Resources for Improving Application and Reporting Processes

This post originally appeared on the blog in January 2015, and is re-posted here as part of our Rewind series. This post was part of a Q&A series on the blog, in which readers can submit questions about foundation effectiveness to be answered by CEP staff. We’d love to hear from you with questions related to relationship-building with grantees, grantmaking patterns, assistance beyond the grant, or any other topics related to foundation effectiveness. To submit a question, please email Ethan McCoy, Senior Writer – Development and Communications, at ethanm@cep.org. We will respond to all questions directly, and if we choose to answer your question on the blog, we can withhold your name upon request.

The below question was received from a large family foundation about improving their processes.

Q: We are looking at our grant application and reporting processes with an eye to improve.  We’re asking ourselves what the Key Performance Indicators ought to be…both for internal evaluation and also to evaluate grantees.  I was wondering if CEP has any research or papers on this topic?

– Name Withheld by Request

A: It’s a fine balance to strike between making sure application and reporting processes are robust and gather the right information you need, while also making it helpful and not too onerous for everyone involved. It’s a challenge that many foundations face.

One report that you may find helpful is Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted from Purpose, from Project Streamline, which has specific suggestions and metrics for foundations to consider. There’s also a free diagnostic assessment they offer. The key recommendations coming out of this report are that these processes need to be slimmed down as much as possible, as they can take away precious time from applicants and grantees.

CEP believes that there’s a healthy tension between slimming down processes while keeping them helpful (to the foundation and to applicants/grantees). Also, these processes are closely connected with your relationships with grantees/applicants, overall. To that end, our guide to Working Well with Grantees has a section on helpful reporting/evaluation processes. A longer report on this topic was done in 2011 called Grantees Report Back: Helpful Reporting and Evaluation. The recommendations are drawn from the data we’ve collected from responses to our grantee survey. Some specific suggestions include assessing the overall relationship with grantees and having a conversation with them about all reports/evaluations if possible (also providing feedback to declined applicants, as well, when declining). We also find that grantees want more discussion with foundation funders about assessing their own performance. Finally, we’ve also published a study on how foundation leaders in general are approaching assessment and KPIs, which may also be of help.

If you’re looking for something more in-depth than the Project Streamline assessment, we regularly see foundations of all sizes and types using specific measures in our Grantee Perception Report as internal KPIs and dashboard metrics on these application and report/evaluation areas. We have also helped foundations do specific benchmarking with a specific cohort of similar funders, investigating their due diligence process – such as time spent, utility of information, and legal requirements.

Answered by Grace Nicolette, Vice President, Programming and External Relations, at CEP. Follow Grace on Twitter at @GraceNicolette.

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