Making the Streamlining Case with Colleagues

The question we received is a common one: how do you convince folks at your organization to take on streamlining in the first place?

Dear Dr. Streamline,

I need some help convincing my colleagues that a more streamlined grantmaking process would be a good idea. I know they care about our work and our grantees, but they seem to think that every step of our process is essential and that nonprofits “should work hard” to get our money. I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I think some of our requirements and processes could go — they aren’t useful to us or the nonprofits, and they take a lot of time!

Sincerely,
Hoping for Less

Dear Hoping,

Sounds like there are two main maladies at your organization: the belief that our own processes are essential (even when they aren’t objectively useful) and an attitude toward nonprofit organizations that borders on antagonistic.

Because there’s so little that we must do as grantmakers, we create our own systems and processes to make sure that we’re going about our work in a responsible way. As a result, it’s easy for us to become enamored of our own processes and believe that they are essential. And because we are continually approached by organizations that want grant dollars and seem willing to go to great lengths to get them, we can start to feel that it’s their duty to jump through our hoops – however onerous – without complaint.

But these two maladies get in the way of grantmakers achieving our own missions. If your organization values supporting nonprofits and increasing the effectiveness of their work, then streamlining is essential. Why waste your time and theirs on processes that take more time than they should without adding value?

Of course, you know all this – we’re talking about convincing your colleagues… and for that, we will turn to one of our Streamlining Interns, Megan Murphy, Grants Manager at the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

Megan has several excellent suggestions for getting the conversation about streamlining started at your organization:

  • Consider soliciting feedback from applicants once they complete their proposals, either as a survey that opens once they hit the submit button, or one that gets emailed to them. Ensure that their responses will remain anonymous so they are more likely to give honest feedback, or hire an outside evaluator to survey past applicants and grantees. There is not much better than hearing about the experience firsthand from those that had to live it! My foundation is about to embark on the CEP grantee and applicant survey over the winter with the hopes of finding out how we can continue to streamline and make things easier for applicants.
  • Another idea is to do a sort of simulation with staff so they can see just how cumbersome the application process might be from the other side. Couple that with a cost analysis of the average amount of time an applicant spends engaged with your process over the amount of funding they stand to receive if awarded a grant and the average salary of a nonprofit ED or program staff in your area to demonstrate the potential financial burden a grantee takes on just applying for a grant. Make the case with data, just like they’d expect an applicant to do (I hope).
  • I’ve also found some success in having difficult conversations with my co-workers about our process. In mapping out each step and taking a hard look at what we do with the data and information we collect, we have been able to eliminate some of the unnecessary things we ask of applicants. We tend to do this before each round of funding opens, starting with our timeline which we work back from the board meeting, and then reviewing the RPF and application to make sure what we’re asking is absolutely essential to the decision making process. Involve not just the program staff, but others from the organization who might be able to bring a different perspective to the table. You could even bring in a process improvement expert or outside party to help. Sometimes you need to be the “voice of reason” in looking out for your grantees best interest and time, and remind your colleagues that without these grantees, you wouldn’t be able to carry out your mission and it is in your best interest as funders to ensure that the experience is a good one for both sides.
  • Finally, I often send articles out to our staff that speak to the issue of burdensome funder processes. Nonprofitaf.com is a great resource for this and there are others (like the Dr. Streamline blog for example!). I know with my staff it helps to have the outsider perspective, especially if it is humorous, and one that isn’t a voice they are used to hearing (like mine).
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 drstreamline@peakgrantmaking.org for a useful (and possibly entertaining) Rx.