Streamlining Champion Basics

Champions Toolkit HeaderStreamlined grantmaking doesn’t just happen!  It often takes a concerted personal crusade by a Streamlining Champion.

You might be a Streamlining Champion if…

  • You’ve thought back to your days at a nonprofit, or to your time on a nonprofit board, and wondered how you’d like your organization’s application or reporting process…
  • You’ve ever asked yourself (and others):  “What are we actually doing with this piece of information?  Are we really using it to make decisions, or are we just collecting it because we’ve always collected it?”
  • You’ve introduced the concept of the “net grant” at a staff meeting…
  • You chant the words “right sized” like a mantra…
  • You’ve ever pointed out that the reports that your organization requires don’t actually seem to be carefully read or actively used…

Streamlining Champions often look like normal, everyday grantmakers. In Project Streamline’s Practices that Matter research, we learned that mild-mannered grants managers are often in this role, because they are generally the ones who are responsible for managing grantmaking processes and requirements.  But many different people within an organization can champion streamlining – and it works best when it is seen as a strategic imperative by organizational leadership, rather than a set of tactical changes.

Streamlining Champions don’t necessarily have an easy path.  They need to vanquish the wicked Forces of Complacency (We’ve always done it this way and it’s worked just fine!), the Dastardly Lack-of-Time Demons (We don’t have time to make changes!)  and – occasionally – their arch-nemesis, Funder Myopia (Our grantees don’t have a problem with our process… after all, they keep coming back!).

So, if you think that you might be a Streamlining Champion, or aspire to be one, here are three important first steps to take:

1. Line up a team:  Yes, you’re a heroic Streamlining Champion, but it’s hard going without support.  Grantmaker leadership needs to be actively on board – or at least passively supportive – if your efforts are going to succeed.  At the same time, if you’re already in a leadership role, you need active buy-in and enthusiasm from the people who will be making and living with the changes – the grants managers and program officers (not to mention IT and finance staff).  Project Streamline’s Making Streamlining Stick guide has good advice about building support for streamlining (and also, see #2 and #3)

2. Show that there’s an issue:  As you probably know well, Grantmakers don’t get a lot of honest feedback about their practices. A Streamlining Champion’s first task is often to build a feeling of urgency around change.  How to do it?  Well, you need good data, which will help you to understand and communicate two things:

a. The impact of current practice on grantseekers/grantees:  this can be accomplished through a third-party assessment such as CEP’s Grantee Perception Survey, or some other way of gathering data anonymously and candidly.  You can create your own survey tool, and Project Streamline has developed a sample survey for you to use and adapt.  One of the most important things to learn is how long your process takes your grantseekers – and they may not know this themselves.  You can help them figure it out by asking them to complete a cost audit, like this one, developed by the Donors Forum.

b. The current state of practice for your organization:  many grantmakers haven’t mapped their current systems for grantmaking.  Do you know how much time (and money) it takes for your organization to make a grant?  You can find out, using the Donors Forum’sFunder Cost Audit tool.

3. Mitigate Fear:  In addition to demonstrating that there is an issue, Streamlining Champions need to show that change is both totally plausible and completely desirable!  This means pointing out  best practice in the field (see Practices that Matter) and pointing out examples of effective foundations that have streamlined successfully.

More than anything, Streamlining Champions need to be in it for the long haul. Making changes to grantmaking practice takes time and perseverance and involves getting people to change long-standing practices and (sometimes) assumptions. Take a look at the next section to learn more about Making Streamlining Stick.