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

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

PhilanTech Partners with TechSoup - Grant Management Software

TechSoup Logo

PhilanTech is delighted to announce that we have partnered with TechSoup to offer PhilanTrack® online grants management software for nonprofits to TechSoup's members. 

TechSoup is a nonprofit that connects other nonprofits with technology products and resources to make informed decisions about technology.

With PhilanTrack, TechSoup members can:

  • Find funders: Search currently-available funding opportunities, research past grants awarded by potential funders, and research contacts in the funding organization.
  • Write proposals efficiently: Easily reuse content from past proposals when writing new grant requests and avoid reinventing wheels in each new grant proposal.
  • Manage funder relationships: Track contact information and interactions with funders and prospective funders to build relationships and institutional memory.
  • Track deadlines and requirements: Track deadlines for proposals and progress reports and receive automated email reminders about them.
  • Store grant-related documents: Store your organization's 501(c)(3) determination letter, audited financial statements, annual reports, and other documents requested by funders in PhilanTrack's document library.
  • And more!

TechSoup members can apply for discounted access to PhilanTrack via the TechSoup website:

If your organization is not a TechSoup member, learn about TechSoup and other discounted and donated technology products available for qualified nonprofits.


TechSoup and the TechSoup logo are registered trademarks of TechSoup Global, used with permission.
Author: Dahna Goldstein
October 31, 2013, 03:00 PM

Grant Management Tools – Assessing Project Streamline

Project Streamline

It's been five years since Project Streamline launched to identify areas for improvement in grantmaking processes and develop principles and tools to support improved practices.  Taking a page from its own book, the initiative is taking stock of its own activities, successes, and areas for improvement.

Earlier this year, Project Streamline conducted a survey of grantmakers and grantseekers to learn how the streamlining principles are being translated into practice, and just released a report detailing the outcomes.

Those who are regular readers of the somewhat irregular posts on this blog will likely know that we at PhilanTech are fans of what Project Streamline is pursuing and promoting.  So we were happy to read about some of the successes of the past five years, and unfortunately not surprised to read about some areas still in need of improvement.

A few key findings:

  • While the majority of the 460 grantmakers who responded to the survey indicated that they were aware of streamlining principles and had put some into practice, the majority of the 300 grantseekers who responded had not seen noticeable improvements with their funders;
  • For each streamlining principle, there is a disconnect between the grantmaker perspective and the grantseeker perspective.  For example, over half of the grantmakers surveyed indicated that they had right-sized either their applications or reports to align the amount of required information with the size of the grant.  But 72% of of grantseekers indicated that applications for small grants were rarely right-sized.
  • Strategic philanthropy and streamlining can be at odds.  Some funders’ approach to more strategic giving has resulted in narrow funding areas and very specific outcome reporting requirements.  Those specific reporting requirements can create additional burdens for grantees.
  • There is an increasing interest in streamlining.  A majority of grantmakers reported that streamlining is more important today than it was five years ago.  And there is little question that grantseekers feel the same way.
  • The benefits of streamlining are significant to both parties – when done correctly.  Grantmakers say staff time can be spent on what matters, grantseekers spend less time on application processes, grantmakers get better data, and both sides benefit from a better relationship.

My main takeaways are threefold:

  • There has been some progress since Project Streamline launched.
  • There needs to be more.  I support Project Steamline’s efforts and look forward the progress it will continue to make as more grantmakers streamline their grantmaking – and involve their grantees in the process.
  • What we’re doing at PhilanTech is important to this effort – we provide tools that help both grantmakers and grantseekers streamline the process so that more grant dollars can be dedicated to program and service delivery, rather than to grant administration.

Request a demo to learn how PhilanTrack can help streamline your grantmaking or grantseeking


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Author: Dahna Goldstein
May 28, 2013, 04:37 PM

Invite-Only Proposals? Why Online Grantmaking Still Makes Sense


If your foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals, you may think, "why should we move our grantmaking process online?" or "Won't we then get flooded with unsolicited proposals?"

The short answer is no, you won't get flooded with unsolicited proposals.  Moving online doesn't mean changing your process from invite-only to unsolicited.  It doesn't mean opening a portal for every grantseeking nonprofits to approach your foundation.  You can still invite selected organizations - and only selected organizations - to apply.

