How to Get Leadership Buy-in for Streamlining Your Grantee Application

As a grants manager, you know how important it is to have a clear and efficient grantee application process. You want to collect the data you need to make informed decisions, support your grantees’ success, and demonstrate your impact. But you also want to respect your grantees’ time and resources and avoid asking them for information that you don’t use or that they have already provided elsewhere.

The challenge isn’t knowing what to do. It’s getting buy-in.

Getting your leadership on board with streamlining your grantee application may require some planning. Your Executive Director, your board of directors, or even your colleagues may have different priorities, preferences, or perspectives on what information you need to collect.

To successfully implement changes to your grantmaking application, you need to communicate the benefits of data-driven and user-centered design to your leadership, tie the benefits to your organization’s overall goals, and involve your leadership in the decision-making process.

Here are some tips to help you convince your stakeholders that streamlining your grantee application is not only good for your grantees, but also for your organization.

Gather Data on Your Current Application

Before you present your suggestions to your leadership, have the data on your current application ready. This will help you identify areas that need improvement and the benefits of streamlining your application. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How long does it take for your grantees to fill out your application? If you have a trusted group of grantees, you can ask them to estimate the time they spend on your application or provide feedback on which part of the application takes the longest. Or you can track the time it takes you to fill out the form, either with sample data or by trying to collect similar data from your own systems.
  • How are you using each piece of data you collect from your grantees? Do you analyze it, report it, or share it with your stakeholders? Do you use it to inform your decisions, evaluate your outcomes, or improve your practices? If you are not using some of the data you collect, consider whether you really need it.
  • What feedback have you received from your grantees about your application process? Collect and review any qualitative feedback you’ve received from applicants in the past. Consider anonymizing the comments before you share them to minimize any unintended bias.

You can ask your grantees for feedback through surveys, interviews, focus groups, or informal conversations. You can also look at the response rates, completion rates, and error rates of your application to see if there are any issues or challenges. Are organizations of a certain size more likely to abandon an application or submit it late, for example. That might be a sign that your form might require more time than a small staff can afford.

Also, consider how long it’s been since you last updated your application. If your application has not changed in more than three years, it may not reflect your current goals, strategies, or priorities. It may also not align with the latest trends and best practices in philanthropy.

Highlight Trends in Philanthropy

Even if your organization isn’t ready to fully embrace trends like trust-based philanthropy, they should be aware of the impact these trends have on your grantees and your sector. Here are some trends and factors that may influence your grantees’ expectations and experiences:

  • Staffing shortages: Many nonprofits are facing staff turnover, burnout, or open positions due to economic, medical, environmental and other challenges. This means that they may have less capacity and resources to devote to your application.
  • Growth of funding opportunities: There are more sources of funding available for nonprofits, such as peer-to-peer fundraising, crowdfunding, corporate giving, and donor-advised funds. This means that they may have more options and choices when it comes to applying for grants.
  • Technology adoption: More nonprofits are using technology to manage their operations, communicate with their stakeholders, and deliver their services. This means that they may expect your application to be accessible, user-friendly, and compatible with their systems.

Knowing what’s happening in philanthropy helps you understand the expectations of grantees based on the other funding opportunities they are applying for. With this information, you can decide which pieces make the most sense for you to incorporate, and which trends you should be watching.

Align the Change with Leadership Goals

Just because your grantees haven’t said anything about an onerous application and reporting process doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling it. In fact, many grantees may be reluctant to share their feedback or concerns with you, due to the power imbalance that exists between funders and nonprofits. That’s why it’s your responsibility to advocate for your grantees and show your leadership how streamlining your application can benefit your organization as well.

To do this, you need to understand how these changes fit into your organization’s larger goals and strategy. For example:

  • Does your application represent your mission? If your organization values equity, diversity, inclusion, or innovation, does your application reflect that? Does it ask for information that is relevant, respectful, and inclusive of your grantees’ identities, cultures, and contexts?
  • Does your application align with your vision? Does it ask for information that helps you measure your progress, evaluate your impact, or learn from your failures?
  • Does your application match your values? If your organization has a set of values that guide your work, does your application embody that? Does it ask for information that builds trust, fosters collaboration, or encourages learning?

By aligning the change with your leadership goals, you can show them that streamlining your application is not just a nice-to-have, but a must-have for your organization’s success and sustainability.

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Suggest Small Steps that Lead to Larger Change

Change can be difficult for leaders when the processes you’ve used have worked for a long time. But you don’t have to overhaul your entire application at once. You can suggest small steps and test them with your grantees and your colleagues.

Here are some examples of small steps you can take:

  • Pull information from other sources, such as Candid or your CRM, instead of asking for it each time. For example, you can use the IRS Form 990 or the GuideStar profile to get basic information about your grantees, such as their mission, budget, staff, and board.
  • Use logic to provide a shorter application for returning applicants or grantees under a certain size. For example, you can use conditional questions or branching logic to skip or hide questions that are not applicable or relevant for certain grantees, such as those organizations that have already received funding from you or have a small budget.
  • Limit mid-cycle reporting to a phone call with the program manager. For example, you can replace lengthy written reports with a simple check-in call with your grantees, where you can ask them how they are doing, what challenges they are facing, and what support they need from you.

By suggesting small steps that lead to larger change, you can show your leadership that streamlining your application is not a radical or risky move, but a gradual and iterative process that can be adjusted and improved along the way. And you can provide data throughout the grant cycle so you can be clear on what’s working and what isn’t.

Create a Compelling Case for Streamlining Your Application

Streamlining your grantee application is not only good for your grantees. It is also good for your organization. It can help you save time and money, foster trust and transparency, increase impact and innovation, and support learning and improvement.

However, getting your leadership buy-in for streamlining your application can be challenging. You need to gather data on your current application, highlight trends in philanthropy, align the change with your leadership goals, and suggest small steps that lead to larger change. By following these tips, you can make a compelling case for streamlining your application and improving your grantmaking process.

Sometimes, streamlining your application means taking advantage of all the functionality in your grant management system. Learn more about how Blackbaud Grantmaking is working to improve our applicant experience with our webinar, The Path to Centering the Applicant Experience.