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What is PhilanTrack for Grant Seekers?

PhilanTrack makes grants management easier for grant seekers. With PhilanTrack, you can:

  • Write grant proposals
  • Track grant awards and funders
  • Prepare post-grant reports

What Is PhilanTrack for Grant Makers?

PhilanTrack makes grants management easier for grant makers. With PhilanTrack, you can:

  • Accept proposals online
  • Manage grant and grantee information
  • Evaluate the impact of your grantmaking

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Grant Management Tools – Assessing Project Streamline


Project Streamline

It's been five years since Project Streamline launched to identify areas for improvement in grantmaking processes and develop principles and tools to support improved practices.  Taking a page from its own book, the initiative is taking stock of its own activities, successes, and areas for improvement.

Earlier this year, Project Streamline conducted a survey of grantmakers and grantseekers to learn how the streamlining principles are being translated into practice, and just released a report detailing the outcomes.

Those who are regular readers of the somewhat irregular posts on this blog will likely know that we at PhilanTech are fans of what Project Streamline is pursuing and promoting.  So we were happy to read about some of the successes of the past five years, and unfortunately not surprised to read about some areas still in need of improvement.

A few key findings:

  • While the majority of the 460 grantmakers who responded to the survey indicated that they were aware of streamlining principles and had put some into practice, the majority of the 300 grantseekers who responded had not seen noticeable improvements with their funders;
  • For each streamlining principle, there is a disconnect between the grantmaker perspective and the grantseeker perspective.  For example, over half of the grantmakers surveyed indicated that they had right-sized either their applications or reports to align the amount of required information with the size of the grant.  But 72% of of grantseekers indicated that applications for small grants were rarely right-sized.
  • Strategic philanthropy and streamlining can be at odds.  Some funders’ approach to more strategic giving has resulted in narrow funding areas and very specific outcome reporting requirements.  Those specific reporting requirements can create additional burdens for grantees.
  • There is an increasing interest in streamlining.  A majority of grantmakers reported that streamlining is more important today than it was five years ago.  And there is little question that grantseekers feel the same way.
  • The benefits of streamlining are significant to both parties – when done correctly.  Grantmakers say staff time can be spent on what matters, grantseekers spend less time on application processes, grantmakers get better data, and both sides benefit from a better relationship.

My main takeaways are threefold:

  • There has been some progress since Project Streamline launched.
  • There needs to be more.  I support Project Steamline’s efforts and look forward the progress it will continue to make as more grantmakers streamline their grantmaking – and involve their grantees in the process.
  • What we’re doing at PhilanTech is important to this effort – we provide tools that help both grantmakers and grantseekers streamline the process so that more grant dollars can be dedicated to program and service delivery, rather than to grant administration.

Request a demo to learn how PhilanTrack can help streamline your grantmaking or grantseeking


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PhilanTech - Best for the World

PhilanTech Best for the World

PhilanTech is honored to have been named "Best for the World" for creating the most overall social and environmental impact.

67 companies worldwide were recognized by the nonprofit B Lab, with the release of the second annual 'Best for the World' list. The B Corp Best for the World List honors businesses that earned an overall score in the top 10% of all Certified B Corporations on the B Impact Assessment, a comprehensive assessment a company's impact on its workers, community, and the environment.   Read the full press release, or articles about the Best for the World companies in BusinessWeek or FastCompany.

So why does this matter to you?  Our values align with yours.  We want to help you be successful in pursuing your own social mission.  And we have the right tools to help.

Does your organization give grants?  Learn more about how PhilanTrack can help you achieve your grantmaking goals.

Does your organization seek grants?  Learn more about how PhilanTrack can help you achieve your grantseeking goals.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket – Grantwriting Tips


Grantwriting eggs in one basket

The upcoming Easter holiday has gotten me thinking about eggs and baskets, and how combining the two – specifically putting all eggs in one basket – can be dangerous, for both grantseekers and grantmakers. 

I suppose I should be writing about Passover symbols, but unleavened bread only makes me think about predictions that grantmaking will be pretty flat this year.  But I digress.

