The Undead – Bad Habits that Won’t Die

(but really, it’s time for them to die)

Since I think about streamlining all the time (24/7, believe me!) it’s easy for me to think that everyone in the philanthropy world has heard about enough about burdensome application and reporting practices and wishes that I’d move on to another topic. But then I was speaking with a group of funders two weeks ago who hadn’t spent much time with Project Streamline… and I was reminded that certain grantmaking habits, like vampires, manage to rise from their coffins and continue to suck the lifeblood from innocent grantseekers.

Halloween is over, and the hour has now come. Drumroll please… here are today’s top picks practices that are ready for a stake to the heart!

1)      Demanding paper copies of applications and reports.  Just don’t do it. You don’t need a fancy online system. You can accept applications and reports via email, via dropbox, or using any number of secure online file sharing systems.  Sometimes I hear grantmakers say (still!) that their grantees don’t have the technological savvy and capacity. If your grantees are very small community groups in very rural places, then maybe this is the still the case. Otherwise, I’d be amazed. Either way, ask them – it’s the only way to know!

As for asking for multiple paper copies?  Don’t even.

2)      Requiring reports… just because.  We’ve talked about this!  Reporting should be purposeful or merciful – and ideally both. Ask for reports after considering what you’ll do with the information (and then make sure to ask the right questions to get that information).

At a recent workshop, one audience member argued that her organization’s quarterly reporting requirements were essential because funded projects change quickly and otherwise, how would they know about those changes?  My question to her:  “But what do you do with that information on a quarterly basis?  Is a report necessary, or would an email check-in suffice?”

My recent blog post for the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Alternatives to the Fiery Furnace has a lot more on this topic.  Kevin Bolduc’s blog, Struck by Duck: Do We Really Need This Data, gives even more thoughtful (and funny) guidance about how to think about the data we collect.

3)      Not Asking for Feedback.  I asked the group of funders if they knew how long their application and reporting process took their grantees. They didn’t. I asked them to raise their hands if they had a way to seek and receive feedback from grantees. Only a small smattering of hands went up.

And so I must regretfully conclude that even though everyone is probably tired of hearing it, I need to keep saying it:  If you don’t ask your grantees about their experience of your practices and requirements, then you have no idea how to make them more effective or streamlinedAsk for feedback!

What other bad funder habits have you noticed still lurking around?  Let’s bring them into the light and invite them to die a peaceful death. 



Dr. Streamline

Dr. Streamline is also known as Jessica Bearman. She, along with her colleague Streamlining Surgeon Alice Cottingham, and a cohort of Streamlining Interns, are available to answer all of your streamlining questions. Together, they diagnose the good, the bad, and the mystifying, and prescribe cures for your streamlining woes.If you have a question about your own grantmaking process, or one that you’ve encountered, please write to Dr. Streamline at for a useful (and possibly entertaining) Rx.

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