Interested in learning more about how ORCID benefits researchers and research administrators? An NCURA magazine article published in December 2018 provides examples of how ORCID can be leveraged by research institutions to improve research administration and management for researchers and the administrators that support the research enterprise. One of the examples references proposalCENTRAL and other funder systems that use ORCID integration to streamline the application and grantee reporting process for researchers: pulling data from the researcher’s ORCID record to prevent rekeying information that is already there.
Altum has partnered again with GrantStation to invite you to participate in the next semi-annual State of Grantseeking Survey.
The survey results will provide up-to-date information and can serve as a benchmark for your organization by helping you determine:
- What types of grantmakers are providing the type of support your organization is seeking?
- What is your success rate in comparison with others in your mission focus/sector?
- How long should your organization expect to wait to receive decisions from grantmakers about funding requests?
- And more.
Please help us by taking the time to complete this survey before March 31, 2017. Results will be published on both the Altum and GrantStation websites. Survey respondents may request an advance copy of the results when completing the survey.
The Altum Team
This is a guest post by Lisa Pool, Executive Director, Technology Affinity Group
TAG 2016 Conference
The go-to conference for anyone responsible for technology at foundations
<November 14th–17th, 2016
Loews Don Cesar Hotel in St. Pete Beach, Florida
Why Should You Attend?
- Phenomenal Plenary Speakers!
A leading Industry expert on measuring social impact, Jason Saul, will discuss How Pandora Will Transform Philanthropy. Futurist Shawn DuBravac will present How Innovation Will Affect Philanthropy.
- On-point Theme: Impact – Collectively Changing Communities
Technology professionals and grant makers are not always on the front lines witnessing the impact of their organization’s efforts. We invite you to discover how information and technology impact both our organizations and the communities we serve.
- Networking & Community!
Networking events designed to facilitate meeting colleagues to share experiences learn from peers in the field.
- The latest Technologies!
Explore the 2-day Exhibitor Hall and talk one-on-one with leading companies in th industry.
- Simplify Program Partners!
Learn about the Simplify Program Partners, digitalimpact, Foundation Center, GuideStar and TechSoup plus TAG’s new partner, AWS.
More About the Conference –
The primary goal of the annual TAG Conference is to offer an educational learning opportunity for TAG members. The conference is unique in that it is the only setting for technology professionals working in philanthropy to share their experiences with peers. As such, the conference sessions are about the application of technology. The information is relevant and targeted to this niche audience. Many attendees indicate they attend each year to network and share information and ideas with peers. This conference is one way for the philanthropic community to network and build community.
Breakout sessions include:
- Measuring Outcomes, Impact & Learning
- Futurist Predictions for IT in Philanthropy
- Psychology of Addictive Websites & Apps
- Reporting & Data Visualization
- Strategic Planning
- Tools for Collective Impact
- Collective Intelligence
- Office 365
- Technology Toolkit
- Online Communities
- Grants Management Software Implementation
- and more . . .
We look forward to welcoming you to TAG 2016 in St. Pete Beach!
Many nonprofits have software in place to manage their individual donors, but use a combination of Excel, Word, email, and their calendar to manage their grant information.
Although increasing numbers of nonprofits are adopting grant tracking software to support their grantseeking needs, some nonprofits are still hesitant.
Here a four common misconceptions about grant tracking software for nonprofits:
- Excel is just as good. Many – if not most – nonprofits use Excel to manage some facet of their grantseeking process. And Excel is a great place to start. But most nonprofits gradually realize Excel’s limitations when it comes to tracking grants. Managing the grantseeking process is more than putting information in rows and columns and performing calculations. It requires software that is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of the grantseeking process. Read more about why Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Excel to Manage Grants.
- My organization already has accounting software and donor management software. That’s all we need. Accounting software and donor management software are critical tools for your organization. While each plays a key role in managing a facet of your organization’s financial and fundraising information, grant tracking software manages different components of your organization’s fundraising operation that neither accounting nor donor management software supports particularly well: think of grants management software as institutional donor management software. Your individual donor management software is great (hopefully) at managing your individual donors, but grant information is different (organizations versus individuals) and the process of requesting and reporting on funds has different requirements. And accounting software can help to manage the financial aspects of your grants program, but there is much more to managing grants than keeping track of dollars and cents.
- It won’t help me solve my biggest grantseeking challenge. Grantseekers consistently report that their greatest grantseeking challenges is lack of time. Grant tracking software helps solve that problem by creating some efficiencies in the grantseeking process, specifically: keeping all grant-related information in the same place helps reduce time spent searching; automated email reminders to colleagues reduce time spent chasing down colleagues to provide needed information, not to mention helping to avoid missing deadlines; the ability to easily reuse similar information from past proposals saves time spent saying, “now where did I write that great paragraph about this part of the program? I want to use it in this proposal.” With the right grant tracking software, that process can take a couple of minutes rather than a couple of hours. Is your greatest grantseeking challenge something other than lack of time? Grant tracking software will probably help with your greatest challenge, too.