For nonprofits, putting all grantwriting eggs in one basket – and more broadly, putting all fundraising eggs in one basket – can be a serious problem.  A future post will be about grantmakers, and why they should not put all of their eggs in one basket, either.

The notion of eggs and baskets brings to mind an image of an investment portfolio.  Those of us who have been taught about investing (either formally or informally) have been taught to diversify our portfolios, or not to put all of our investment eggs in one basket.  A diversified portfolio mitigates risk by combining different asset classes with different levels of risk and reward.

Simply put, imagine you put all of your money into one stock, the ABC Corporation.  If that stock price goes through the roof overnight, you could become a millionaire.  But if that stock completely tanks, you could lose all of your money instantly.  While a diversified portfolio (combining stocks and other assets like bonds, all with different levels of stability and predictability, and with different potential returns) means you are quite unlikely to become a millionaire overnight, it also means that you’re less likely to go broke overnight.  So a diversified portfolio is a cautious, smart investment strategy for long term stability and returns.

The same is true for fundraising.  Let’s say your organization needs to raise $200,000 from outside sources to support its programs for the year.  You have limited resources, so you need to decide where to invest your fundraising efforts and fundraising dollars.  While many nonprofits don’t think about fundraising this way, any staff time dedicated to fundraising has a cost – both the actual cost of salaries for the amount of time spent fundraising, and an opportunity cost in terms of other activities that cannot be pursued by fundraising staff.  Say there is an online fundraising contest with a top prize of $200,000.  All you need to do is have the most votes at the end of the contest.  If you win, your fundraising for the year is complete, and you’ll be able to deliver all of your programs and services.  All you need to do is win the contest.

If you invest all of your organization’s fundraising resources in that contest and win, that’s great!  It’s like becoming a millionaire overnight.  But how likely are you to win that contest?  And what if you don’t win?  It’s like putting all of your money on that stock that tanks.

Grantwriting is similar.  Some foundations and governments award large grants.  If you write one winning grant proposal for a $200,000 grant, then your organization is set for the year.  But what if you invest a lot of time and resources, and don’t get the grant?  What if, to have enough time to dedicate to writing the perfect proposal for a $200,000 grant, you let opportunities to apply for other, smaller grants pass you by?

Just as the economy impacts individual investing, and decisions investors make, it also impacts the nonprofit sector, and the funds available for nonprofits seeking support.  As many nonprofits are painfully aware, government funding has decreased over the past several years while demand for services has remained steady and has increased in many cases.  For organizations that were overly reliant on government funding, cuts in government support have been disproportionately painful – many organizations have had to cut programs or staff, and some have even been shuttered.

A wise approach to fundraising suggests a diversified portfolio:

  • Overall, grants should comprise one component of your organization’s fundraising, but not at the expense of individual fundraising, fees for service, events, or other fundraising activities that are appropriate for your specific organization and issue area. 
  • Your grantseeking portfolio should be diversified as well:
    • Pursue a combination of smaller and larger grants, ensuring that the total possible value of the grants far exceeds your needs.  If you write $200,000 worth of proposals, and only half of the proposals are funded, you won’t meet your fundraising needs
    • Pursue a combination of government and foundation grants.  If a government grant disappears, diversified nonprofits will still have support from foundations.  It’s not a panacea, but it is better to have some funding (and money in the bank) than none
    • Pursue a combination of levels of government grants, from small local agencies, to state and Federal grants.  Not all levels of government grants will be right for all organizations, so be sure to craft a diversified plan that is right for your organization
    • Pursue a combination of foundation types.  Different types of foundations have different mandates, and their giving patterns can differ when economic conditions or giving priorities change.  Get to know the community foundation in your area, as well as the family foundations and corporate foundations and giving programs that support organizations in your geographic area and issue areas.

A diversified grantwriting portfolio is a wise fundraising strategy. 

What are your tips for creating a diversified fundraising or grantwriting portfolio?  Share them in the comments below.

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Relationships are Key for Foundation Technology Funding


This is a guest post by David Krumlauf

People who work for nonprofit organizations know only too well that they need good technology to be successful. Unfortunately, many foundations don’t quite get it yet. The foundation staff members who review and recommend grants are often confused by what organizations are asking for and why they’d need such a thing.

