How to Streamline Your Grant Management Process with Technology
Receiving requests for funding can be both a crucial and frustrating part of being a grantmaking organization. You want applications from organizations that align to your mission, but the frequency of the requests can easily bog down your processes if you aren’t careful.
To avoid overwhelming your team, standardize how you receive and process grant applications at your organization. Having a predictable and consistent grant cycle will ensure your team members are able to evaluate each request efficiently and effectively.
Here are a few things you can expect for each step of the grant management process, including some best practices on how to ensure the entire cycle works smoothly and effectively.
First stop: Configuration
The first step is to define some clear terms for your grant cycle: What different types of grants do you receive? And what is the workflow once an application is received?
Your team should start by listing which grant types your organization uses and then program them into your grantmaking system. Some examples could include cash, scholarships, or in-kind requests. Once your admin builds those grant types into the configuration of your system, team members will be able to catalogue each request you receive.
Your admin should also be able to catalogue what tasks need to be completed for each application and plug these milestone steps into your system configuration as request statuses. Statuses will help you know which task needs to be performed next for the request under review. Teams can even build statuses that are specific to grant types. Here are some examples of potential Grant Types and Statuses:
- Cash Request Pending: Initial review
- Cash Request Pending: Final review
- Cash Request Approved: Communication not sent
- Cash Request Approved: Communication sent
- In Kind Request Approved: Payment in process
- In Kind Request Approved: Payment complete
- Cash Request Declined: Communication sent
- Cash Request Declined: Communication not sent
Your team also needs to make some decisions about the application window. How long is it? Are there regular deadlines? And how will you communicate with your applicants during and after the application window? Include this information on your organization’s website, in communications to the applicants, and choose specific settings on your form. Products like Blackbaud Grantmaking include Online Applications tools that enable grantmakers to customize their own application portals with unique data entry, attachment requirements, and deadlines. Applicants will then be able to electronically submit those applications to your grantmaking organization—meaning no paper applications to sort through—and the information is integrated into your grant management CRM.
Now that requests have been submitted, it’s time for your team to evaluate and make a decision. It is critical to have a clear process for how your team reviews those applications, especially if there are a lot. Will several teams review the requests? Do you have outside reviewers leaving feedback? Some grant management systems have a reviewer’s portal, which provides users outside of your immediate team access to requests so that they can offer their feedback. Admins can configure exactly what type of evaluations reviewers can offer, including numeric scales, letter grades, or even answering specific questions. Once your team has received those reviewers’ feedback, they will be in a great position to consider each request before approving or declining
You may have team members who want to analyze requests by saving or printing out a PDF the application. Look for tools in your grant management system that provide customizable templates admins can configure, allowing users to save PDF reports detailing critical information about requests and the organizations making those requests. In Blackbaud Grantmaking, it’s called the “Write Up” tool. This provides a detailed paper trail of request information to help teams make their decisions and collaborate.
Once everyone has reviewed the applications, take advantage of in-system reporting options to review feedback on pending requests. Bring these reports to your decision meetings as a reference. Once you come to a decision, make sure to adjust the request to “approved” or “declined” and include details on how you came to that decision. Blackbaud’s Grantmaking tool also enables users to build a list of requests and approve or decline them all at once. And don’t forget to adjust an application’s status field during this phase, letting everyone know where that request is in your team’s workflow.
Communication of Decision
The decision may be made but the work is not yet done. It’s time to communicate the approval or declination to grantees. This could be by phone, letter, or email. Use templates when possible so that the message is standardized and ready for each grant cycle. Not only do they provide consistency, but you also have the flexibility to modify templates when necessary. Track your communications via activity records. This way, any stakeholder can review all communications that have occurred for a funding request, whether a staff member made a phone call or used generated correspondence from within the system. Remember those request statuses? Time to change them again to the current position of the request.
For the approved requests, you’ll want to establish a payment plan and expectation. Likely your organization has a set method for distributing funds, whether that’s by wire transfer or sending checks. To monitor the payment progress, build dashboards or reports to understand grant balances.
Grant Management Beyond Approval
Before or even during payment distribution, you may still have some expectations of the grantee. It’s common to require approved organizations to send in reports or other follow up materials. Look for ways in your grant management tool to set up requirement records. In Blackbaud Grantmaking, you can continue to use the Grantee Portal to collect all requirements digitally.
That’s a Wrap
You’ve nailed down your process. You’ve tried it for several cycles and found that it’s worked. Document your steps to create consistency in your grant cycles and break down knowledge silos—everyone knows what the process should look like. This future-proofs your organization through potential staff turnover. Just rinse and repeat.
Looking for a grant management system that supports your grant cycle instead of causing you to create more workarounds? Check out the grant management system scorecard to help you identify the features that make the most sense for your organization.
Blackbaud University Instructor Henry Wiencek also contributed to this article.