Need a New Grant Management System? 5 Tips for Selecting the Best GMS for Your Foundation

Changing a core piece of software at your grantmaking organization is no picnic. But inertia is not an option when your grant programs outgrow your current solution, or your vendor sunsets the software you use, like Salesforce is doing with their grant management software, FoundationConnect.

If it’s time for you to start looking for a new grant management system, use this opportunity to evaluate your processes, figure out what needs to change, and find a solution that can grow with your organization. Here are five tips to help you make the best decision for your grantmaking processes.

1. Understand Your Current Grantmaking Processes

Take this opportunity to audit your current grantmaking processes and see what’s working—and what needs to be updated. This includes reviewing your process documentation or creating it if necessary.

Work with your team to review and document each of your funding programs, including the number of grantees, timelines, and applications for each. Make sure you have consistent communication processes for both declined funding requests as well as grantees. Understand your current review process and if it varies based on the funding program. Include who is involved in those application reviews and how decisions are made.

It’s also important to understand how you determine success for your current grant programs. Document your reporting requirements, both internal to your leadership and board as well as what reports you require from your grantees. What reports do you pull regularly? Is there a report you’d like to see but don’t have the capability?

It never hurts to get a little outside feedback on your processes. Ask a few trusted grantees for feedback on how the process could be better.

2. Identify What You Need Short-Term

By reviewing and documenting your processes, you now have a clear picture of your non-negotiables for a new grant management system. Decide what functionality and capabilities are required to support your current grant programs and the needs of your staff. These may be features in your current GMS that you use regularly, or they may be gaps that you want to fill.

Here are a couple common features that may be on your list:

  • CRM capabilities: Manage all your contacts in the same place you manage your grant programs.
  • Simple review process: A convenient portal to collect and review your applications, for both internal and external reviewers
  • Flexible application: The ability to make your applications specific to your brand and to your funding programs
  • At-a-glance dashboards: Quick and easy access to information on your grant programs so you can make informed decisions
  • Intuitive user interface: A simple system that doesn’t require a lot of technical expertise or training to manage your grant programs

Keep your list of must-have functionality handy as you start reviewing grant management software. If a system doesn’t have one of these, or it requires a workaround, it’s a non-starter.

3. Plan for What You Need Long-Term

Your grant programs are probably different from where they were five years ago, and they will likely be different five years from now. You will likely find new ways of reaching your community, better ways of determining success, and more opportunities for incorporating feedback.

As you look at your grant management software options, you want to include your future goals as well as your current processes. Run trend reports and look at your organization’s strategic plan to see how your grant processes are likely to change over the coming years.

Here are a few features you might consider when looking at your long-term grant management goals:

  • Ability to work with other systems: Look for open APIs to help your GMS pass information to other systems, such as your fundraising or document management systems. Also look for ways your system can tap into repositories such as Candid to simplify your application process.
  • Configurable system that grows with you: In the next few years, are you planning to add more funding programs? Will you make the shift from internal reviewers for your application to tapping people from outside your organization? Make sure you know what that will look like for your GMS, even if you aren’t ready for those features yet.
  • Reporting tools to help you forecast: Your GMS dashboards and reporting tools should help you identify any gaps in reaching your target community and help you plan to address them. As you are planning your move to a new system, think through what information you would like to have that you aren’t getting now.

These features may not be non-negotiables for a new system, but make sure you understand how the software can help you reach these goals when you are ready.

Check out our guide for helping you make a plan for the future of your grantmaking.

4. Establish a Timeline for Moving to New Grant Management Software

Creating a timeline will help you decide how quickly you need to move toward a new GMS. Understand when the change needs to happen—before a key grant cycle or when your current system is officially sunsetted—and work backward.

As part of the timeline, identify the decision makers and the project manager for this initiative. Do you have someone who can jump into the project, or do you need to bring someone up to speed? This also includes getting buy-in from your leadership and board. Do you need to present your case or just the final costs, and does that need to be at a board meeting, or can that be done via email?

Also, allot time for configuration and implementation. Getting your data into your new system and getting everyone training can take several weeks, not including the time it takes to prepare your data to be transferred.

Has it been a while since you last did a grant management system implementation? Check out our guide for a smooth GMS implementation.

5. Find a Grant Management System That Works for You Now—and in the Future

Now that you have your functionality identified and timeline mapped out, you are ready to dig into the different systems available. Do your research to find a solution that has the functionality to support your funding programs as they are currently, and as you want them to be in the next few years.

In addition to internet searches, reach out to user groups and peer foundations who are where you want your organization to be in three to five years. Start with a long list of options and start visiting websites to see which ones look like the best fit. Check out review sites to make sure organizations like you appear to be happy with the product.

Once you’ve narrowed your list down to a few vendors, contact each one for a live demo. As you talk to their salespeople and product experts, don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, like the priorities on their road map or any concerns you heard when talking with peers.

And most importantly, be clear about your needs. You’ll have better conversations with the vendors, and you are more likely to get what works best for your organization.

Blackbaud Grantmaking: Grant Management Software That Grows with You

Switching your grant management solution takes time and resources. You don’t want to have to do this every two years because your GMS’s functionality stagnated or because it’s too expensive to get the customizations you need to make it work for your programs. With Blackbaud Grantmaking, you get a configurable system where you can add functionality and modules to meet your growing needs.

See how Blackbaud Grantmaking can help your grantmaking organization save time and drive more impact. Check out our latest product tour to get a look at how the system can work for you.