I’ve been doing IT support and funding for the “Core Grantees” of The Pierce Family Charitable Foundation for over 5 years and have seen how they struggle with their IT needs. I’ve seen the whole range of needs from full network upgrades to just a few minor server tweaks.

If you’re in that group that needs a technology upgrade but are struggling to get those needs funded, here are a few tips to help you be more successful:

  • Create a workable technology plan – You may not have an IT person on staff, but it’s worth finding someone (either a staff member or consultant) to do a network, hardware and software inventory, needs assessment and timeline. The more you know about what you have and what you need, the easier time you’ll have conveying your needs to potential funders. Technology upgrades aren’t always huge requests. Often it’s a matter of training, or minor software and hardware updates. I’ve seen increasing workstation memory, adding a spam filter and reconfiguring existing servers do wonders.  Check out Steve Heye’s blog for some great technology planning resources.
  • Build good relationships with foundations – Get to know the locally-focused family foundations in your area. Be bold! Contact their development staff and ask them to come for a site visit. Once you have them onsite, you can describe your technology challenges and how much better you could fulfill your mission if those were solved.
  • Keep it simple - It’s easy to use tech terms that might be unfamiliar to foundation staff when applying for grants. Use simple, straightforward language that won’t confuse the reader. You won’t get funding if the foundation staff can’t understand what you’re asking for.
  • Be comfortable with the grant reporting requirements - Too often grants come with complex reporting requirements. To build a long-lasting relationship with a foundation, be sure you give them what they’re looking for when they want it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get clarification.
  • Bundle technology requests into program grants - If your program requires staff to be out in the field gathering data, adding a few mobile devices makes a lot of sense. Funders usually understand the need for the proper tools to do the job at hand.
  • Keep grant requests reasonable - Start small, meet the reporting requirements and build up to larger, more complex requests. Use your technology plan to determine what easy, not too costly solution works best for you.
  • Build trust - Once a foundation knows you, your work and sees your progress, larger tech grants will be a lot easier to obtain. Funders love working with grantees that they know will put their grant money to good use and be better prepared to fulfill their mission.
  • Give yourself time - Don’t feel like you have to fix everything all at once. This often creates more problems than good. Give staff the training and time they need to adapt to the changes you implement. “Baby Steps” is a good way to go.

So now you’re primed and ready to go. Don’t be shy about asking for what you need! Funders are always looking for good causes to help and more and more are getting the idea that nonprofits need good tools just like they do.


David Krumlauf

David Krumlauf is an old biology teacher, ISP owner and now Chief Technologist of a private Chicago-based foundation. He lives in a greenbuilt home in NW lower Michigan.

How Being More Empathetic Can Help Nonprofit Grant Writing


Empathy in Business

I attended a really interesting event last night hosted by Arlington Economic Development entitled "Empathy in Business."  The panel discussion, moderated by Jonathan Aberman of Amplifier Ventures, featured Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, the Meyer Foundation's CEO, Julie Rogers, and the President of George Mason University, Angel Cabrera.

I was intrigued by this panel for two reasons:

  • I'm a firm believer in the power of business to help address social issues and inequities
  • There seems to be a common disconnect between business and "touchy feely" terms like empathy, with business terms generally falling in the more intellectual realm, and nonprofit terms generally falling in the more emotional realm.  I was curious to see how "business" and "empathy" would interact.  

Also, the notion of Carly Fiorina and Bill Drayton on the same panel was just intriguing.

The panel definitely didn't disappoint.  It was provocative, but not controversial; all of the panelists agreed that empathy is an essential part of business (and nonprofits, and parenting, and life in general).

