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OVERVIEW: Designing the program and writing the guidelines

Good grantmaking requires a thoughtful, clearly articulated grantmaking policy and clear lines of responsibility.

You need to develop, agree on and share your broad policy framework and operational framework before diving into the detail of your program and processes.

There are many legitimate ways to design a grants program. Some programs take a clinical, business-oriented approach, where the relationship between grantmaker and recipient is mainly transactional. Others take a more developmental, relationship-building, participative approach.

The broad frameworks you develop now will guide the more detailed policy and operational decisions that will follow. The framework that results from completing the work outlined here is intended as an internal high-level document. It provides the basis for the public guidelines for the program.

To build your frameworks, you'll need to consider these questions:

  • Will the program be universal (e.g. open to all organisations) or targeted (e.g. open only to organisations or individuals with particular characteristics)? Why?
  • Will the grants program bring in established organisations or emerging ones, or a combination? What implications will this have?
  • Will the program offer one-off, recurrent or time-limited grants?
  • How many funding rounds will there be; or will you have a rolling application program?
  • Will the application process use competitive tenders/applications or supported submissions/proposals?
  • Where do the responsibilities lie? Who is accountable for decision-making, administration and speaking on behalf of the grants program?
  • What will be the relationship between grant manager and grant recipient - e.g. purchaser-provider or participative partners?
  • Will the program involve national or regional organisations or small, local organisations, or a combination?
  • Will the grants be the sole funding source for grant recipients or will they be expected or permitted to make co-contributions, or put together a portfolio of funding?
  • Will you allow a portion of the funding for overheads? Will you set limits on administration budgets versus project activity budgets?
  • Will grants encourage consortiums/partnerships or will they relate only to a single grant recipient?
  • Will you use objective or subjective criteria to assess applications, or a combination?
  • If the program is statewide or nation-wide, will you assess applications centrally, regionally or locally?
  • What are the broad risks (financial, ethical and reputational) associated with the grants program, for your organisation and others, including grant recipients? What strategies can be put in place to address these risks?
  • How will you evaluate the program? Will the evaluation be summative or formative? Summative evaluations usually look at the outcomes at the end of the program, whereas formative evaluations look at processes as they unfold.

Related templates


SmartyGrants TipSmartyGrants users: It's essential that you're clear about your framework and have mapped out your processes before you start building forms. This will not only save you time and stress when transitioning to online, it will also help you to decide what Stages and Tasks you will need to use in the system. The SmartyGrants sample implementation plan may also be useful.