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PEAK Grantmaking

Six Little Questions

If you haven’t already read Vu Le’s blog from last week, Answers on grant proposals if nonprofits were brutally honest, part 2, I want you to take an immediate study-break and read it. Then forward it to the rest of your staff and trustees. Then, send him some money so that he can keep speaking truth. As always, he says what Dr. Streamline wants to say, with more hilarity and poignancy. It is a sad truth that many staff and trustees of philanthropy organizations have not worked in nonprofit organizations – or haven’t in a long time. And even if we have, it’s amazing how quickly we seem to forget the pain of writing proposals and reports, answering questions that seem redundant, convoluted, vague, or disconnected from the immediacy of our work.

Here are six critical questions that grantmakers can (and should) use as a filter when designing or refining our application and reporting processes – something that we recommend you do regularly. These questions can help you take a fresh look at your requirements and think hard about what to keep and what to toss.

Six Questions

  1. Do we use it? Really? Do we really use this information (document, requirement) to make decisions about whether to grant or how to structure funding?
  2. Who do we need it from? Do we need the information from all or just some applicants or grantees?
  3. When do we need it? Do we need it at the beginning, or do we need it as we get closer to a final decision?
  4. Can we get it ourselves? Is there any other way we can get this information? Does it exist on a website, in the 990, or in a publically accessible document? Can we employ a third-party evaluator to gather data rather than relying on our grantees?
  5. Is it worth it? Do we know how long it takes grantseekers or grantees to provide this information – and are we comfortable with the time-costs? Are we paying for the overhead and administrative time required to provide this information to us?
  6. Have we been transparent? Have we sufficiently explained to applicants or grantees why we need this this information, in particular?

There are two important things to remember that have a tendency to get lost in the power dynamics inherent in funding relationships.

The first is that we choose our requirements as funders. They are not required by law or the IRS except in limited circumstances, such as expenditure responsibility. We decide what we need to know, and we can choose better information over more information in ways that are more sensible for grantees and – frankly – more useful to our decision-making.

The second is that nonprofit organizations seeking and reporting on funding are doing crucial and difficult work every day. Our job is to help build or sustain that work by providing funding in the most straightforward, respectful, communicative, and streamlined manner possible.

Many funders have already been making adjustments that allow them to be most supportive to grantees who are addressing urgent needs and making systems change. These grantmakers are working to respond efficiently to time-sensitive requests and move quickly to direct funds to critical needs. We think that putting requirements through the filter of these six questions could be a good way to amplify this great responsive trend.

Try these six questions and see where they take you. Do you have other filters that you use to make sure that your grantmaking requirements are sensible? Let us know – we want to hear from you!

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.