Common Grant Applications
Common grant applications seem like a no-brainer, right? If colleges can get together and agree on a common application, why can't foundations? Seventeen associations of grantmakers have painstakingly brought groups of their members together and created common application and reporting forms (see the Foundation Center's list of common grant applications). The idea is to have all grantmakers in a region accept the same form, thereby enabling grantseekers to create one grant application and submit it to multiple grantmakers. The common forms aim to save significant time for the grantseeker.
In principle, this is a great idea.
In practice, it has some problems. In many cases, only a fraction of the association's members actually accepts the common forms. In other cases, the associations acknowledge that some grantmakers that accept the common forms make modifications to the agreed-upon forms, or require additional information from their grantseekers. In addition, nonprofits offen apply to a range of grantmakers, not all of which are members of a particular regional association.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favor of anything that streamlines grants management and saves time for both the nonprofits seeking grant funds and the grantmakers awarding those funds. The PhilanTrack online grants management system supports the common forms developed by the regional associations of grantmakers. And PhilanTech's research with the Urban Institute suggests that there are many commonalities in the information requested in grant reporting and application processes by foundations. Those commonalities serve as the basis for PhilanTrack's "Find Similar Questions" functionality.
But common forms only go so far if not all grantmakers accept them, if grantmakers both modify them and require additional information, and if multiple common forms are in use around the country.
There are some pieces of information that almost every foundation requests of its applicants (proof of 501(c)(3) status, for example), and it would be ideal if nonprofits did not have to reenter or re-upload that information for every grant application. PhilanTrack's approach is to enable easy reuse of common information while still enabling foundations to request information from grantseekers in a way that meets their individual process and decision-making requirements.
What do you think? Is it possible to create one common form that each of the 75,000 foundations in the U.S. would use? If not, what are other ways for foundations to get the information they need to make good decisions and be responsible stewards without placing undue administrative burdens on nonprofits?