Online Systems – Change is Slow but Real!

Dear Dr. Streamline,

Will online grant systems used by grantseekers EVER enter the 21st century?

Wearily,

Time’s Passing

 

Dear Time,

Great news! That change – though glacial – has begun!

A “friend” (ok, ok, it was me) recently completed four – count ‘em, four! – online grant applications and they were EASY. TO. USE!

Here’s what they featured:

  • To-the-point, clear questions and a few reasonable types of uploaded documents. No repetition. No obscurity. No budget templates!
  • All the questions were visible from the beginning, so I could think about answers – and find text to cut and paste – before beginning to write.
  • The application that first used last year had stored contact information and evergreen documents, and asked only for any updates to those.
  • Character and word limits were reasonable and counters made them easier to meet.
  • Spell-check.
  • All but one automatically saved what I wrote as I entered it. The exception suggested I save periodically and reminded me to do so.
  • Each saved partially completed forms for later completion and editing.
  • Directions were, for the most part, easy to follow. Experienced users will likely know that clicking on an Edit button early on is usually necessary to begin completing an online application and thus, will look for it. Others will learn the hard way.
  • Every function worked as it should.

To the ordinary (non-fundraising) person, each characteristic might seem obvious, simple, and utterly in line with 21st-century online shopping or other tasks most of us have been doing for the past many years. But you know and I know that in philanthropy, these simple conveniences have been weirdly rare and precious, compared to the many bad and glitchy systems out there. I think we are seeing a corner being turned.

The foundations I’m referring to have some similarities and some differences. All four have been around for decades, but three of the four only recently added online applications, and the other is on its second or third iteration. One had deliberately waited for a system it liked and that was reasonably priced, and two others are benefitting from new staff leaders who took on the challenge of implementing a new system. One foundation has some of the biggest assets in the world and one is one the smallest in the region.

Point is: it doesn’t matter what your organization looks like, you can make your online system work for your grantseekers!

To all of them and – we hope – their colleagues around the field: at last, congrats, and thanks!

Alice Cottingham

Alice Cottingham is a Chicago consultant to grantmaking foundations and community nonprofits. As someone who believes deeply in Project Streamline, she is honored to be allowed to pose as Dr. Streamline's surgical associate.