superhero kid

Streamlining Champions Save the Day (and the Dollars)

Streamlined grantmaking doesn’t just happen! It often takes a concerted personal crusade by a streamlining champion (or champions). How do you know if you’re 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 to be better.
  • 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.

When they wear their street clothes, streamlining champions often look like normal, everyday grantmakers.  In our Practices that Matter research, we learned that mild-mannered grants managers are often in this role — and that makes sense, because they are the ones who are responsible for taking in and managing all the requirements. But many different people within an organization can champion streamlining.

streamlining champions

Like any superhero, streamlining champions don’t have an easy path.  They need to vanquish enemies—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 folks). Project Streamline’s Making Streamlining Stick (PDF) guide has good advice about building support for streamlining.

2. Show the Issue:  We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Grantmakers don’t get a lot of honest feedback about their practices.  So a streamlining champion’s first task is often to build a feeling of urgency around change. How to do it?  Well, you need to understand and communicate two things:

  1. The impact of current practice on grantseekers/grantees: this can be accomplished through an anonymous survey, a third-party assessment such as CEP’s Grantee Perception Survey, or some other way of gathering data anonymously and candidly.
  2. The drawbacks of current practice for your organization: many grantmakers haven’t mapped their current systems for grantmaking. Do you know how much time ($$) it takes for your organization to make a grant? Have you dissected your requirements to understand what information is actually used, versus collected “just because”?  What kinds of ideas do your colleagues have for improving your grantmaking?   Project Streamline and CEP collaborated to create a free online Self-Assessment tool, [link no longer active] and you can use it to benchmark your practices against those of your colleagues!

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 finding examples of effective foundations that have streamlined successfully.

In the next six months, Project Streamline will be developing a Champions’ Toolkit to provide all the gadgets and gizmos (think Batman!) to help Streamlining Champions make headway. We’d love to hear from you!

  • What strategies, tools, or tricks have YOU used to move streamlining forward in your organization?
  • What else would help you make progress?

Comment here, or email us! 

Jessica Bearman

Jessica Bearman works with foundations and other mission-based organizations, focusing on organization development, facilitation, and R&D to help them become more intentional, effective, and responsive to the communities that they serve. She is also known as Dr. Streamline. Follow her on Twitter @jbearwoman.