- It’s too expensive. Any investment a nonprofit makes has to weight the costs and benefits. No doubt grants management software costs money, but the benefits include not missing deadlines, saving time, better relationships with funders, institutional memory, and more. And while each grant tracking software solution is priced differently, the right software for your organization is priced to be affordable for your organization’s budget, allowing you to make a clear case that the costs are far outweighed by the benefits to your organization.
Are there other things that are preventing your organization from trying grant tracking software? Comment below and we can help clear up other misconceptions about grant tracking software for nonprofits.
Photo credit: http://www.picserver.org/images/highway/phrases/software.jpg
As a grants manager, you likely interact with your grants management software on a daily basis. It helps you get your work done, right? Well, while the software's suitability to simplifying your daily work is very important, it shouldn't be the only thing you think about when using your grants management system. Spending a little time considering the security, stability and sustainability of your grants management platform is well worth the time spent!
I get it; sometimes talking to technical people about this type of thing can be intimidating. Don't worry - I've put together a few simple questions you can ask your IT department or grants management vendor, to help you make sure you have your bases covered:
- Is the system monitored for failures?
While it's not always possible to prevent failures, knowing about them as early as possible allows for faster remediation. This can be greatly augmented by system monitoring. If monitoring tools are being used properly, disk space, CPU utilization and memory usage – all things that can impact performance – can be monitored to stay within thresholds and send alerts to the right people if they exceed them. External monitoring services can be employed to periodically check the system for critical usage patterns and, again, send alerts if there are any issues. This may allow your IT department (or vendor) to fix an issue before you ever realize the issue is occurring.
One way you can be sure you have the right system monitoring is by checking over time if your IT department (or vendor) is aware of a problem before you are. Well-monitored software should not have an outage without the IT department knowing about it first!
- What happens if we have a data problem we need to fix? Is there a way to restore data from a few hours ago? A month ago?
Since your grants data is critical, backups should be taken frequently, which will enable you to restore a recent copy of data if something goes wrong. In addition, your IT department or vendor should be able to provide you information on how long backups are kept. This will let you know how old the data you can restore is. Let's say you don't find an issue until a month later; will the data be available to restore from a month ago?
An easy way to ensure this process happens is to ask to work with your IT department to plan a "fire drill"-type test where some data is restored to a temporary location. I'd suggest trying with both recent data and some very old data.
- What happens if the computer the software is running on fails? Do we have a documented disaster recovery plan?
A disaster in this context usually means the physical computer resources or software has some sort of major issue that prevent it from operating the grants management software from its current location. This can range from a faulty computer part to a meteor strike or other natural disaster. The IT department or vendor can mitigate the computer failure by utilizing the cloud, virtualization and/or fault-tolerant hardware. Other mitigation techniques involve housing additional computers in physically separated. In the case of a disaster, it's best to have a specific written plan to follow and train to it.
An easy way to validate the plan is to ask to see the copy of the disaster recovery plan in writing. While this doesn't guarantee it will be the plan used during the disaster, it at least means some thinking has gone into what to do in the case of a disaster.
- Are all our communications as secure as they should be?
I'll find it hard to believe any IT department would answer this question with a no. So, you are going to get a "yes."
While you may get a "yes," it's best to investigate a bit further. Ask if the software requires use of Transport Layer Security. Hopefully the answer here is yes also.
One easy way to check from your browser is when you access your grants management system, make sure you are using "https://" in the front of the website name. That's a good indication you are using some encryption for data being sent to/from the grants management software.
Asking these few questions of your IT department now may save countless headaches later. Remember, it's not just grants management software; it's your grants data!
Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/static/uploads/photo/2014/09/14/16/39/encrypted-445155_960_720.jpg
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.
As the DC area (where Altum is headquartered) prepares for what could be one of the worst snowstorms in the region's history, here are four ways that grants are like blizzards:
- They benefit greatly from preparation. Everyone in the mid-Atlantic and beyond has spent the past several days buying groceries, snow shovels, ensuring that flashlights have batteries, and, if they're like me, ensuring that there's enough ground coffee in the house to be able to use a French press for the requisite caffeine fix if the power goes out. While preparing to write grant proposals and manage the grant once it's awarded involves different components, preparation is equally important. Proposals require thought, time, and attention, and it helps to have all of the components lined up well before the deadline to be able to write a compelling proposal. And what happens if your organization gets the grant? Are you prepared to execute the programs you proposed? Do you have the right resources lined up/available to run the project? Preparation is key.
