By Gwenn Gebhard, Luther I. Replogle Foundation
As a foundation, it can be difficult to find ways (beyond making grants) to support our grantees and, at the same time, improve their visibility in their communities and the wider world. With this challenge in mind, the foundation’s board of directors and I developed a two-pronged project inspired by a webinar I attended in September 2016.
The webinar was hosted by Foundant Technologies, a grants management software company (and our foundation’s vendor since 2009), and GuideStar, a nonprofit that manages public data on all nonprofits operating in the United States. Working together, Foundant and GuideStar developed software called GuideStar for Grant Applications to pull information from organizations’ GuideStar profiles into Foundant grant processes through web-based links. Keep in mind: Using GuideStar for Grant Applications requires nonprofits to complete their GuideStar profiles, funders to accept the data as a means of populating their grant applications, and software vendors to incorporate the technology into their solutions.
After discovering that only five of our 16 current Washington, DC grantees has developed a GuideStar profile, I decided that assistance could be very useful to them. Further research showed that in Minneapolis, one out of nine of the foundation’s grantees has a GuideStar profile. The story is slightly different in Chicago, where four out of six of our grantees has a GuideStar profile. None of our grantees anywhere has a Platinum profile, and only a few have Gold.
During their November 2016 board meeting, the Replogle Foundation’s directors approved a capacity building project that we believe will help our grantees. As background, we tend to focus our grantmaking on small organizations with budgets under $1.5 million. These are primarily grassroots-level nonprofits working to improve life opportunities for youth and families living in the inner city in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Washington, DC. Most of our grants range between $5,000 and $10,000.
Part A started with a $3,500 grant to GuideStar to work with the foundation’s grantees to update their GuideStar Nonprofit Profiles. Following an invitation email from me introducing the project and a follow-up email from GuideStar with more specifics, all 16 Washington, DC grantees attended our first GuideStar workshop on the morning of March 1. There was no dollar cost for grantees to attend the program, and most were excited by the opportunity. A few, cautious due to concerns that they didn’t have the bandwidth to devote to the exercise, did recruit volunteers in the end.
In the 2.5-hour hands-on session, eight nonprofits raised their profile to Silver or Gold. One raised it to Bronze. GuideStar is continuing to work with the other eight to bring them up to Silver or Gold level. By upgrading their GuideStar profile, each grantee will have more visibility and demonstrate greater transparency, making their organization more attractive to grantmakers across the nation. One thing we learned is that simply entering information into the GuideStar system is not enough—the grantee needs to be reminded to click on the SUBMIT button!
Part B of our project involved requesting assistance from my Foundant client manager to update the Replogle Foundation’s application processes. In this way, we could make use of the links set up by Foundant Technologies and GuideStar so that grantee information in the GuideStar profile would auto-populate sections of the foundation’s various application forms—the LOI, the application, the progress report, and the request for renewal. The idea is that pieces of data—such as mission statement, organizational history, and financial information—can be pulled from the GuideStar profile and inserted automatically into the Replogle Foundation’s forms simply by clicking on a link located within the online forms. This type of streamlining would save the applicant both effort and time. I completed the update of our application processes by the end of March 2017.
Our next step is to develop and carry out our plans to work with the Replogle Foundation’s grantees in Chicago and Minneapolis, and to follow-up with grantees to determine if their efforts made a positive difference in their fundraising efforts.
Gwenn Gebhard is executive director of the Luther I. Replogle Foundation. During the past 15 years, she has kept the foundation on the leading edge of the use of computer technology and was an early adopter of online grants management.