A few of my favorite quotes:

  • "Any good business is one that focuses on its enlightened self-interest" - Carly Fiorina
  • "Empathy is the tool that makes business happen. It starts with listening." - Angel Cabrera
  • "Empathy is a cornerstone of what it means to be human." - Julie Rogers
  • "Ask not what your Executive Director can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your executive director." - Julie Rogers.  She was actually wearing a pin with that quote
  • "Empathy based ethics are foundational to our society, including business." - Bill Drayton

My main takeaway from the event is that empathy is a key value in business, even (and maybe particularly) in businesses that do not have an explicit social mission.  If we accept Dr. Cabrera's notion that empathy starts with listening (which all of the panelists seemed to do), then creating a sustainable business -- one that will last and produce value for a long time -- requires starting with empathy.  That means listening to investors, to customers, to employees, to communities -- and using their perspectives to guide business decisions.  It also means not valuing the perspective of investors over all others. 

So what does this all mean for nonprofits and for grant writing?  That nonprofits should be - and are - motivated by empathy is obvious, and probably missing the bigger point.  What does it mean for nonprofits to be more empathetic?

To me, the key word is listening.  To be more empathetic, nonprofits have to listen - to donors, to constituents, to employees, to communities.  What that means for grant writing is two key things:

  • Listen to your funders and prospective funders.  Foundations have missions, too.  They make funding decisions based on those missions.  Trying to fit square pegs into round holes in terms of mission fit and funding priorities isn't really listening to the foundation.  Listen to the foundation.  If your organization is a good fit with its priorities, then apply (and see the next point).  If it isn't, then move on.
  • Listen to your constituents.  What do your service recipients need?  What are they getting from you?  What are they not getting from you?  Use their voices and perspectives to keep guiding the development and fine tuning of your programs and services.  And communicate those perspectives to your funders and potential funders when you write grant proposals.  Ultimately, everyone is trying to accomplish the same thing -- to help improve outcomes for the population or area that your organization serves.  By listening to your constituents, you can better convey to your funders how support your organization will help them better meet their own missions.
  • Listen to your employeesDan Palotta's TED talk is getting lots of attention (for good reason!) at the moment.  While he advocates better pay for nonprofit employees (and I agree), what I'm advocating here is listening to your employees' non-remuneration-related needs, as well as to things they express as challenges and opportunities to better serve your constituents. 

What do you think?  What is the role of empathy in nonprofits in general, and in grant writing in particular?


Friends Don’t Let Friends Require Paper Grant Applications


paper grant applications

While many grantmakers have moved their application processes online, a large number of grantmakers still require their applicants to submit grant proposals and progress reports on paper or via email.

Some foundations have been using paper applications for a long time and feel there is no reason to change, but there is a significant cost to inefficient grants management – to both the foundation and its grantees, and ultimately to the social impact that both are trying to achieve.

The Center for Effective Philanthropy determined that 13% of every foundation grant dollar is spent administering the grant.  Across the nonprofit sector in the US, nearly $6 billion per year is spent on grants administration.  That’s a lot of lost impact!  For a foundation that awards $1,000,000 in grants annually, $130,000 is spent administering the grants.  The grantees bear most of that cost, but both the grantmaker and the grant recipient benefit from streamlining the process.

Here are seven reasons that friends should not let friends require paper grant applications:

