Sharpening the Streamlining Mindset

“You hate to compare funders, but some just make the process insurmountable. Others make the process so easy that you wonder if they are throwing money at you without any thought. With [our funder] you feel they are thoughtful, thorough and diligent throughout the process.” -Anonymous grantee

Inefficient, needless, or outdated application and reporting/evaluation processes undermine funder effectiveness by taking scarce time and money away from mission-related activities. They also throw a monkey wrench into funder-grantee relationships—and CEP research has shown that the strength of funder-grantee relationships is instrumental to funders’ capacity to have positive impact on grantee organizations. Project Streamline is a collaborative initiative of grantmakers and grantseekers that has identified some of the pitfalls of selection and reporting processes, and how to avoid them. The report, Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted from Purpose identifies four principles for streamlining grantmaking processes:

  1. Assess what information is truly needed to make grantmaking decisions.
  2. Ensure that the effort grantseekers expend is proportionate to the size of the grant, appropriate to the type of grant, and takes into consideration any existing relationship with the grantee.
  3. Minimize the amount of time, effort, and money that grantseekers spend getting and administering grants, thereby freeing up more time for mission.
  4. Make communications and grantmaking processes clear and straightforward.

In partnership with Project Streamline and Grants Managers Network, CEP recently announced the launch of the Grantmaker Assessment Tool, a free online self-assessment that enables funders to compare their grantmaking processes to those of other funders, assess how closely their processes align with Project Streamline principles, and determine the costs associated with their grantmaking processes for their organization as well as their grantseekers. After completing a confidential online survey, grantmakers are immediately able to download a 27-page report that depicts their organization’s results as compared to those of other funders. In addition to estimates of the costs of their processes, participants will receive a “streamlining score” for each of the four streamlining principles. The tool is designed to help funders identify opportunities to streamline, and to spark discussions within their organizations. Participants can also return to re-take the assessment to track their organization’s progress over time. Already more than 50 funders have completed the survey—so far, the data is striking. For example, when asked, “How much could your organization decrease the amount of information collected from grantseekers without compromising its ability to make funding decisions?” most funders indicate little opportunity to streamline. However, the report also shows that most funders indicate, for example, that they require repeat grantees to resubmit all application materials, whether or not those materials need to be updated. And the vast majority of funders require grantseekers to submit materials—such as 990s—that are publically available. The report lays bare contradictions like these, pointing funders towards opportunities to reconsider—and possibly reduce—redundancies and unnecessary burdens in their processes. It gives funders detailed, comparative information about their processes in order to spotlight areas for action and advocate for change within their organizations. There is, of course, no one right way to streamline. Funders each need to consider their organization’s strategy, the level of risk they are comfortable with, and the value they aim to get out of their processes. But all funders do have the opportunity to approach their selection and evaluation processes from the streamlining mindset: a mindset that seeks to limit unnecessary burdens and reduce unnecessary costs. When aggregated across the many thousands of grants, nonprofits, and funders, imagine the staggering potential of reduced costs and time saved. Imagine all that time, energy, and money redirected to pursuing mission and impact. Then ask: what could your organization streamline?

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