The benefits of digital grantmaking
When it comes to using digital tools to get smart about managing grants, using an online application process is a small piece of the grant making jigsaw. Many organisations have online forms, but behind the scenes day-to-day of grant administration is still undertaken via a mountain of paperwork, a group inbox and a shared folder full of multiple versions of excel spreadsheets. I call this model of grant management ‘The Swan’ (serene on the surface, but paddling like mad underneath). I find myself both frustrated and excited to come across a Swan. I feel the frustration at the time taken up just maintaining an accurate record of everything Grants Officers have to do – let alone actually doing anything. But I also share a grant panel’s belief and optimism that ‘surely it should be easy to pull those figures together’.
As I manage four very different grant programmes, I am really excited by the benefits of going to a fully digital service not least the ease of use, but to improve the experience and make it more efficient for grantees, funders and administrators alike.
1. Intelligent forms: no more duff applications
Clever forms can stop applicants wasting time completing applications to funds that they are not eligible for. Forms can validate answers so that reviewers do not have to pore over budgets that do not make sense and they can use logic to branch and ask applicants relevant questions. For an applicant, this is much more user-friendly, because they aren’t distracted by questions that aren’t relevant or confused by generic instructions and guidance. This can actually raise the quality of applications because you can be more targeted in your questions, and consequently applicants are more succinct and direct in their answers – giving you the information you really need. By displaying relevant instructions and tips, guidance is much more likely to be read and followed!
2. Robust assessment: freedom to concentrate on content and quality not coordination
Applications can go through an eligibility screening and/or bespoke scoring process. Our system captures comments, conditions and decisions, and can generate panel packs, review documents, score sheets and summaries and excel exports into templates with minimum effort.
This is all tracked and managed online and is a painless process for reviewers. We can customise what information is displayed, in what order, with associated guidance and direction. As the system is always up-to-date with the most recent activity, reviewers can score little and often, workloads can be shared across a team, with individuals able to access and score the same application simultaneously. We can also apply weightings to assessment criteria, or apply ‘z-scores’ and ‘confidence weightings’ as well as record conflicts of interest – all without adding complexity or time to administration.
This means that Grant Officers are freed up to analyse fund metrics and provide insights – such as what is the profile of applicants, are they scoring similarly in the review process, or are there emerging patterns in the strengths and weaknesses of applicant subgroups? Useful intelligence if you are trying to make sure you are reaching the right audience.
3. Tailored offers: diversity without complexity
It is easy to allocate, manage and update conditions and deadlines for each applicant. This helps to respond flexibly to individual project’s circumstances. Any conditions and deadlines are automatically reflected in the offer letters, grant agreements and emails that Grant Officers can generate directly from the system. Documentation is associated with each applicant’s record, along with notes and comments left by Grant Officers. All this makes it easy for anyone in the team to understand what is going on – meaning that the world does not stop when Grant Officers go on leave and the auditor is kept happy (well, as much as they can be!).
4. Painless, accurate and timely monitoring
We can create online monitoring forms linked to the original application form. Applicants can update you on their progress and expenditure against the project’s milestones, activities and targets; See at a glance who’s late, when you last nagged them, who has a good excuse and who has now earned a ‘grumpy email’. Applicants can view (but not change) previous submissions, see what deadlines are coming up and initiate their own monitoring. As with all online forms, they can start and return to a form later, and you can check on their progress so far.
All in all, this helps ensure that your resources are supporting individual projects to realise their objectives and that your overall programme is on track to achieve its objectives.
5. Robust disbursement: Giving money made easy
Individual payments can be scheduled, approved and recorded in the system. Applicants and officers can see at a project level what has been requested, awarded, claimed and paid – and, if applicable, what milestones and activities these monies relate to. The system aggregates this information into a dashboard with an easy to view fund summary or allows you to dive into the detail of payment records, at a fund, grant or applicant level (all of which can be exported into Excel).
All this streamlines and simplifies disbursement for all parties – allowing payments to be made quickly, and makes the ‘giving of money’ as easy as it should be. The system can also manage funds with awards of a fixed amount, or with a non-monetary value such as capacity building support or awards.
6. Applicant experience: focus on support not compliance
Less administration means that Grant Officers can focus their time on the content and quality of their interactions with projects, concentrating on addressing needs and supporting outcomes rather than wholly on compliance. Whilst all the administration is online and virtual – in practice our experience is that working relationships become stronger, and we are available to provide more and better support by phone and in person. We can also help individuals who need more specific help with a disability or language need.
Applicants are appreciating this more personalised experience, alongside the ‘one stop shop’ for information, with the ability to log in to view the status of their application or monitoring and to view or print copies of past submissions. We have more visibility and control over the information that is being submitted than ever before – so there are more ‘right first time’ submissions reducing the need for clarifications and corrections.
And its not just me who is saying this:
I have said it already and I will say it again – by far the best funding project we have been a part of with regards to application, set up, monitoring and evaluation!!!
Jess Hall, Senior Dance Development Officer, Saracens Sport Foundation and recipient of FreeSport funding administered by Rocket Science through our digital grants platform.
Rocket Science working with Flexigrant provides digital grants tools and services to our clients, ranging from the digital management of entire funds to the provision of specific functionality such as assessments to support in-house management of discrete elements of the grant process. To find out more contact John Griffiths or Anna Spinks.