  • Data entry (and re-entry) is time consuming and error-prone.  Once a paper is application is received, it needs to be logged and tracked.  With paper (or email) applications, someone at the foundation has to enter information into a grants database, Excel sheet, or other tracking system.  That data entry process is both time consuming and error-prone.  With an integrated online application and grants management system, there is no data entry that has to be done by someone at the foundation.  Information from the application automatically populates the grants database, saving both time and the possibility for errors.
  • Information submitted on paper can’t be easily aggregated or analyzed.  Increasingly, grantmakers want to be able to look at information across a group of grants to see how much money was awarded over a period of time, analyze information about the recipient organizations, or see the impact the grants had on the issues that the foundation is trying to address.  With paper applications, grant information such as people served, intended outcomes, etc., can’t be easily accessed and aggregated – at least not without someone at the foundation copying and pasting – or re-typing – that information.  With an integrated online system, reports on the distribution of grant funds as well as outcome and demographic information – or anything else that the foundation wants to track – can be generated at a few button clicks, using information that the grantee or applicant submitted in the grant proposal or progress report.  In fact, PhilanTrack is specifically designed to aggregate grantee-entered information to help grantmakers evaluate the effectiveness and impact of their grants and programs.  And PhilanTech’s staff will be happy to advise your organization on how to take advantage of the system and its capabilities to support your grantmaking goals.
  • Real-time access to information. Trustees, reviewers and other stakeholders are increasingly not in the same geographical location as the foundation’s physical office.  With paper applications, someone (either the applicant or a foundation staff member or volunteer trustee) has to print many copies of each application and send them across the country or the globe prior to a board meeting.  Many foundation professionals have lost count of the number of hours they spend each year pulling together board packets with collated copies for each trustee of each proposal under consideration.  Moving online can also be a great way for family foundations to engage younger family members who may just be getting involved in the foundation.
  • Trees.  Think of the trees!  Printing multiple paper copies of every application and every report costs countless trees per year.  Moving the process online enables all foundations – but particularly foundations that fund environmental causes – to align their internal grantmaking processes with their missions.
  • Reducing ineligible or unqualified applications.  As clear as grantmakers make submission guidelines, hopeful nonprofits frequently submit funding requests even if they’re ineligible.  Two features of online application systems help foundations save time and resources by discouraging that activity: eligibility quizzes and letters of intent.  Eligibility quizzes can be tailored to the foundation’s specific guidelines and pose a series of questions to applicants.  Applicants must affirmatively answer that they meet each component of the foundation’s funding guidelines.  If an applicant does not meet one of the eligibility criteria, the organization is prevented from submitting an application, thereby significantly reducing the number of ineligible or unqualified applicants.  Letters of inquiry, as we’ve written about before, can effectively help reduce the administrative burden on both the grantmaker and the applicant with a short version of the application to determine whether it’s worth the time required from both parties for the nonprofit to submit a full application.
  • Contact management and centralization of information.  Managing grants requires managing a lot of information about the organization – from simple data like the organization’s address to more complex information like the intended outcomes of a funded project, and everything in between.  Managing contact information for grantees is important, and tracking interactions is as well.  With an online grants management system that also manages applications and progress reports, all grantee- and grant-related information is in one centralized location.  You can look up a grant, see what the organization outlined in the proposal, who the grant contact is and send that person an email or see when the next report is due – all with just a few a button clicks, rather than having to track down the paper copy of the proposal, then look up the relevant grant in the grants database, and the contact information in Outlook.
  • Continuity and institutional memory.  Over time, most organizations develop their own systems and processes for filing – and finding – documents.  But what happens if there is staff turnover?  With an online grants management system, the organization’s complete grantmaking history is stored in an organized, easy-to-access and easy-to-use online location.  If a new family member joins the board, or if the program officer or grant manager leaves, her successor can easily pick up the mantle and see the organization’s whole history, which reports are due when, and what information was submitted in each proposal.  And all of that information is available at a couple of button clicks rather than by pouring through tons of documents in filing cabinets.

Moving to online grant applications doesn’t mean automatically accepting unsolicited proposals.  If your foundation has an invite-only grantmaking process, you can still gain all of the benefits of moving your application online while only inviting the organizations that you wish to have apply.  Read more here about why it makes sense to move your application online even if your organization doesn’t accept unsolicited proposals.

PhilanTrack is specifically designed to manage the full lifecycle of grants.  In addition to streamlining the process for grantmakers, PhilanTrack helps your grantees and applicants manage their grantseeking more efficiently so that your grant dollars go further towards supporting the programs and services they are intended to fund.

To see how PhilanTrack can save you from using paper grant applications, contact us for a demonstration, or download our guide to getting started with online applications.


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Three Grantwriting Mistakes Nonprofits Make


mistakes grantwriters make

I guest blogged yesterday on about business plan mistakes that I see often as a judge for the social venture track of NYU’s business plan competition.  While the post addressed mistakes made by for-profit ventures and nonprofit social ventures, a lot of the mistakes that I see – and lessons learned – apply equally to nonprofits writing grant proposals to fund new programs.