- Timelines are beyond your control and can't be changed. While there's more predictability to grant deadlines than to when blizzards will hit, the timelines are beyond your control. Grant applications will have deadlines set by the funders, as will any post-grant reports. And those deadlines can't be changed, even if they don't fit well with your schedule. Just like an impending storm. It's undoubtedly inconvenient for many people that this blizzard will hit starting this afternoon. They had other things planned. They don't want to rearrange their schedules to accommodate this one big thing. But rearrange their schedules they must. And with grant deadlines, grantwriters and others involved in the process must accommodate the funder's schedule, not the other way around.
- They can cost more than you anticipate. Bad winter storms can cause some damage, and cleanup can be costly. While grants help the organizations to which they are awarded, sometimes they cost more than the organization anticipates. That's why it's important to evaluate the net grant - how much a grant is really worth - before applying for a new grant opportunity.
- They involve piles of white stuff. Forecasters are predicting at least 2 feet of snow in the greater DC area. But even two feet of snow doesn't stack up to the piles of paper that can be involved in the grantwriting process. And that's where grants software, like PhilanTrack, comes into play.
And stay safe!
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/foox404/8367145381
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I just got back from the Grant Professionals Association conference in St. Louis. It was a great conference with lots of learning opportunities for grant pros.
I presented a session entitled "The State of Grantseeking and Its Implications for Grant Professionals" that drew some conclusions about what the current state of grantseeking means for everyone involved in the grantseeking process. One of the issues that rose to the forefront was the increased competition for grants with limited available resources.
Several people asked about how to make the case to others in their organization (say, senior management) that a particular grant was not worth pursuing, particularly given limited resources. I mentioned the concept of a net grant calculation, and enough people asked me about it that I figured it was worth writing a blog post (it's something I've talked about before, but not in this forum).
So here goes. Fair warning: this is going to be a bit long.
The net grant calculation is a tool to help discern the net monetary value a grant will provide to your organization -- so the grant revenue net of expenses to get and manage the grant. Fundamentally, it is:
Grant Amount - Total Grant Cost = Net Grant
For simplicity, just taking the amount requested as the grant amount is a good starting point, but it doesn't accurately reflect the expected amount of the grant. Since this post is going to get long, and I want to get to the meat of this calculation quickly, I'll put the more nuanced version of the grant amount (the expected amount) further down, and you can read all the way through if you're so inclined.
The total grant cost is not the cost to actually run the program you're trying to get funded. You'll need that information, too, and it figures into the decision-making process about whether or not to pursue a grant, and which grants to include as part of your grants strategy, but it's not part of the net grant calculation.
The total grant cost is the total cost to find, apply for, get, report on, and otherwise manage the grant. The individual components may vary depending on your organization or the particular grant you're pursuing, but here are the basic elements:
Total Grant Cost = (Hours Spent Researching Opportunity + Hours Spent Writing LOI (if there is one) + Hours Spent Writing Application + Hours Spent Communicating with Funder + Hours Spent Writing Reports + Hours Spent on Any Other Miscellaneous Grant-Related Activities) * The Hourly Salary of the Person Doing the Work
This can get a bit tricky. Your organization may have multiple people working on different parts of the grant process. And people get testy about salary information. The most accurate version of this calculation will take into account the different hourly salaries for each person working on a particular part of the grant, but if you don't want to get into that level of detail, you can ballpark it or use industry averages.
And the components that go into the cost will vary, as indicated above, per organization and per grant. Does your organization have multiple approval stages? Do several people read and edit every grant application? Does the funder do a site visit? How many staff members are involved in that process? How much of their time is committed to preparing for the site visit, beyond the time spent on the visit itself? There are a bunch of other potential variables, and your mileage may vary.
But at a basic level, and to make this more concrete, let's assume there's one person doing all facets of the grant process, and that person's salary is $60,000/year. If that person has 2 weeks vacation per year, their hourly wage is $30.
Let's then say that this particular grant requires (and will require) the following number of hours from start to finish:
- Research and find opportunity: 8 hours
- Writing LOI: 8 hours
- Writing proposal: 27 hours
- Communicating with funder: 8 hours
- Writing reports (interim and final): 20 hours
- Other miscellaneous time spent: 10 hours
(These numbers are very rough ballparks, some drawn from data in Drowning in Paperwork)
Total number of hours spent: 81
Hourly rate: $30
Total cost grant cost: $2,430
Note: as indicated above, this is not the cost of running the program the grant will fund. This is just the cost of getting and managing the grant.
And this is a pretty simplistic example. If you work in anything larger than a pretty small organization, more than one person is almost always going to be involved in the process. And the larger the grant, generally the more complex and involved the application and the oversight, so all of the numbers are likely to be higher.
