2015-06-30 board of directors

Why Grantmaking Boards Should Love Streamlining

Does your board care about streamlining? Does your board know about streamlining? Most trustees – unless they are involved in the daily work of grantmaking – keep their distance from the day to day mechanics of grantmaking requirements. But boards don’t need to get down in the weeds to care about streamlining – and there are good reasons to help your board understand why streamlining matters.

  1. What the board cares about sets the tone.  Board-level decisions about your organization’s strategic direction and grantmaking policies set the tone for everything that goes on. So, if a board cares about being a great community partner, staff are more likely to feel supported or even pushed to keep things simple, look for ways to communicate more effectively, and reduce application and reporting burden. When a board cares about learning to have greater impact, staff are compelled to think about how to track, use, and share data. And when a board cares about stewardship, staff will focus on careful due-diligence and making sure that internal processes and external requirements are efficient and cost-effective.
    • Ask your board: What do we care about most? What do we want to be known for?
  1. The board is the place to discuss alignment between values and practices.  Most funder boards care about community relationships, learning, impact, and stewardship. And yet, their values don’t always translate into a sensible and streamlined grantmaking process that uses data to improve its effectiveness. How can that be?  Boards don’t always take the time to articulate or revisit the foundation’s values and look carefully at how those values play out in practice. When they do, they are often more open to streamlining ideas, such as using a letter of inquiry to filter out unlikely applicants or revising reporting guidelines to ask only questions that provide information that will be used.
    • Ask your board: Do our practices line up with our values? 
  1. Streamlining makes time for the important stuff. Boards often don’t see the burden of grantmaking, so might not realize that your process creates challenges for staff and grantseekers. When they do experience the fruits of a burdensome process – giant binders, redundant applications questions, and convoluted budget templates – they may not realize that there could be another way to do it. After all, this isn’t their day job. A conversation about streamlining can begin as a conversation about what information your board thinks is most useful and important. You may find – especially if you ask board members individually – that they have strong feelings on this topic.
    • Ask your board: What information is most important to you for decision-making? What seems less important to you? What else would you like to know from grantseekers or grantees?

When funder boards resist the idea of streamlining, they may be concerned that changing or reducing requirements could mean less information for careful decision-making. Or, they may feel – as one trustee expressed to me – that “nonprofits should have to work hard to get our money.” It’s up to staff to show boards that streamlining isn’t about making things easier (that’s often just a happy byproduct).

Boards are interested in having impact in the community or issue areas they care about, and streamlining helps make sure that boards spend their precious hours hearing from grantees and focusing on increasing your organization’s impact. Streamlining is about creating the most useful and meaningful process possible that makes best use of everyone’s time and resources.

For advice on making the case for streamlining to your board, check out “What’s In It For Us? Convincing Your Board to Streamline.”

For guidance as to what to tackle first, check out the five Practices that Matter.

 

 

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.