Why, then, does it make sense to move your process online?  With an invite-only process, you can still get all of the benefits of streamlining your grantmaking with an online system:

  • It will save you time, and provide easier access to information.  With an online system, grantees enter information (everything from their organization and contact information to proposals and progress reports).  That information flows directly into a format that you can view and manipulate.  There's no need to re-enter grantee or applicant information.  And all relevant grant and grantee information is in one place, so you can easily view the foundation's whole history with a given grantee organization without having to look in different files (either paper files or virtual files, depending on what your organization is currently using).
  • Trustees can access information remotely.  I talk to a lot of family foundations that have trustees in different physical locations (from different offices to entirely different parts of the country -- and sometimes different countries).  With an online system, trustees can simply log into the system from wherever they are to view current grant, grantee, and proposal information.  That means that the foundation staff person (or the trustee who usually collects information) doesn't need to spend hours - or days! - putting together packets of information prior to board meetings for trustees to review.
  • The online process enables grantmakers to do things they haven't been able to do before (or at least haven't been able to do easily).  Tools like Word, Excel and Outlook are great for writing documents, creating spreadsheets and managing email, but they weren't designed to manage grants.  With an online grants management system, foundations benefit from features designed specifically with grantmakers in mind -- everything from the ability to view all information about a particular grantee in one place (their history with the foundation, proposals and reports they've submitted, contact information, etc.) to the ability to create board packs in a few button clicks.
  • It's easier for grantees.  With an online system, grantees can access information from anywhere at any time.  With online grant proposals, they don't need to print 6 copies of the application, their audited financials, 990s, and everything else required in the proposal packet and then FedEx it to you.  They can also log into the online system and see when their next progress report is due -- and even get an automated email reminder prior to the due date.  And with PhilanTrack, grantees can manage all of their grant information for all of their funders in one centralized online location (whether or not their other funders are using PhilanTrack), saving them even more time that they can dedicate to programs and services - helping your grant dollars go even further.

Several of our grantmaker clients don't accept unsolicited requests, and have benefitted greatly from moving their processes online, and inviting online proposals from pre-selected organizations. 

Are you considering switching from an offline grants management process to an online grants management system?  Sign up for a PhilanTrack for Foundations webinar, or contact us to see a demonstration and learn about how we can help.


Photo credit:
Author: Dahna Goldstein
January 24, 2013, 09:42 AM

Trends in Online Grantmaking

This is the first in a series of periodic looks at trends that we at PhilanTech see developing among our clients and others in the field.  These posts will include grantmaking and grantseeking trends, as well as other items of relevance to grantmaking and grantseeking.  If there is something specific you'd like to see covered, please leave a comment below.

trends in online grantmaking

Three trends in online grantmaking:

  1. I've discussed online LOIs before.  Particularly with the increased volume of grant requests that is accompanying the economic recovery, this is a trend that is continuing, and is one that I think is positive.  Inviting applicants to submit an LOI prior to a full proposal saves both the grantmaker and the grantseeker time.  It has the added benefit of helping some grantmakers feel like they can ease their eligibility restrictions a bit in the hopes of discovering new and intersting programs, but do so in a way that doesn't unduly burden either party;
  2. Quantifiable outcomes.  More grantmakers are looking for their grantees to be able to quantify anticipated outcomes when they apply for a grant, and then report back on those outcomes and how they fared over the course of the grant.  This continues to be fueled by an interest in impact and measurement, which is a subject of ongoing debate in the philanthropy world (in terms of what can and should be measured, what "impact" means, what it says about a "good" nonprofit, and, importantly from the grantseeker perspective, what is involved in collecting and sharing impact-related information with funders);
  3. A character count debate.  As more foundations accept proposals online, foundations see an opportunity to do one of two things: provide applicants with more flexibility, or provide stricter guidance so that applicants are providing more targeted (read: less verbose) information.  Both are valid approaches.  While I lean more towards allowing more flexibility, the reality of a foundation program officer's work day (and that of a trustee or review committee member) is that long-winded applicant response is both less desirable and less effective.  Two takeaways here:
  • Grantmakers can suggest word/character limits without enforcing them;
  • Grantseekers really need to view what they're submitting from the perspective of their readers, and respect the grantmaker's guidelines, even if a response is shorter than you would like it to be.

