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PEAK Grantmaking

Third Time’s Not So Charming

Dear Dr. Streamline,

Puhleeeeze tell me I don’t really have to answer these three application questions that all ask for the same information, using slightly different words! Why do funders do this?

– Flummoxed in Philly


Oh, my dear Flum,

I feel your pain. Writing creative, polite replies to say one thing three ways isn’t easy.

Unless the funder in question is trying to make your life difficult (unlikely), I’d hazard that the repetitive questions may reflect one of two things: 1) an application that hasn’t been reviewed for a long time and has picked up redundant questions over the years, or 2) someone who doesn’t exactly understand the subject area they’re asking about (or, perhaps, that you’re writing about). The questions may be intended to probe for (perhaps subtle) distinctions – not so successfully.

That’s a guess, and that’s not really good enough, is it? So I have two suggestions for you and conscientious funders.

  1. Ask someone else, who knows the subject matter, to read the questions too. Do they grasp how they are different from one another or do they agree they are the same? If they see differences, they can point them out to you (applicant) – and confirm that the questions are clearly presented for the knowledgeable (grantmaker).
  2. Call or email the funder and request clarification. Many (but not enough) foundations welcome this. Most of them have created bread crumb trails to lead you to a real person to talk or correspond with.Funders: if your staff are too busy to make time for conversations with applicants, you are due for a staffing review, because being available to provide information promotes good proposals and encourages an array of applicants (not just the boldest and most willing to guess what you mean).

Yours truly,

Dr. Streamline

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.