Earlier this year, Project Streamline – an initiative of the Grants Managers Network – released Practices That Matter: Taking Stock of Streamlining. Five years after our initial exploration of the burdens of application and reporting, Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted from Purpose, this new report assesses the state of streamlining in the field and identifies the practices that matter most.
Streamlining’s simple premise: the cumulative impact of grantmakers’ distinct and often laborious application and reporting requirements undermines nonprofit effectiveness, causing grantseekers to devote too much time to seeking funding (often without payoff) and reporting on grants (often without benefit) to the detriment of their mission-based work.
Project Streamline helps grantmakers understand and reduce the burden of application and reporting on their nonprofit partners, while still getting the information they need to make good grantmaking decisions.
What Matters Most?
Want to minimize the burden you impose? Here’s what matters most to grantees:
1. Online application and reporting systems that work well, gather the right information, and store information from application to reporting, and from year-to-year.
Online application and reporting is both inevitable and positive, but systems have to work! Unfortunately, many are still full of bugs and glitches that waste grantseeker time.
2. Budget and financial reporting requirements that allow grantseekers to maintain their own financial categories.
Many funders still require templates and specific formats for financials. These templates tend to promote error, mask important capacity issues, and ignore the fact that budgets’ main purpose is a management tool for the nonprofit itself.
3. Clear and regular communications, including responsiveness to phone and email inquiries.
Grantseekers particularly value clear, specific, and revealing guidelines that help them determine whether it is or is not worth their time to apply for a grant. They want to communicate with a real person and be able to offer honest feedback about grantmakers’ practices.
4. Staged processes with techniques like a brief and simple letter of inquiry (or online inquiry form) prior to inviting a full proposal from groups most likely to receive funding.
Nonprofits spend large amounts of time writing proposals that have a small chance of success. Clear funding priorities and guidelines, concise letters of inquiry, and strong eligibility screens can reduce the number of unfitting requests grantmakers receive, saving everyone time and money.
5. Simplified application for repeat or renewal grants
“Right sized” requirements are appropriate to the size and type of grant and the prior relationship between grantmaker and grantseeker. One easy right-sizing opportunity is to streamline applications for repeat or renewal grants. This allows grantees to focus more energy on their work, rather than on pro-forma application requirements.
Project Streamline believes that it’s possible to gather information and conduct due-diligence in ways that support, rather than detract from, grantseeker success.
· Tell us your streamlining story: how do you make sure you get what you need without imposing an unnecessary burden?
· For more information, read Practices That Matter and find other tools – including a free self-assessment, the Project Streamline Blog, an interactive quiz and “Making More Time for Mission” a snappy report summary – at www.projectstreamline.org .
Jessica Bearman is a consultant to Project Streamline with the Grants Managers Network.