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5 tips for a better grantmaking process

Is your grantmaking program performing to its full potential? If you’re feeling like it’s tough to answer that question, know that you’re not alone.

At Altum, one of the challenges we see is that it’s tough to proactively identify opportunities for improvement. That’s because many grantmakers already have well-defined and rigorous processes. When systems have been operating for long periods of time, potential problems may not be obvious. Not to mention, grantmaking teams are often working hard to meet demands with limited bandwidth. There aren’t enough hours to step back and strategize to the extent that most organizations need.

When you’re in an established routine, it’s a challenge to self reflect and answer the question — what could we be doing better?

Our team’s goal is to offer support, recognizing that every grantmaking journey is unique. It’s about meeting you and your team where you are, to uncover ideas that you maybe haven’t considered. Here are some recommendations to try out.

1. Build an analytical system — not a document repository

Grantmaking runs on information as the epicenter. That’s why it’s so important to collect and understand your data on an ongoing basis. With the right insights, grantmakers can have more constructive conversations with their donors, applicants, awardees, and boards.

Despite collecting a wealth of information,  grantmakers often find themselves struggling to make sense of it all. That’s because insights are often buried in PDFs or Word documents — or even paper-based processes. In other words, you may not be able to see the story that your data is telling you. That means you’re not getting the full value from your data.

To overcome this challenge, you need an analytics system that can answer important questions and help with assessing impact. Systems-thinking can help grantmakers assess progress towards goals such as breakthrough scientific contributions, diversity, inclusion,  and publications impacted.

With more data in the systems, questions become easier to answer, faster.

2. Establish a holistic historical record

Every grant is unique and communicates its own unique narrative. Grants vary based on focus area, program objectives, outcomes, and of course, the institutions and specific people involved.

Having a system of record for all your grants – past and present – is critical for decision making. A holistic system enables  grantmakers to access information quickly and easily. With a central repository in place, grantmakers can begin to assess impact, track trends over time, and establish the mechanisms for continuous improvement. Ultimately, enabling you  to gain a deeper perspective into your story as an organization.

Having a system of record for all your grants - past and present - is critical for decision making.

3. Team up with partners

Every organization needs to focus on building a strong, resilient core. There’s a high degree of independent, strategic decision-making required to run an effective scientific research funding organization. However, research collaborations are happening more frequently today than they did in prior years due to the evolution of technology and a trend toward open science.

“Collaborations take place in a variety of forms, including the borrowing and lending of supplies, resources and equipment between researchers; seeking input from an expert in a different discipline; and partnering with colleagues who have a similar background or field of knowledge for fresh ideas and abilities,” writes the American Psychological Association (APA).

These collaborations can help with advancing bigger-picture scientific goals, in addition to pooling resources and solving problems. According to the APA, these collaborations are becoming more multidisciplinary.

Partnerships between researchers are becoming increasingly common. Similarly, we foresee a trend toward collaborative grantmaking, where funding bodies pool resources to tackle pressing issues more quickly and effectively. Grantmaking systems provide a pathway to improved scientific progress, through collaboration.

4. Streamline application journeys

It’s no secret that researchers would prefer to be doing research vs. spending inordinate amounts of time completing lengthy and complex grant applications.

One question for grantmakers to consider is whether they’re collecting the right information on the application. It’s common for questions to end up on an application, without historical context. As a result, application processes may be cumbersome. In addition, grantmakers may be unintentionally — and unknowingly — wasting time by asking the wrong questions.

The key is to ask the smallest number of questions necessary to yield the information needed to make award decisions.

5. Unite everyone around a shared picture on the same system

Sometimes, it can be tough to get everyone on the same page — especially in today’s digital environment, where collaborators are around the world.

Your grantmaking system can help ensure that everyone is operating from the same field of view. A platform like ProposalCentral ensures that all parties involved in the grantmaking process remain fully apprised of the funding process every step of the way. Your grants management system should ensure that all constituents and all activities are in sync – from your executive director to finance to the scientific team.

When all parties are on the same system, it’s more likely that they’ll be on the same page. And when everyone is on the same page, more team members can get involved, feel comfortable sharing their ideas, and offer informed insights. Everyone can be a leader in their respective roles.

When all parties are on the same system, it’s more likely that they’ll be on the same page.

Parting Thoughts for a Better Grantmaking Process

Every grantmaking process is different. That’s why your grants management system needs to adapt to your organization rather than the other way around.

The biggest question to ask, before deploying a GMS, is how to build a system that serves all of your audiences and stakeholders. What information benefits their decision-making process? Which funding processes are most important or most in need of an upgrade? How can our system unify various groups to achieve better outcomes, overall?

The right grants management system:

  • Makes everyone’s job easier by providing a unified system that provides new and novel insights into funding performance.
  • Reduces manual effort by automating the funding process and frees up time for teams to spend more energy on strategic efforts.
  • Opens doors for heightened collaboration allowing greater partnership internally and externally.
  • Provides a holistic repository of all grant making data – ensuring that everyone can get up to speed on critical topics, faster.

The result? Funders are better equipped to make smarter decisions faster, measure outcomes, and communicate impact to their boards and donors.

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