I hate paper. I’ve hated paper since email became the norm for business communications. Printing email is redundant and wasteful—something I’m sure many grants managers do if they are still using paper grant files. Technology makes it incredibly easy to make paper a thing of the past, and I love technology.
The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky implemented a paperless grantmaking process over the course of about six months in 2014. This resulted in faster turnaround for signatures on contracts and grant agreements, easier filing and document sharing, and reduced printing and postage costs.
The paperless filing process is relatively simple. For grant files, we keep an electronic folder on our server that mirrors the old print folder. It helps to have the full version of Adobe Acrobat ($14.99/month with services or $449 for the software only), but there are free programs, such as CutePDF, that can accomplish many of the same tasks. Primarily, we use Acrobat to combine grant agreements and attachments into one PDF. Then, we send the complete agreement to the grantee/contractor and the Foundation CEO for electronic signature via the Adobe Document Cloud (formerly Adobe EchoSign). The Document Cloud service costs about $150 per year.
Ex. 1 Electronic Grant File
Grantees have had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the electronic signature process. For example, one grantee was able to sign with his phone while traveling internationally, saving weeks of waiting for a physical signature had we not employed the paperless process. Our CEO frequently signs from her phone while traveling, rather than holding contracts and agreements until she is physically in the office.
The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky also uses MicroEdge Gifts Online, which dovetails very well with our paperless process. We can upload grant agreements, reports, and other grant documents to Gifts Online, which can then be accessed from anywhere. This also offers an additional backup to our own servers, in case of a catastrophic event. Other benefits to using Gifts Online for this process include the ability to combine applicant documents into one PDF using the software’s “Merge to PDF” function and the Microsoft Outlook plugin, which enables the user to forward email directly to a Gifts Online record from Outlook.
Gifts Online also allows the Foundation to receive electronic grant requests through the IGAM portal (MicroEdge’s online grant application, reporting, and grantee management tool), which cuts down on paper and postage for our grantees and facilitates an electronic process from the first step.
Cloud-based grants management software like Gifts Online make the paperless process a little easier and add an additional failsafe in the form of backups, but they are not essential to the overall process. An organization could accomplish the same goals with a Google drive or Dropbox account that incurs minimal expense.
Our paperless process extends beyond grantmaking. Board books and committee packets are also delivered electronically, using our website as a “drop box” for our 16-member Board and 31-member Community Advisory Committee. We send notifications through Constant Contact, which allows us to track who has received, opened, and downloaded the packet.
Ex. 2 Constant Contact Message
Ex. 3 Agenda Basic Web Page
Lastly, the Foundation converted from mass printing and distribution of our Annual Report to printing a small run and mailing copies to only a few stakeholders and our Board and Community Advisory Committee. We created an online version of our Annual Report using Wix.com, a free web development service.
While it can be difficult to track the return on investment for going paperless, the Foundation saved $17,250 in postage and printing costs from 2012 to 2014.
It’s an exciting time to be a grants manager. There are countless tools at our disposal to help us become more efficient and effective; tools that are not cost prohibitive. A little creative problem solving can save money, improve processes, and further our mission (and help the planet at the same time).