Online Grant Management – Right Sizing Grant Expectations


Earlier today, I heard a business executive talking about "right sizing" his company, euphemistically discussing layoffs, reductions in staff size.

Right sizing isn't necessarily about reductions - it's about making adjustments.

Right sizing grant expectations is one of the recommendations in the Project Streamline report, "Drowning in Paperwork."  It's easy to say to take that recommendation to mean that foundations should reduce their requirements, that they should make their applications shorter, their reporting less frequent and lengthy.

But that's not my interpretation (nor, I think, is it what the Project Streamline folks mean).  Foundations have an obligation to be good stewards of their endowments and the 5% that they grant.  They have an obligation to ensure that the organizations their grants fund are valid organizations that are aligned with donor intent.  Depending on the foundation and its mandate, it may have additional or more specific obligations.  And some degree of information must be collected from the grantee to facilitate meeting those obligations.

Here’s a guideline: before you include a requirement in a grant proposal or progress report, ask yourself four questions:

  • Do I need this information to make a good decision?
  • How will I use this information?
  • Can I get this information easily without asking the applicant/grantee to supply it for me?
  • How difficult/time consuming will it be for the application/grantee to prepare this information?  Does that seem like a reasonable use of their time, given the size of the grant (or the potential grant)?

(Ok, so that last one was two questions, but you get the idea.)

I wrote an earlier post about increasing use of LOIs, and I think it’s applicable here.  Short form applications (whether LOIs or a short proposal) are a great way to collect information from grantees without creating negative net grants.

In fact, PhilanTech research, conducted with the Urban Institute, suggests five essential categories of questions for reports, represented by the following questions:
  • What did you say you were going to do with our grant?
  • What did you actually do?
  • How did you spend our grant money?
  • What were your challenges?
  • What did you learn?
A short-form proposal wouldn’t look all that different:
  • What are you going to do with our grant?
  • What makes you the right organization to do it?
  • How will you know when you’ve done it?
  • How will you spend our grant money?
  • How will you share your results/experience/learning?
Every foundation will have its own variation on the questions above, and will likely require additional information, and that’s ok.  But please think of your grantees, your information needs, and answer the four (ok, five) questions above when putting together your requirements.

And grantees – you have a responsibility here too: know what is involved in managing a grant from your end.  How long does it take you to put together an application?  To monitor/report on your grant?  How likely are you to receive a particular grant?  In what amount?  Look at the total cost of managing a potential grant -- hours of staff time X hourly rate (based on that person’s salary) + opportunity cost of not being able to pursue a different grant or other activity with that time – and decide whether that grant is worth it to your organization.

Together, we can all work to continue to streamline grants management and get grant dollars to organizations that will use them well.

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Author: Dahna Goldstein
October 28, 2010, 06:59 PM

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