Reducing the Burden on Our Grantseekers and Ourselves

By Dr. Stacy Van Gorp, R. J. McElroy Trust

Our goal is to make the McElroy Trust the easiest place to seek funding for good ideas. It’s not the easiest place to get a “yes,” because we see a lot of proposals, ask hard questions, and have high standards. But we try to never make a grantseeker jump through hoops.

I estimate that changes we have made in recent years to streamline our grant application and reporting process save our grantseekers (in total) about 840 hours each year, increase our net grant size—the dollars received after subtracting the cost of applying for and reporting on a grant, and save time for our staff and board.

Our changes were driven by several factors:

  1. Our approval rate moved from about 6/10 approved proposals in 2005 to 3/10 during the depth of the recession in 2009.
  2. Our trustees were interested in ways to enhance our support of youth-serving organizations, even as our assets had decreased.
  3. For a few years we asked our applicants how long it took to apply. The average response was 10 hours for a 4- to 6-page application. Time spent writing our application ranged from one hour to 80 hours! We discovered there was no relationship between the amount of time spent and our decision to fund. People who spent more time writing were no more or less likely to be approved.
  4. I was ready for change internally. We had been using staff time to summarize proposals for the board, which seemed cumbersome for us and the seekers.
  5. We were also asking questions we knew the answers to! For example, we asked the Boys and Girls Club to describe its mission and organization every year, even though we had funded them several times.

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Grantmaking by Conversation Not Proposal—Could You?

Earlier this month, Project Streamline’s lead consultant, Jessica Bearman, talked with ASF members June Wilson and Lenore Hanisch of the Quixote Foundation about the small foundation’s unique style of grantmaking and the values that underlie it—a grantmaking program that includes conversations in lieu of proposals and “Bright Spots” funding, in which they sent unanticipated, unrequested grants with no strings attached to organizations doing work they believed in.

One of our core values is standing shoulder to shoulder. This is why we don’t accept proposals. When we see something interesting, we have conversations with the people who are behind it. We are trying to achieve our mission of free people in fair societies on a healthy planet… and our grantees are the ones doing this important work. We think the best way to do it is for the grantee to lead and we try to learn and share what we know.

When we say partnership, we really mean it.

Do you have—or do you want to cultivate—relationships with grantees that allow you to give in this way?

Read the full post on Project Streamline’s blog.

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Streamlining Our Grant Process

By Gail Vento, Lana Vento Charitable Trust

streamliningLana Vento Charitable Trust (LVCT) recently tailored its grant process to fit a local theater’s organizational capacity and reflect the size of its grant. Read about the steps it took to minimize the theater’s paperwork and maximize its time spent on programs.

For the past 7 years, Lana Vento Charitable Trust (LVCT) awarded Pistarckle Theater program-specific grants. Pistarckle is a small nonprofit theater that provides educational programs to youths in addition to running a regular performance program. It is a relatively small organization with an operating and program budget of $330K.

Initially Pistarckle was asked to submit a complete grant application, but, during the grant evaluation process, it became evident that Pistarckle is truly a grassroots program with few staff, none dedicated to grantwriting.

LVCT saw the need to minimize the theater’s time spent gathering paperwork and maximize its time spent on programs. In an effort to do so, and only after establishing a healthy grantmaking relationship, our application process was streamlined in the following ways.

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