Streamlining Your Grantmaking

Nonprofit organizations spend hundreds of dollars—sometimes thousands—applying for and fulfilling the requirements for individual grants. But what if those funds were instead spent on services? Your foundation has the power to reduce nonprofits’ application and reporting burdens by streamlining your grantmaking processes.

Examples of streamlining include:

  • Rightsizing your paperwork for small grants and repeat grantees
  • Accepting budgets in off-the-shelf formats
  • Creating brief online questionnaires to determine eligibility
  • Reducing the length of report forms

How to Begin

Ask what information is really necessary for your foundation to make grant decisions. Many foundations are not aware that the law requires very little to grant to public charities.

Find out how long it takes for grantseekers and grantees to complete your requirements. Share that data with your board. Then make a list of ideas for streamlining using this webpage and Project Streamline’s materials. Try one or two strategies, ask for feedback, adjust, and keep paring down to get just the information you need.

Learn More About Streamlining

Visit Project Streamline, a national collaboration of foundations and grantseeking organizations seeking to streamline the grantmaking process. Project Streamline offers several guides as free downloads:

  • Online Applications and Reporting (Relieving the Burden)
    This report identifies the essential and “gold standard” features and practices of online systems to help your grantmaking organization select and implement—or retrofit—a system that is user-friendly and designed to help grantseekers succeed.

  • Grant Budgets and Financial Reporting (Relieving the Burden)
    Use this guide to streamline your grant budget and financial reporting requirements in ways that benefit your organization and your grantees. Many nonprofits find that specialized budget and financial reporting requirements are some of the most time-consuming and burdensome aspects of grantseeking.

  • Online Grant Applications: A Review of Vendors
    Compare the features offered by some of the most widely-used grants management products. This Addendumincludes two additional vendors.

  • Making Streamlining Stick
    A guide to starting and developing buy-in for a streamlining process at your organization.

  • Right-Sizing Guide
    When grantmaking is right-sized, the information and due diligence requirements are proportionate to the size of the grant, appropriate to the type of grant, and take into consideration prior relationships with grantees. This guide will help your organization think through the opportunities to right-size your own process.

  • Due Diligence Guide
    This guide helps grantmakers think through what information is really needed to make a grant, and clear up some of the confusion surrounding what materials are truly required.

Also, Project Streamline has developed a Grantmaker Assessment Tool. This online survey enables you to compare your grantmaking processes to those of other funders, as well as to the principles described in the report, Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted from Purpose. It helps you determine the costs of these processes to both your organization and your grantseekers.

Streamlining by Exponent Philanthropy Members

The Faye McBeath Foundation in Wisconsin created a streamlined grant application and reporting process to swiftly meet documented, rising demands for critical needs. According to Executive Director Scott Gelzer,

We reshaped and slimmed down the area’s common application to reflect a focus on food, utilities, security deposits, and transportation. After background research and preliminary screening calls, we sent an RFP by e-mail to several previous grantees and also to organizations cited in a recent 211 helpline report as serving the hardest-hit neighborhoods. Organizations responded with proposals within 72 hours. We provided an open-ended grant agreement, so if a group needed to spend a grant in 30–60 days, it could. From the time the application went out in early December to the time we made grant decisions was a little over 3 weeks. Most grants ranged from $10,000 to $15,000.

The Western office of the Juan Young Trust in Oregon offers grantseekers the opportunity to upload several components of a grant application packet, including financials, the Form 990, a list of board members, and, in some cases, a project description. Doing so saves applicants time and reduces paper. The foundation still requires by mail a signed two-page application, narrative, IRS determination letter, and one copy of the complete proposal. Says Trustee Antoinette Kienow Arenz, “The streamlined procedures have been very well received among grantees.”

Zell Family Foundation in Massachusetts created a streamlined application process for its small grants program. Operating every other year, the program offers grants up to $5,000 for general operations, programs, or other organizational needs. The purpose of the program is to identify and learn about organizations working in the foundation’s focus area that could be candidates for larger grants. The streamlined “by invitation only” application process includes a two-page concept letter, budget information, and financial statements. Budget information is accepted in an as-is format. Notes Trustee Amy Zell Ellsworth, “The small organizations appreciate the shorter format and relatively quick turnaround time, and our board members appreciate the more limited amount of information to review.”

More for Exponent Philanthropy members: Grant applications and procedures (login required)

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 A new paper by Foundant Technology offering practical ideas for both funders and nonprofits to be clearer and more open in their communications, seek feedback from each other, and streamline their processes to reduce labor for all.