofit.  So for every $100,000 in grant funding, $11,500 is spent administering the grant.  Imagine if that money could be spent on other fundraising efforts, or directed towards program or service delivery.  That’s where an online system to streamline the grants management process comes in.

Here are five reasons that friends should not let friends use Excel to manage grants:

  • Excel can’t manage the whole grantseeking process.  While a spreadsheet can be set up to track contacts, requirements, dates, amounts, etc., tracking is only part of the grantwriting and grantseeking process.  The whole grant lifecycle involves researching and finding new grant opportunities, cultivating relationships with potential funders, writing compelling grant proposals to targeted grantmakers, tracking the details of the grants, reporting to funders at specified time intervals, and more.  Spreadsheets are simply not designed to manage that whole process.  Most nonprofits that use Excel to manage their grants also use Word (or another Word processor) and Outlook (or Google Calendar) as well, making it necessary to check and update three separate tools, leaving a lot of room for error.  With an online system specifically designed to manage the whole grant lifecycle, everything from the initial research to the final progress report can be managed in one centralized location.
  • Deadlines and reminders.  Have you ever missed a proposal deadline?  What about a progress report deadline?  While Excel can be used to track deadlines (Excel handles dates quite well), that information is only useful if you happen to look at the spreadsheet and sort or search for deadlines to see which due dates are upcoming.  Many nonprofits will track deadlines in their grants spreadsheet, then copy those deadlines to Outlook or Google Calendar as well.  Not only does that double the effort involved in managing deadlines, it also doesn’t take advantage of a straightforward feature in an online grants management system – reminders.  In PhilanTrack, once a proposal or progress report deadline has been added to the system, it is added to your organization’s calendar (which can be synced with your calendaring software).  In addition, the system will send automatic email reminders prior to due dates to help ensure you never miss another deadline.
  • Contact management.  There’s more to managing funder contacts than just tracking contact information.  While the contact information is clearly important, tracking interactions is also important.  If you have a conversation with a funder about a grant program or proposal, where are those notes stored in Excel?  Do you add a column each time you interact with a funder to be able to keep notes separate?  What if you have 10 interactions with one funder and only two with another?  How easy is it to find the relevant notes quickly?  And how many extra columns end up getting added to the spreadsheet?  And how do you share this information with other people in your organization so that efforts are not duplicated and not lost when someone leaves the organization?
  • The bigger the grantseeking program, the more unmanageable the spreadsheet.  This is related to the previous point.  The more grants your organization pursues and gets, the bigger and more unwieldy the spreadsheet becomes.  I’ve seen grant spreadsheets that are color coded, split into multiple different sheets, organized with acronyms, and a number of other creative (and unsustainable) ways to manage growing grant programs.  The dilemma is that organizations want their grant programs to grow.  But as the program grows, the spreadsheet becomes increasingly unmanageable – and it’s at precisely that point that you need to be able to have quick and easy access to the exact information that you need at a given moment.  That’s where online grants management software comes in.  With PhilanTrack, you can easily sort proposals, grants, etc. to get to exactly the information you need, when you need it, without sacrificing the depth or completeness of information about each funder, grant, and proposal in the system.  PhilanTrack makes it easy to store all grant-related information in one place, and navigate right to the information you need, from anywhere, at any time.
  • Continuity and institutional memory.  Some people are Excel wizards.  They can create spreadsheets that do things that seem impossible.  They know all the shortcuts and can massage data in whatever way they want, whenever they want to.  If you have one of those folks on staff, that’s great for getting a robust tracking spreadsheet set up.  But what happens if that individual leaves the organization?  Will anyone else know how to find relevant information and keep the complex spreadsheet updated?  With an online grants management system, the organization’s complete grantseeking history is stored in an organized, easy-to-access and easy-to-use online location.  If the development director leaves, her successor can easily pick up the mantle and see the whole history, which reports are due when, and what information was submitted in each proposal.  And all of that information is available at a couple of button clicks rather than by pouring through tons of documents and files, linked through a complex spreadsheet.

PhilanTrack is specifically designed to manage the grantseeking process from end-to-end.  In addition to all of the features mentioned above, it also has a unique grantwriting feature: how many times have you been writing a proposal and thought, “I wrote a great response to a question like that for another funder.  I think it was sometime last year.  Now where is that proposal?”  PhilanTrack provides the ability for grantseekers to easily reuse information from past proposals at a couple of button clicks, saving the time and aggravation of having to find the Word document somewhere on your organization’s hard drive where that perfectly-phrased response resides.

To see how PhilanTrack can save you from using Excel to manage your grants, contact us for a demonstration.


(Hat tip to Robert Weiner for the title.)



Author: Dahna Goldstein
January 28, 2013, 10:41 AM

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