Mistake #1: Developing a solution that’s in search of a problem.  Fundraising consultant Pamela Grow referred to this problem in an email yesterday as “If you build it, they will come.”  In fact, they won’t.  Too many nonprofits (like for-profit social ventures) come up with a great idea that should be of great value to their constituents.  Smart people get together in conference rooms and come up with great ideas.  They see problems their constituents are experiencing, and come up with solutions – all without getting input from said constituents.  In for-profits, this generally results in creating a product or service without a clear market.  In nonprofits, this can result in either creating a product or service without a clear group of people who will use it – or in creating a product or service without a clear source of funding.  Either result has problems, and both can be avoided by getting input for the relevant constituents along the way.  If you develop the service, will the people in your service area use it?  What will compel them to do so?  What might get in the way, and how can you overcome it?  Will they be willing and able to pay for it?  If not (which is frequently the case), how will you cover those costs?  Launching the program without knowing that you’ll be able to get sufficient support to make is sustainable, often manifest in saying, “Oh, we’ll just get a grant to cover those costs,” can be more harmful than beneficial to your constituents if you are then unable to secure funding.

Mistake #2: Claiming you have no competition.  Many grant proposals ask grant applicants to discuss their competition.  It may well be that there isn’t another organization in your service area doing exactly what your organization is proposing, but that doesn’t mean that you do not have any competition.  There’s direct competition, indirect competition, and there’s the status quo.  Think about your constituents.  What are they doing now?  Are there other organizations providing a similar service that is meeting the same – or a similar – need?  Even if there aren’t similar services being offered in your service area, your constituents are spending time and sometimes money on other things that will have to be displaced by your service.  You need to know – and be able to describe – what those things are, as well as any other services that compete more directly with what you’re proposing.

Mistake #3: Grant applicants must clearly articulate their theory of change.  Different organizations have different ways of framing theories of change and the social impact that is expected to result from the program or service being developed.  Whatever it’s presenting a theory of change, articulating SMART objectives, building logic models, or something else, it’s critical to be able to articulate the impact your organization is trying to achieve, how you plan to achieve it, and how you plan to measure the results of your activities.  In grant proposals, look for any specific requirements articulated by the foundation to which you’re applying; many foundations have specific formats in which they prefer to see goals, outcomes, and theories of change addressed.

What are some common mistakes you have seen – or made – in grant applications?  Feel free to share in the comments below.


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Not Getting Enough Funder Love? Try These Grantwriting Tips


grantseeking tips

I’ve written before about grant dating (here, and here, among other places).  As strange as it seems, the grantseeking process does bear some resemblance to dating, so revisiting it on Valentine’s Day seemed apropos.

So if things are not working out in your pursuit of a funder marriage, it may be because your dating approach needs to be adjusted.  Here are a few tips to help you get to that long-term funder relationship:

