What’s in it for us? Convincing the board to streamline.

Dear Dr. Streamline:

I know that the idea of streamlining to make things easier for our grantees just isn’t going to fly with my board. They feel like they’re already doing a lot to help community organizations by granting them the funds they need—and our application and quarterly reporting requirements are just the necessary hoops. They insist on an open RFP with a full application from everyone who applies. Now they’ve put the system online, but grantees are still complaining to me about the system’s bugs and the complicated budget templates. How can I convince my board that it’s in our foundation’s interest to streamline?

Sincerely yours,

Thwarted ED


Dear Thwarted:

Often foundation boards don’t feel an imperative to streamline. After all, they probably hear nothing but positive feedback about the grantmaking process from grantees, they’re not the ones fielding frustrated questions, and by the time they see applications and reporting information, it’s been neatly packaged by staff.  It can take a deft touch to convince them that change is warranted.  Here are four good reasons for streamlining that might do the trick.

1)  Streamlining benefits foundation staff.
In Project Streamline’s newest report, Practices that Matter, grantmakers told us that – due to streamlining – they could spend more time on things that actually mattered, build better relationships, and get more salient information.  For example, instead of tracking down quarterly reports (let alone trying to read quarterly reports!), you could use that extra time to build relationships through phone check-ins. Instead of spending hours going back and forth with grantees to get their budget into the right categories on your template, you could be helping grantees leverage funding find the right capacity building support.

2) Streamlining benefits your reputation by getting your practices in line with your values.
A grantmakers’ application and reporting practices are often the first—and sometimes the only—thing that a grantseeker or grantee organization experiences as evidence of what you care about, how you see the world, and your orientation toward nonprofit partners.

You might want to have a conversation with your board about how your values and practices line up.  They may believe strongly in supporting nonprofit success, but your application process drains resources from the sector by requiring organizations with little chance of receiving funding to spend valuable hours writing full proposals.  Your board may treasure and trust your grantees, but quarterly reporting requirements say otherwise.  And while you may have every intention of saving grantees time and money by putting your grantmaking system online, if you haven’t user-tested that system, then I can guarantee that you’re introducing more frustration and wasted time into the grantseeking experience.

3) A streamlined process is like giving out more money.
Think of it this way:  your board cares deeply about stewarding the foundation’s resources and making them go as far as possible.  And they care deeply about funding important work.  Streamlining is a bonanza for everyone!  By increasing the net grant, a streamlined process means that grantee time and energy goes to the actual work of the organization—and not toward administrative hassles.

4) Streamlining’s not so scary!
Sometimes, boards just haven’t considered the issues that make streamlining necessary.  And sometimes, they’re just being cautious.  After all, their #1 priority is to keep your foundation in good legal and financial standing!  It’s your job to help them see that streamlining is pretty darned mainstream… not a radical and dangerous maneuver. Help them understand the legal due-diligence requirements (often much less than you think) and what’s legally required for applications and reporting (often nothing at all).  I’m not suggesting that you do away with your grantmaking process… but knowing the legal bottom line might remove the fear-factor, and help you start a conversation about changes that you can make to ease the burden on your organization and the organizations you support.

Project Streamline’s got good resources to help you!

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.