What trends are you seeing in online grantmaking?

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Photo credit:
Author: Dahna Goldstein
July 06, 2011, 04:27 PM

Moving Your Offline Grants Management Process Online

There are those who insist on dividing people into two groups: cat people and dog people; iPhone people and Droid people; Justin Bieber fans and everyone else; and, of course, people who divide the world into two groups and people who don’t.

While I’m generally in the “people who don’t” category, there tend to be two types of foundations that evaluate online grants management systems: those with completely offline grants processes (paper, fax, and sometimes email) and those with existing online processes (another commercial grants management vendor, a homegrown solution, or simple online forms for LOIs or eligibility).

I’ll address the latter category (those that already have online processes) in a future blog post.  This is about those foundations that are considering moving an offline process into an online system.

The vast majority of the 86,000 foundations in the U.S. don’t have an online grants management process (many of them don’t accept proposals at all, another topic for a future blog post).  That means that they are frequently using paper or some combination of Microsoft products (generally Word and Outlook, and sometimes Excel or a homegrown Access database) to track grantees, proposals, deadlines and to manage contact information, reporting to board members, viewing the foundation’s history with a given grantee and more.  It also means that grantees and applicants are either submitting hard copies of proposals and reports, or that the foundation accepts electronic copies of proposals and reports as email attachments.

color coded paper

Leaving aside for the moment the environmental concerns with having grantees print many copies of their grant proposals to submit via mail, this offline process is often inefficient.  I hear frequently from foundations that the major reason they want to move online is to save time for their staff members or board members who are processing grant applications.

Moving from a completely offline process to a completely online process is a big step, but it’s one that’s right for many foundations.  There are a few things that are important to remember when considering going online:

  • You’ve probably gotten used to the offline way of doing things.  That’s ok and totally understandable.  Change can be hard, and even a bit scary since it means jumping into an unknown and unfamiliar process.  The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, but it’s important to acknowledge that it will take some getting used to and ensure that the resources are in place to help you do so;
  • The online process won’t be exactly the same.  Perhaps you have a color coding system that you’ve been using for years.  The online system may not have that, but it will have other features that will help you categorize information in ways that will support your decision making, reporting, analysis, and post-grant monitoring and evaluation;
  • The online process will enable you to do things you haven’t been able to do before.  Word and Outlook weren’t specifically designed to manage grants.  The online grants management system was, and can therefore support parts of the process by default that you may have had to creatively manipulate using Word or Outlook.  For example:
    • Automated email reminders to grantees prior to due dates;
    • The ability for grantees to update their own contact information if they move or if they have a new Executive Director;
    • A complete view of any grantee – their grant history with the foundation, the proposals they’ve submitted, upcoming due dates for reports – all within one or two button clicks;
    • Reporting features that enable you to create board packs by clicking a few buttons;
  • Some of your board members might not be ready.  If that’s the case, you can request additional training for them, or you can ease them into it by first exporting reports from the online grants management system with them, before setting them up with their own accounts;
  • It will save you time.  And you’ll probably have easier access to information.  All grant and grantee-related information will be in a centralized location that you can access securely from any computer.  And the system will help you pull together information you would otherwise have to manually collect and enter.  Grantees also enter their own information (everything from contact information to the content of their proposals), so your data entry time is minimal;
  • Your grantees will thank you.  Grantees increasingly want their funders to be online.  It’s easier for the grantees to access information (because they can access it from anywhere at any time); it’s easier for them to enter information; all the information is available to them for the lifecycle of the grant (they can log in and see what they submitted in the proposal and when the next report is due); and they get automated email reminders prior to due dates.  And with PhilanTrack, they can manage all of their grant information for all of their funders (whether or not their other funders are using PhilanTrack), which helps them save even more time that they can dedicate to programs and services – and to making your grant dollars go further.

Are you considering switching from an offline grants management process to an online grants management process?  Contact us to see a demonstration and learn more about how we can help.



Author: Dahna Goldstein
March 15, 2011, 03:03 PM

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