If you have carefully planned all aspects of your application forms and processes, the assessment stage should be relatively straightforward.
You need to plan and document a fair, transparent assessment process that takes into account:
- Who will conduct eligibility checks
- How ineligible applications will be dealt with and by whom
- When applications will be assessed and by whom
- Whether there will be a scoring and ranking system, and how it will be carried out
- How assessments will be recorded.
Correct planning of this phase is crucial in establishing the transparency and objectivity credentials of your grants program.
In some cases, decisions will be made as part of the assessment process, but in many cases decision-making will be a separate stage - the people and processes responsible for shortlisting applications will be different from (or only part of) those responsible for deciding which applicants will receive grants.
Consider the scale of your assessment process. Do you really need a 12-member community assessment panel when your average grant is only $500? Make sure your assessment process is appropriate for the size of your grants program and you could save both your organisation and your applicants a lot of time and effort.
When planning your assessment process, you need to consider:
- Will you carry out an eligibility check first to ensure that only eligible applications are assessed? Who will do this check?
- What is the purpose of the assessment process? - e.g. to shortlist; to rank applications; to make recommendations for funding?
- How long after applications close will assessment start and finish?
- Who will assess applications? Will you establish an assessment centre with trained assessors, or will program staff carry out assessments as part of their normal duties? Will your assessment panel reflect your particular target groups (e.g. farmers, performers, people with disabilities)? How will you select panel members?
- Will your assessment system be paper-based or online (e.g. SmartyGrants)? If both, which format will apply to which part of the process?
- Will applicants have the opportunity to provide a verbal presentation to the assessors? Under what circumstances?
- What methods will you use to rank or shortlist applications? What criteria will you use to assess applications for eligibility and/or desirability? Will you apply weighting?
- Will a percentage of the applications be reassessed and scores compared by a moderator to ensure fairness and consistency?
- How will you guard against conflicts of interest (real or perceived) in the assessment process?
- Who will be responsible for preparing the assessment report?
- What information will be included in the assessment report?
- Will the assessment report include funding recommendations?
- To whom will the assessment report be presented?
- Will the assessment report highlight cut-off points for applications against available grant resources?
- Are your confidentiality and security measures appropriate to the nature and size of your grants program and the requirements of your grantseekers?
Using an online system to collect applications allows you easy access to the information you need for eligibility checks and assessments. SmartyGrants, for example, connects with the government business registration services to automatically gather and display each applicant's business number, as well as providing charitable status where available - meaning you don't need to check these details manually.
Most online systems also store assessments securely as part of the record database, strengthening accountability.