It’s Always A Good Time to Right-Size!

Guide to Streamlining Series Refresher Part 1 

2013-09-13 right sizing guide coverI bet you buy size seven extra-wide shoes for your size seven extra-wide feet, so that your shoes neither pinch your toes nor trip you by flopping around as you walk.  You already know a lot about right-sizing! In this blog, I’ll review key ideas from Project Streamline’s Guide to Rightsizing the Grantmaking Process (PDF).  For more great information on how to right-size your grantmaking, you can download the whole, fun-to-read, action-packed guide.

Right-sizing is the idea that a grantmaking process should be  proportionate to the grant.  Specifically, it should take into consideration:

1)      The size of the grant

2)      The type of grant

3)      The prior relationship with the grantee

Here’s the bottom line for funders who are looking for ways to right-size:

1)      Know the net grant and keep it highWhy? Because grantseekers don’t actually get grants.  They get net grants: the amount of money that’s left over after you factor in the costs of applying and reporting.  Believe it or not, with some small grants that have laborious processes, this net grant can be a negative number. You can read more about the net grant in this archived blog:  Dr. Streamline Prescribes Net Grant Knowledge.

2)      Figure out what information you really need.  Go through your application and reporting questions and requirements and ask:

  • Do we really need this information to make decisions?  Do we need it from every grantee or only some of them?  Do we need it at the beginning of the process, or could we wait until organizations are likely to be funded before requiring it?
  • Are there other ways we could get this information?
  • Have we explained clearly why we need this information?
  • Are we using the information we collect in reports to make decisions, build the field, or learn?

3)      Simplify the application and reporting process for small grants, renewal grants, operating support grants, and repeat grantees.  Here are some of the recommendations from the Guide to Right-Sizing – there are many more in the full guide.

  • Grants applications for funding under $5,000 should not take more than five hours to complete.
  • Renewal grants can be streamlined by combining the prior year’s reporting with the reapplication for subsequent funding.
  • Online systems should store information so that small changes can be made as needed without total re-entry of all data.
  • Operating support grants can be made using organizations’ existing materials instead of customized grant proposals and reports.

4)      Find ways to filter:  Sometimes right-sizing means staging your process so that only those with the best chance of receiving funding need to submit the full package of materials.  Filtering techniques might include:

  • Really clear guidelines on your website
  • A good eligibility screen or quiz
  • A pre-application conversation or brief Letter of Inquiry
  • Keeping non-essentials to a minimum or collecting them only after funding looks likely.

The Right-Sizing Guide also has ideas for grantseekers (all the guides do).  It suggests – among other things – that nonprofits apply only to funders with aligned missions and goals, make sure that they are clear on the requirements at the outset, send only requested information, and make public information available on their websites.  We also encourage grantseekers to track how long a process takes, and make smart decisions about whether a grant is worth the time and cost to apply.  If it isn’t, well, that’s something that the funder would benefit from hearing.

We’d love to profile your right-sized grantmaking! 

  • Grantmakers:  email us if you have a good process to share or a story to tell, and we’ll follow up with a phone call to learn more.
  • Grantseekers:  have you experienced a good right-sized process?  Tell us about what made the difference.


Jessica Bearman

Jessica Bearman works with foundations and other mission-based organizations, focusing on organization development, facilitation, and R&D to help them become more intentional, effective, and responsive to the communities that they serve. She is also known as Dr. Streamline. Follow her on Twitter @jbearwoman.

One Response

  1. […] Many funders design overly elaborate processes, burdening nonprofits with time and labor that undermines effectiveness. You have the power to liberate nonprofits—and yourself! Know the minimum legal requirements for making grants to public charities. Survey your grantees, and use a cost–benefit approach in designing your process, asking yourself what you really need to make grants decisions. Follow the advice of Jessica Bearman aka Dr. Streamline, and right-size. […]

Leave a Reply