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PEAK Grantmaking

Ask Dr. Streamline: Setting a Good Example

Dear Dr. Streamline,

I’m looking for examples of funders from across the country that demonstrate best practices in streamlining/simplifying their online grant application process.

Do you know of any funders who have found balance between holding grantees accountable (e.g. asking for logic models, theories of change, etc.) without making their application and/or application process overly burdensome?

Many thanks for your suggestions!


Dear Tightrope,

I’m always so happy when funders look for good examples from colleagues to adapt and adopt – especially examples of streamlined practice! I’ve separated your questions into three linked topics, which I’ll address one at a time. I’d love to hear some good examples from the field, so I encourage any reader to weigh in with your story in the comments section of this blog!

    1. What are some best practices in streamlining our online grant application process?
    2. What is the role of logic models and theories of change in holding grantees accountable?

And in our next blog, we’ll tackle:

  1. How do we hold grantees accountable without making application process overly burdensome?

1. What are some best practices in streamlining our online grant application process?

Streamlining online grantmaking has been a focus of this blog recently. In essence, streamlining online grantmaking has the same basic principles as any streamlining endeavor – you want to be sure that your process and requirements get you what you need as an organization without undue burden on the grantee. And, because the grantmaking is online (and I’ll go out on a limb and propose that all grantmaking should be online in this year of 2018!) there’s the additional challenge of ensuring that your online system doesn’t add to the burden. For a few recent blogs that present guidelines for good online grantmaking practices, I invite you to review:

2. What is the role of logic models and theories of change in holding grantees accountable?

I think we need to question the premise of holding grantees accountable with logic models and theories of change.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of a good logic model or theory of change. These are excellent thought exercises and tools for getting clear on how resources and activities lead to immediate outputs and maybe even eventual results. But a logic model is not an accountability tool. It is likely that your grant funds only a small portion of expected outputs for a given program, and that the short and long term outcomes proposed will only come after years of sustained effort.

Ideally, if a potential grantee has not already developed their theory of change or logic model, asking a grantee to develop a logic model or theory of change is a compensated and supported part of the relationship-building that you do after you’ve decided to grant funding. This conversation might be just the thing to help them arrive at a well-considered hypothesis about how their work will lead to results (doing this leads to this, which we assume – based on prior evidence or research or whatever – will lead to X impact). These tools can build shared understanding about assumptions and help you identify where additional support might be needed.

After the grant is made, you should stay in conversation with them as to how that hypothesis is holding up as they get into the work itself. You can also hold yourself accountable – as a funder and partner – to supporting them as they work to reach the goals that you’ve agreed upon. I think we want to encourage grantees (and ourselves) to learn and course-correct if necessary. If implementation of a project goes differently than expected or if early results are different from what was imagined, grantees should be able to make adjustments. If we treat their logic model as an accountability mechanism, I think we lose an opportunity for honest conversation and learning.

Funders and nonprofits readers – share your stories and opinions:

  • Have you had success with streamlined and simplified online application processes?
  • How have you used logic models, theories of change, and other tools as part of the funding relationship?

Dr. Streamline is Jessica Bearman of Bearman Consulting, LLC. She provides facilitation, organization development, and research and development to help grantmakers and other mission-focused organizations align strategy, practice, and culture for greater effectiveness, equity, and joy.