Rightsizing Time Burden on Grant Partners

by Vanessa Rivera, Intentional Philanthropy

We understand funders are busy allocating grant dollars to the community and grant partners are also busy focusing on their mission. Because time is a limited, valuable resource, many foundations are taking innovative approaches to right-sizing the time burden to their grant partners, while others are beginning this journey. For those curious about lessening this burden or would like to consider new ways to do so, this article may be a good starting point!

Even with the best intentions, funders’ grantmaking practices can be a burden on a nonprofit’s time and resources. Time spent by the executive director, senior staff, or a development team pursuing funding from foundations is time away from securing other funding or supporting staff or programs. Lessening the time burden on the nonprofits will not only allow time for staff to focus on their program but also align a foundation with the increasingly popular trust-based philanthropy practices. Beyond that, shifting power away from traditional philanthropy can lead to more meaningful partnerships with grantees and open time for grant partners to use funding support to make a meaningful impact in their community.

There are different avenues to consider in lessening the time burden of grant partners. Here are a few ideas to consider on how to show up as a better funder partner.

The grant application process: Foundations must conduct “due diligence” before making a grant commitment. The amount of time nonprofit are asked to put into this vetting process, however, should be proportional to the potential grant amount. For instance, a $5,000 grant that requires a Zoom presentation, a lengthy application, and a long site visit may not be the best use of limited resources for the grant size. In this case, a phone call and a short application might be more appropriate. 

Consider finding a grants management system that is actively working to lessen the time burden for grantees through innovative features, such as allowing grantees to auto-populate previous grant information into the current application as seen on Temelio’s platform. For more tips on how to build less onerous and more equitable applications, read this blog post, Pro Tips on Building a Grant Application. 

Likelihood of grant commitment: Similarly, please do not ask nonprofits to complete a lengthy application if they are unlikely to receive a grant. One way to decrease the time burden for foundations  and nonprofits interested in applying for funding is to create an opportunity for prospective grantees to submit a letter of intent (LOI). The LOI is a brief summary of the organization or project for a foundation to review in consideration of inviting them to submit a full application. It can also be as simple as a brief survey embedded on a website that collects highlights of their mission and programming or an eligibility quiz set up in Temelio. Many funders find that a brief LOI or eligibility quiz decreases the volume of misaligned or unsolicited inquiries they receive because these methods are transparent about the foundation’s priority funding areas. Many would-be applicants will self-screen upon realizing they would not be a good fit.

Capacity of grant partners: While all nonprofits need to fundraise, not all fundraising teams look similar across organizations. Larger nonprofits tend to have a robust development team – with dedicated grant writers, accounting staff, and officers – with the capacity to produce refined, lengthy applications. On the other hand, smaller organizations, especially those led by people of color who receive 8% of philanthropic dollars, may have much smaller departments for fundraising efforts. Often, an executive director is the one writing grants, producing financial reports, and cultivating funding relationships, all while also leading the organization. Be mindful of what smaller nonprofits are asked to do and be open to allowing for deadline extensions, accepting reports submitted to other funders, or approving applications that are not as polished as the ones created by larger organizations.

Site Visits: Visiting an organization and its programs is a great way to gain insights into how grantees operate and work with their communities. At the same time, for nonprofits, site visits can be time-consuming in coordinating a full agenda for the funders to enjoy. Many organizations feel obliged to ask program staff or participants to step away from their work to share their personal experiences with the program.  When requesting a site visit, share the purpose for the visit, questions up-front, and the type of programming or operations that would be most illuminating to observe – like a brief tour of a newly constructed kitchen or sitting in an after-school program. Let them know if special accommodations like refreshments or curated panels are not required and ask if they have the capacity to host a visit without disrupting the day-to-day of the staff and program participants. Instead of site visits, be open to different ways to get a feel for an organization through videos, webinars, written submissions from participants, or attending larger, planned events. 

Foundations best understand their organization and its key decision-makers. By anticipating the need to make informed grant decisions, funders can find ways to lessen the time burden on applicants that still yield all of the needed information with the added benefit of fostering positive relationships with grant partners who will surely notice and appreciate the intention. A foundation can serve as a good grant partner in several ways – all is needed is to take the first step!

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