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PEAK Grantmaking

CONNECTing on Flexibility Across the Grantmaking Lifecycle

Over in our CONNECT online community, PEAK Grantmaking members generously share their approaches to grantmaking, providing a forum for continuous learning among colleagues. In recent CONNECT threads, members weighed in on the ways in which they have embedded flexibility across their grantmaking lifecycles to support grantees and uplift equity.

Flexibility is an overarching theme in PEAK’s Principles for effective and efficient grantmaking. It is exciting to see PEAK peers sharing practices and procedures they have put in place in their grantmaking institutions to be adaptable and agile.

Flexibility before the grant

Reassessing, revising, and streamlining your grant applications process is a great way to imbed flexibility in your grantmaking lifecycle, for the benefit of staff and grantees. Many grant applications have superfluous questions that are asked simply because they are common field trends and not because they will yield information that will be used to make decisions. A recent CONNECT discussion thread highlighted this in regard to a nonprofit’s ability to financially sustain itself.

“As a former grant writer, the sustainability question always rubbed me the wrong way,” Mindy Wallen, grants manager at Main Street Community Foundation, wrote. “I feel like it encourages canned responses and discourages real discourse about how challenging the funding field is for nonprofits. Now, as I’m on the other side reviewing grant applications, I can confirm that this is true as most orgs just put the standard lines about how they are diversifying funding streams, doing rigorous research into grant funding opportunities and strengthening their individual giving programs to increase unrestricted funding. I think if we are going to ask the sustainability question, we should do so with the intention of identifying ways we as foundations are able to help strengthen the nonprofit’s capacity to fundraise to their best ability while also acknowledging the reality of the funding landscape.”

Another member, Fernanda Kuchkarian, Director, Programs at the Health Foundation of South Florida, observed that sustainability can be reframed beyond additional funding and even perhaps beyond the work of the grant. They shared a toolkit, Sustaining Improved Outcomes, which they give to grantees to help them think about their work.

Revamping board approval processes is another area for flexibility before a grant is made. Jina Freiberg, grants manager at Public Welfare Foundation, shared that increasing their staff approval level gave staff more administrative flexibility, which allowed for better monthly budget planning and flexibility to award higher grants throughout the year rather than having to wait for the next board meeting to get approvals. Other CONNECT members weighed in, sharing how often their boards meet, the thresholds for  staff and board approvals, and what the reporting looks like, creating a dynamic learning environment where  members could evaluate their processes and consider where they could add more flexibility and efficiency to their work plans.

Read more in PEAK’s How-To Guide: How to Rightsize the Grantmaking Process and Implement Flexible Practices.

Learn more about application streamlining with GrantAdvisor’s #FixTheForm challenge.

Flexibility during the grant

During the grant, funders can be flexible through offering unrestricted funds for grantees to liberally approach organizational and community needs, such as convening community members. These kinds of opportunities enable grantees to build connections and independently arrange future collaborations, and the unrestricted operating support gives them the freedom to apply staff time to collaborations.

Other discussion threads highlight the additional ways funders have shown flexibility during the grant, such as allowing interim reports to be waived and allowing for flexibility in grant modifications. More flexibility has been needed during the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertain circumstances lead to a need for more grant modifications and grant extensions.

Read more in PEAK’s How-To Guide: How to Structure Grant Awards to be More Responsive.

Flexibility after the grant

Reporting is a great way to remain nimble and responsive at the end of the grant life cycle. Grant reports are a constant topic of discussion in our CONNECT community, with templates and examples shared often. In response to a question on how different organizations approach the final report process, Kimberleigh Costanzo, program officer at Howard Gilman Foundation, shared that they include final report questions in the next application for funding, as most grantees return to apply again. She said that this works very well for grantees as it is one less deadline for them to manage and one less form for staff to build out, reducing the burden on both sides.

One member initiated a thread to seek advice on how to best approach final grants reporting. In response, Derek Hopf, director of grants management at Open Philanthropy, shared that they do not require written reports in any cases where it isn’t legally required, such as Expenditure Responsibility grants. Instead, they have program officers conduct check-in calls, and they develop a brief written summary that provides leaders with updates, lessons learned, and a rough sense of the impact of the grant. This flexibility has been less burdensome for staff and grantees.

Read more with PEAK’s How-To Guide: How to Revisit Reporting.

Across the grantmaking lifecycle, funders are embedding adaptability into their practices and processes to streamline and reduce grantee and staff burden. CONNECT is a great place to get feedback and ideas from peer colleagues that are doing this transformative work.

Join the conversation

Participate in the CONNECT online community—open to all PEAK members—to share your advice and offer solutions for challenges that so many funders are facing.

Not a member? Explore the benefits of joining PEAK’s powerful network of grants management professionals as a contributing Organization Member, or through a complimentary Individual Membership.