EARLY analysis of the latest Grants in Australia 2017 research study, commissioned by the AIGM's Innovation Lab shows there are plenty of things you can do right now to improve your grants process.From slashing the number of applications that are left incomplete, to adding core grants to your arsenal, many of the actions listed below will be difficult, but we have the evidence to back up the need for this call to action.
The survey, the biggest of its type in Australia, is part of an ongoing research project that charts the development of the field of grantmaking in Australia from the grantseeking community's perspective.
Our Community data scientist Joost van der Linden
This year's survey, the ninth since 2006 and drawing on the views of 1227 grantseekers across the country, has undergone a major overhaul to cement its status as the most comprehensive overview of the grantmaking sector available.
Those changes have been driven by data scientist Joost van der Linden, using improved methods and new programming tools to interrogate survey results gathered over four months to February this year.
"We've always had this data, but these techniques mean we've got much greater value from the information," Mr van der Linden said.
For example, we've been able to examine the large number of grants applications left unfinished and to compare this information across different types of organisations.
The production of this list of top 10 takeaways reflects Our Community's aim of ensuring that the data we collect is not just interesting but useful.
FINDING: Not-for-profit organisations are wasting a huge amount of time on applications that they start but don't submit. A total of 54% of grantseekers we surveyed said they'd started an application in the previous 12 months that they didn't end up submitting. Not all of this is the fault of grantmakers - many grantseekers just ran out of time - but you can play a part in bringing down this rate.
ACTION: Audit your processes to help reduce the number of grantseekers who waste their time starting applications that they don't complete.
• Ensure your program is open for long enough to give grantseekers time to plan and complete the application process. Factor in time they may require for board meetings and approvals.
• Ensure your guidelines are clear, comprehensive, and readily available.
• Insert an eligibility test into the earliest possible phase of your application process.
Read the 2015 edition of GMI devoted to this issue (it includes stats that will help you benchmark yourself against the average for your sector).
FINDING: Grantseekers report that grants for core costs are getting harder to get, despite the reality that not-for-profits can't get by without them.
ACTION: Read our help sheet to find out more about why grants for core costs are so important. If you can't provide grants exclusively for core costs, make sure you allow a portion of your project grants to be used for overhead.
FINDING: Multi-year grants are also getting scarcer, grantseekers report, even though not-for-profits say longer-term funding makes them more effective.
ACTION: Consider whether you could make some or all of your grants longer-term or recurrent. Recurrent funding is among the issues discussed in this AIGM article on program design.
FINDING: More than half our respondents believe that grantmakers are putting more emphasis on outcomes measurement, reporting and evaluation, but only 12% of respondents have received funding specifically for this purpose.
ACTION: If you're asking your grantees to provide evidence of the outcomes of their funded projects, make sure you're also offering to fund it. (While you're at it, read this article and this article on why most charities shouldn't be asked to evaluate their work.)
FINDING: A majority of grantseekers favour electronic online forms (the preference-switch was fully realised around 2013), yet 31% say the forms they most commonly encounter are PDFs or Word-based.
ACTION: Not fully online yet? It's past time to make the shift. SmartyGrants is an off-the-shelf system that uses electronic forms, and there are others too.
FINDING: Our survey uncovered a number of irritants and inefficiencies created by deficiencies in the electronic forms used by some grantmakers.
ACTION: Ensure your forms:
• Allow grantseekers to save their form and return to it later;
• Provide instant acknowledgement that a form has been received;
• Allow users to copy in information from other documents;
• Provide a warning before timing out.
FINDING: Poor form design is hampering not-for-profits' grantseeking efforts.
ACTION: Reconsider the word limits in your forms - they're driving grantseekers nuts - and make sure the forms are logically ordered as well.
The AIGM's 2016 conference included a session that mined grantmakers' knowledge of what makes for a good form. You can read the hotspot report here, while the AIGM's help sheet on application form design is here.
FINDINGS: Not-for-profits are, in the main, cash-strapped and time-poor, and they really hate being asked for information and reports that they suspect are not really needed and never used.
ACTION: Think critically about every piece of information you ask for in every form you administer. Make sure you can explain why you need it, both to yourself, and to your grantees. You might even consider providing this information to grantees right on the form - "we use this information to …").
Read this AIGM article on right-sizing your grants program.
FINDINGS: Large organisations are not just winning large grants, they're scooping up many of the small grants (less than $5000) on offer as well.
ACTION: We're not saying you should rule large grantseekers out of your program (your choice of recipients should be driven by who will best deliver your outcomes), but make sure you're not inadvertently excluding small groups from your program. Read the "hot spot report" from the 2016 Grantmaking in Australia Conference to get some tips on how to make your program more accessible to small and emerging grantseekers.
FINDING: As a field, grantmakers are doing a terrible job of providing feedback to unsuccessful grantseekers. This should come as no surprise - this finding has been coming up as a top irritant for grantseekers since our survey began in 2006.
ACTION: If you think you're a high performer in this area, let the AIGM know how you do it so we can spread the good word. Log on to the AIGM forum and add to the thread.