It's that time of year - the time for "the top" of the year lists. I'm sitting on a plane, reflecting on the past year, and the six months since this blog started, and figured I'd contribute my own list, in the form of things I've learned and observed about online grant management this year.
Here they are, in no particular order:
- Foundations are increasingly using online LOIs. This is both an indication that more foundations are moving their grant application processes online, and, I think, a reflection of the current state of the economy and potentially the start of the implementation of some of the recommendations of Project Streamline. To the first point, some foundations that have not yet moved their whole grant process online are still requesting online LOIs. As indicated in an earlier blog post, I think this is a good trend for a number of reasons. In terms of foundations that are still requesting multiple paper copies of applications, perhaps LOIs are a gateway to moving the whole process online;
- Despite some progress, online grant applications - and reporting - continues to be a challenge for foundations. The Technology Affinity Group's bi-annual survey of foundations indicated online grantmaking and donor services remain the top technology issue that foundations are unprepared to address. While more foundations indicated that they had adopted online systems (40% indicated that they had an online application, though not necessarily a complete online system), the majority of foundations still do not have online systems;
- 2010 was a rough year for nonprofits. That's not news at this point, but one of the things that really struck me in the State of Grantseeking 2010 survey that PhilanTech conducted with GrantStation was how many really small grants fund an average nonprofit (a “typical” nonprofit in the survey receives grants between $7,310 and $50,000, but 161 organizations – 20% - reported that they had received grants under $1,000). Given the effort (time = money) involved in putting together a good grant proposal, then the effort (time again = money) involved in reviewing and approving a grant (not to mention monitoring the grant and evaluating impact), the inefficiency of many small grants is striking. Small grants aren't likely to go away (and, in some cases, shouldn't), but the sector as a whole, as well as the individual foundations awarding those grants, has a responsibility to ensure that the cost of managing the grant doesn't outweigh the benefit to the grantee and its constituencies;
- Foundations are gradually starting to share more information online. Of the 77,000 foundations in the U.S., only 29% reported having a website or an annual report. While that number has increased, the relative absence of online information, particularly given the ubiquity of the Internet, mobile devices, etc., creates an information barrier for grant seekers, and ultimately makes grant research more costly for those organizations. This year saw some progress on that front, with more foundations publishing not only their guidelines on their websites, but also information about past grants, information about the issues they fund, resources for grandees and other organizations and people interested in those issues. Some foundations have even embraced social media as a tool to further their missions and those of their grantees. The Foundation Center's Glass Pockets initiative highlights some of these efforts and tracks the progress of the sector as a whole - and is itself a commendable step in increasing and embracing transparency in grantmaking.
What did you learn about online grant management in 2010? What are your predictions for 2011?