  • Make sure you’re dating the right foundations.  A good relationship starts with meeting the right foundations.  If you have nothing in common, the chances are not good that a relationship will work out.  You can start by doing thorough research on the foundations you’re approaching.  Study their mission statements and their guidelines.  See which organizations they’ve funded in the past, and which organizations they’re currently funding.  Do your programs seem like a good fit?  Trying to fit square pegs into round holes by tweaking your program descriptions to meet funding requirements that you don’t naturally fit is not a recipe for a lasting relationship.
  • Make sure you’re speaking their language.  Many foundations have specific requirements for grant applications – everything from the specific information that they want to receive (specific questions to answer, issues to address, documents to provide) to when and how they want to receive it.  Be sure that the request you’re putting together meets those requirements, whatever they are.  (And we’ll be happy to show you how PhilanTrack can help you manage multiple proposals to multiple foundations.)
  • It’s not all about you.  Many nonprofits take an “it’s not you, it’s me” approach to writing grant proposals.  They talk extensively about their programs, their constituents, their successes, their plans.  While grant applications should absolutely include those things, they also need to position your programs in terms of the foundation’s priorities and its mission.  One of the things Marty Teitel talks about in his book “The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Winning Foundation Grants” is the importance of aligning the proposal with what the foundation – and the people in the foundation, including both the program officer and the directors – is trying to accomplish.  Part of the grantwriter’s job is to make it easy for the proposal reader to see how the program in question will help the foundation further its own goals.
  • Presentation matters.  Think about how you’re coming across.  Just as you would probably choose your outfit carefully for your first date, think about how you’re presenting yourself to a funder.  Is your proposal well written?  Is it persuasive?  Your organization can be doing great work, but if you don’t convey it clearly, you’ll have a hard time getting it funded.  Program officers and trustees generally read many more proposals than they are able to fund.  Think about it from their perspective – it’s so much better to read a proposal that is well written!  Have someone else proof-read your submission to make sure there aren’t any mistakes and that the prose is clear, and supported by relevant quantitative information.  First impressions matter!
  • Once you’re in a relationship, don’t neglect your funder.  Funder relationships, like all relationships, take time and care.  Don’t take your funder for granted.  If the funder asks for updates, provide them in a timely manner, and with the information requested.  Don’t overwhelm the funder with communications (they don’t need to be copied on every email that you send to your supporters), but keep them up to date on key developments that relate to the grant they’ve given you, even if there isn’t a report due for a few months.  Of course, if a funder makes it clear that they don’t want to hear from you aside from reports, then respect that (some funders need their space).
  • If it doesn’t work out, ask for feedback to help your next relationship.  Sometimes funders will break up with you for no reason – or what seems to be no reason.  Maybe you’ve been in a relationship for several years and the board decides to change priorities in a way that no longer includes your organization’s mission and programs.  It can be heartbreaking, but it happens, and there isn’t much you can do about it.  But sometimes, funders will break up with you for a clear and explainable reason.  While they may be inclined to spare your feelings by not coming right out and telling you the reason for the breakup, it’s frequently worth asking the question.  The truth may hurt, but it might help position you for greater success as you pursue your next funder relationship.

Feel free to share your grant dating tips in the comments below!


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Please Take the Spring 2013 State of Grantseeking Survey


grantseeking questions

Twice a year, PhilanTech partners with our friends at GrantStation to survey nonprofits about the current state of grantseeking in the U.S.  We've gained valuable insights in the five reports that we have published to date, which we are happy to share with the nonprofit sector to help inform grantseeking strategies.

We've just opened the Spring 2013 State of Grantseeking survey, and hope that you'll take a few minutes to take the survey.

We've added some questions this year, based on feedback from the last survey in which we specifically asked what additional questions respondents would like us to include to ensure the survey is addressing the grantseeking issues that are most pressing for their organizations.  Those questions are:

  • What is the household income in your service area?
  • How would you describe your organization's location or service area? (rural, urban, etc.)
  • With which racial or ethnic group do those in your service area most identify?
  • Is your organization well known in your service area?
  • What is the age of your organization?

Please take five minutes and complete the survey before March 15.  Results will be published on both the PhilanTech and GrantStation websites.  Survey respondents can request an advance copy of results when completing the survey.

If you haven't already, you can download the Fall 2012 State of Grantseeking Report here.

Happy grantseeking!


Image credit: adapted from

Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Excel to Manage Grants



Most nonprofits rely on grant funding to support their programs and services.  In fact, 46% report that grants make up over a quarter of their funding.

Given how critical grants are for many nonprofits, having good systems in place to manage the grantwriting process from end-to-end.  Yet 75% of nonprofits use simple spreadsheets to manage what can amount to millions of dollars of grant funds.

While some nonprofits may think that the systems they’ve pieced together are working well enough, there is a significant cost to inefficient grants management.  The Center for Effective Philanthropy determined that 13% of every foundation grant dollar is spent administering the grant.  Of that 13%, 11.5% is spent by the nonprofit.  So for every $100,000 in grant funding, $11,500 is spent administering the grant.  Imagine if that money could be spent on other fundraising efforts, or directed towards program or service delivery.  That’s where an online system to streamline the grants management process comes in.

