How Grantmakers Can Better Assess Impact

Grants are powerful innovation drivers. The ability to precisely measure the impact of a grant-making program is mission-critical. A well-defined impact and outcomes story can help align stakeholders around a common message — and improve transparency with communities, partners, and grant recipients. Perhaps most importantly, a foundation’s ability to connect the dots between grants made and impact realized, is essential to donor development and future fundraising. Here are 3 steps scientific grantmakers can take to better understand and evaluate the impact of their programs.

Foundations, governments, philanthropies, and other grantmaking institutions are needed to empower critical breakthroughs for humanity. As Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) explains in its most recent annual report:

“Across the philanthropic sector, the last several years have been a clear period of transformation, marked by the recognition that business as usual is no longer feasible for the creation of a just, connected, and inclusive society.”

1. Create alignment around objectives and focus on outcomes

Ultimately, the purpose of grantmaking is to achieve a goal in alignment with a broader mission and vision that benefits society. What is the definition of success for your specific organization?

Historically, publication volume and velocity have been a metric of interest. But there’s likely more to the story, especially in terms of advancing a particular area of scientific interest.

Over the last 25 years, our team at Altum has built software to improve collaboration, create efficiencies, and improve transparency in the grantmaking process — to make smarter funding decisions faster. Along the way, we’ve built one of the most comprehensive databases of research funding activity covering more than 20 years and over $24 billion dollars of award activity.

A key trend we observe is a movement towards open science, collaboration, and partnership. Over the next several years, humanity needs to solve major challenges including energy resiliency and climate change. COVID-19 is one case of the world’s scientists and researchers coming together to problem-solve. We believe this model – characterized by highly collaborative research, an open sharing of data, and joint funding – can and will be replicated to tackle many of the world’s other urgent and complex challenges. The key is to connect the dots between big-picture narratives and tactical goals. With this perspective, grantmaking organizations can better refine their future strategic direction.

Here are some high-level objectives that our customers prioritize:

  • Being able to identify and quantify direct and downstream impact
  • Progress towards open, shared data standards
  • Diversity & inclusion among grant recipients, across dimensions of gender and ethnicity
  • Fairer and broader access to funds
  • Visualizing a path to eventual research breakthroughs
  • Ensuring that publications that can be sourced back to awards
  • Delivering long-term financial outcomes from award recipients (e.g. turning $200M into $500M through follow-on investment or other funding)

2. Leverage data to determine trends beneath the surface

With research, at the time of an initiative receiving funding, it’s impossible to know what the exact outcome will be. While all parties hope for the best, research is about testing ideas and asking questions. For this reason, measuring impact requires more than a fixed analytical model for quantifying key performance indicators (KPIs).

For example, the Altum platform makes it possible to build reports based on keyword topic clusters. With this capability, grantmakers can develop reports that compare and track the performance of programs over multiple years. These analyses typically include contextual data including expenditures, publication data, and progress reports. Grantmakers also gain the benefit of being able to track researchers over the long-term.

Grantmakers can analyze details beneath the surface of an application, abstract, award, or publication. The idea is to be able to identify outcomes earlier and uncover insights that might have otherwise remained undetected. These untold stories will surface opportunities to:

  • Capitalize on discoveries earlier in the research lifecycle and communicate these “quick wins” to your board and constituents
  • Uncover new funding areas with breakthrough potential
  • Find new researchers to expand the pool of potential awardees
  • Identify other grantmakers with similar interests – opening the door to collaboration and/or avoiding redundant funding

3. Build connections with peer grantmakers to collaborate, solve problems, and move fast

While peer organizations may be in competition for scientific talent, everyone needs to ultimately work together.

Keyword and grantmaking lifecycle data can help with surfacing potential connections and identifying areas for building efficiencies. With this view, grantmakers can improve upon inefficiencies and improve impact as a result.

As the research community moves towards an inevitable open science movement, grantmakers can use data to achieve their outcomes faster and with fewer hurdles. This capability makes it possible to solve more problems, with a higher level of precision and efficiency, at scale.

Collaboration is a vehicle for progress and impact. Exploratory analysis enables connections to form organically.

Capitalize on discoveries earlier in the research lifecycle and communicate these “quick wins” to your board and constituents

Parting Thoughts on How Grantmakers Can Better Assess Impact

Every grantmaking organization is unique. That’s why you need a system that can adapt to your operations rather than the other way around.

Humanity is more globally connected and integrated than ever before. Through data-driven technology, organizations gain an unprecedented ability to hold their performance to higher standards. It’s critical that grantmakers embrace the real-time data movement that empowers most major industries today.Altum sees a promising future for scientific research and discovery, on a global level. We’re building the mechanisms for grantmakers and foundations to operate more collaboratively and efficiently — towards the overarching goal of shared outcomes.


Altum Company Overview

Get an overview of Altum, our products, and our momentum in the market. Learn more about ProposalCentral, Altum Insights, and Analytics.


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