But let's say you're applying for a $50,000 grant. In the best case scenario, the net grant value is:
Grant Amount - Total Grant Cost = Net Grant
$50,000 - $2,430 = $47,570
Not too bad. But if you're applying for a $10,000 grant:
$10,000 - $2,430 = $7,570
The most money you will then have to spend on the program you're trying to fund is $7,570. Is that enough? Is that all restricted funding? Will it cover any overhead? That's another topic for another day, but something you need to take into account when creating a budget for a program and looking at income streams.
Now, to get more nuanced about the grant amount, the grant amount isn't really the grant amount. Seems pretty simple, right? The grant amount is the requested funding amount. That's one way to look at it. A more nuanced approach would look at the expected amount of the grant. This can get more complicated, but I would propose taking three factors into the expected amount of the grant (which you can then choose to combine in the way that makes the most sense for your organization):
- The amount requested
- The amount the funder is likely to award
- The probability of getting the grant
The amount requested: pretty straightforward.
The amount the funder is likely to award: even if the funder decides to award the grant (more about that below), the amount you requested isn't necessarily the same as the amount the funder will choose to award. Look at the funder's history (what size grants have they awarded to your organization in the past? To other organizations? Are you a first time grantee? Are you a repeat grantee that they're trying to wean from their funding? Be realistic about all of these things) - and assess what you think the funder is likely to award, even if it's different from what you requested.
The probability of getting the grant: if this has been a repeat funder for years, the probability of getting the grant may be close to 100%. If it's a new funder, or a new program, or funding priorities have changed, or funder personnel have changed, or the economy isn't doing well, or any number of other things, the probability of being awarded a grant will likely be less than 100%, sometimes much less than 100%.
You may choose to simply take the amount requested and the probability to calculate the expected amount. I think looking at the amount the funder is likely to award is a better data point to get to the true expected amount, and ultimately the true net value of the grant.
To make this a bit more concrete, here's a specific example. Let's say you're applying to a new funder (new to your organization, that is). You see from their grant history that they tend to award grants ranging in size from $10,000 to $50,000. If you can get more detailed information, you may see that the average grant size is $30,000. So your math on the expected amount of the grant would go like this:
Amount requested = $50,000. Amount funder is likely to award = $30,000 (this may be a bit conservative, but it's supported by data in this case, and it's better to be conservative than to overestimate the amount awarded). Probability of getting the grant = 50%.
So the expected amount of the grant = $30,000 * 0.5 = $15,000.
To apply that to the net grant calculation for the $50,000 grant we were looking at earlier:
Expected Grant Amount - Total Grant Cost = Net Grant
$15,000 - $2,430 = $12,570
That $50,000 is looking less appealing, isn't it?
Ok. We've run through a lot of numbers and permutations here, but what does this all mean? How can you use this in your day-to-day grantseeking activities?
- Take this framework as a starting point. Put in the steps (anything that involves someone's time) that are relevant to your organization, and get as close as you reasonably can to hourly wage information for the people involved.
- Estimate the number of hours that will be involved in each grant you're thinking about pursuing.
- If nothing else, prioritize those with the highest net value.
- Think about opportunity cost. If you're considering pursuing two grants, do you have the bandwidth to pursue both? If not, which has a higher net value? If you're looking at a whole portfolio of grants, what grants are you not pursuing (or what other fundraising or related activities are you not pursuing) that might yield positive results for your organization?
- Use the data produced from your calculations to help make the case to your boss or your board as to why you should or should not be pursuing or spending time on particular opportunities
You made it to the end. You must be really interested in this topic. This was long. Particularly since you read this far, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Image source: https://flic.kr/p/8aTZ8x
Altum is delighted to share the results of the Fall 2015 State of Grantseeking report, conducted in partnership with GrantStation.
The Fall 2015 State of Grantseeking survey found that there was an increase in rates of funding from all government sources and from most non-government sources.
While lack of time and/or staff continues to be the greatest grantseeking challenge, there has been a 267% increase in competition for grant funding as the greatest grantseeking challenge.
Other key findings from the survey include:
- Private foundations continue to be the most frequent funding source, the largest total source of funding, and the source of the largest single grant for most organizations;
- While most grants include some indirect or administrative cost funding, 44% of Federal government grants and 51% of non-government grants included indirect rates of 10% or less;
- While 89% of organizations reported that some or all of their funders require outcomes reporting, 34% reported that those funders never cover impact measurement costs.
The most frequent sources of funding vary by organization budget size:
- Small budget - under $100,000
- Medium budget - between $100,000 and $999,999
- Large budget - between $1 million and $25 million
- X-large budget - over $25 million
Download the Fall 2015 State of Grantseeking Report.