Here are five reasons that friends should not let friends use Excel to manage grants:

  • Excel can’t manage the whole grantseeking process.  While a spreadsheet can be set up to track contacts, requirements, dates, amounts, etc., tracking is only part of the grantwriting and grantseeking process.  The whole grant lifecycle involves researching and finding new grant opportunities, cultivating relationships with potential funders, writing compelling grant proposals to targeted grantmakers, tracking the details of the grants, reporting to funders at specified time intervals, and more.  Spreadsheets are simply not designed to manage that whole process.  Most nonprofits that use Excel to manage their grants also use Word (or another Word processor) and Outlook (or Google Calendar) as well, making it necessary to check and update three separate tools, leaving a lot of room for error.  With an online system specifically designed to manage the whole grant lifecycle, everything from the initial research to the final progress report can be managed in one centralized location.
  • Deadlines and reminders.  Have you ever missed a proposal deadline?  What about a progress report deadline?  While Excel can be used to track deadlines (Excel handles dates quite well), that information is only useful if you happen to look at the spreadsheet and sort or search for deadlines to see which due dates are upcoming.  Many nonprofits will track deadlines in their grants spreadsheet, then copy those deadlines to Outlook or Google Calendar as well.  Not only does that double the effort involved in managing deadlines, it also doesn’t take advantage of a straightforward feature in an online grants management system – reminders.  In PhilanTrack, once a proposal or progress report deadline has been added to the system, it is added to your organization’s calendar (which can be synced with your calendaring software).  In addition, the system will send automatic email reminders prior to due dates to help ensure you never miss another deadline.
  • Contact management.  There’s more to managing funder contacts than just tracking contact information.  While the contact information is clearly important, tracking interactions is also important.  If you have a conversation with a funder about a grant program or proposal, where are those notes stored in Excel?  Do you add a column each time you interact with a funder to be able to keep notes separate?  What if you have 10 interactions with one funder and only two with another?  How easy is it to find the relevant notes quickly?  And how many extra columns end up getting added to the spreadsheet?  And how do you share this information with other people in your organization so that efforts are not duplicated and not lost when someone leaves the organization?
  • The bigger the grantseeking program, the more unmanageable the spreadsheet.  This is related to the previous point.  The more grants your organization pursues and gets, the bigger and more unwieldy the spreadsheet becomes.  I’ve seen grant spreadsheets that are color coded, split into multiple different sheets, organized with acronyms, and a number of other creative (and unsustainable) ways to manage growing grant programs.  The dilemma is that organizations want their grant programs to grow.  But as the program grows, the spreadsheet becomes increasingly unmanageable – and it’s at precisely that point that you need to be able to have quick and easy access to the exact information that you need at a given moment.  That’s where online grants management software comes in.  With PhilanTrack, you can easily sort proposals, grants, etc. to get to exactly the information you need, when you need it, without sacrificing the depth or completeness of information about each funder, grant, and proposal in the system.  PhilanTrack makes it easy to store all grant-related information in one place, and navigate right to the information you need, from anywhere, at any time.
  • Continuity and institutional memory.  Some people are Excel wizards.  They can create spreadsheets that do things that seem impossible.  They know all the shortcuts and can massage data in whatever way they want, whenever they want to.  If you have one of those folks on staff, that’s great for getting a robust tracking spreadsheet set up.  But what happens if that individual leaves the organization?  Will anyone else know how to find relevant information and keep the complex spreadsheet updated?  With an online grants management system, the organization’s complete grantseeking history is stored in an organized, easy-to-access and easy-to-use online location.  If the development director leaves, her successor can easily pick up the mantle and see the whole history, which reports are due when, and what information was submitted in each proposal.  And all of that information is available at a couple of button clicks rather than by pouring through tons of documents and files, linked through a complex spreadsheet.

PhilanTrack is specifically designed to manage the grantseeking process from end-to-end.  In addition to all of the features mentioned above, it also has a unique grantwriting feature: how many times have you been writing a proposal and thought, “I wrote a great response to a question like that for another funder.  I think it was sometime last year.  Now where is that proposal?”  PhilanTrack provides the ability for grantseekers to easily reuse information from past proposals at a couple of button clicks, saving the time and aggravation of having to find the Word document somewhere on your organization’s hard drive where that perfectly-phrased response resides.

To see how PhilanTrack can save you from using Excel to manage your grants, contact us for a demonstration.


(Hat tip to Robert Weiner for the title.)



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