Rants About Grants

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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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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.

 

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fsse-info/516326731

Invite-Only Proposals? Why Online Grantmaking Still Makes Sense

  
  
  

files

If your foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals, you may think, "why should we move our grantmaking process online?" or "Won't we then get flooded with unsolicited proposals?"

The short answer is no, you won't get flooded with unsolicited proposals.  Moving online doesn't mean changing your process from invite-only to unsolicited.  It doesn't mean opening a portal for every grantseeking nonprofits to approach your foundation.  You can still invite selected organizations - and only selected organizations - to apply.

Why, then, does it make sense to move your process online?  With an invite-only process, you can still get all of the benefits of streamlining your grantmaking with an online system:

  • It will save you time, and provide easier access to information.  With an online system, grantees enter information (everything from their organization and contact information to proposals and progress reports).  That information flows directly into a format that you can view and manipulate.  There's no need to re-enter grantee or applicant information.  And all relevant grant and grantee information is in one place, so you can easily view the foundation's whole history with a given grantee organization without having to look in different files (either paper files or virtual files, depending on what your organization is currently using).
  • Trustees can access information remotely.  I talk to a lot of family foundations that have trustees in different physical locations (from different offices to entirely different parts of the country -- and sometimes different countries).  With an online system, trustees can simply log into the system from wherever they are to view current grant, grantee, and proposal information.  That means that the foundation staff person (or the trustee who usually collects information) doesn't need to spend hours - or days! - putting together packets of information prior to board meetings for trustees to review.
  • The online process enables grantmakers to do things they haven't been able to do before (or at least haven't been able to do easily).  Tools like Word, Excel and Outlook are great for writing documents, creating spreadsheets and managing email, but they weren't designed to manage grants.  With an online grants management system, foundations benefit from features designed specifically with grantmakers in mind -- everything from the ability to view all information about a particular grantee in one place (their history with the foundation, proposals and reports they've submitted, contact information, etc.) to the ability to create board packs in a few button clicks.
  • It's easier for grantees.  With an online system, grantees can access information from anywhere at any time.  With online grant proposals, they don't need to print 6 copies of the application, their audited financials, 990s, and everything else required in the proposal packet and then FedEx it to you.  They can also log into the online system and see when their next progress report is due -- and even get an automated email reminder prior to the due date.  And with PhilanTrack, grantees can manage all of their grant information for all of their funders in one centralized online location (whether or not their other funders are using PhilanTrack), saving them even more time that they can dedicate to programs and services - helping your grant dollars go even further.

Several of our grantmaker clients don't accept unsolicited requests, and have benefitted greatly from moving their processes online, and inviting online proposals from pre-selected organizations. 

Are you considering switching from an offline grants management process to an online grants management system?  Sign up for a PhilanTrack for Foundations webinar, or contact us to see a demonstration and learn about how we can help.

 

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/manc/1427691715/

Streamlining Grants Management - Assessing Project Streamline

  
  
  

Project Streamline

As regular readers of this blog know, we at PhilanTech are fans of Project Streamline, the initiative of the Grants Managers Network dedicated to streamlining the grants management process.

After five years of learning and sharing tips to simplify and streamline grantmaking, Project Streamline is taking stock of how well its messages have been received and implemented by the grantmaking and grantseeking communities.

Project Streamline is asking for input from the grantmaking and grantseeking communities in two surveys (one for each audience).  Please take a few moments to help assess how well these initiatives are taking root:

The deadline for the surveys is December 15th.  We'll share the results when they are published next year.

 

 

Atoning for Grantmaking Transgressions

  
  
  

Last week, in the spirit of Yom Kippur, I wrote about atoning for grantseeking transgressions.  In that post, I promised to post this week about grantmaking transgressions, and immediately post-Yom Kippur, I’m particularly motivated to keep my promises.  So here it is: atoning for grantmaking transgressions.

As indicated in last week’s post, one of the unique elements of Yom Kippur is a type of communal atonement.  Many of the prayers recited are in first person plural, ways "we" have transgressed, rather than ways "I" have transgressed. 

I offer the following grantwriting transgressions we, a community of grantmakers, may have made in the past year.  Note: atonement is only meaningful when it is accompanied by a good faith promise to do better in the coming year, to not repeat the mistakes and transgressions of the past year.

Again, in no particular order:

  • We have been unclear. While grantees and applicants have a responsibility to ensure that their organization and programs are a good fit with the foundation’s priorities before applying, the foundation must help that process by making its priorities clear.  When a prospective grantee visits your website or reads your annual report, if you don’t have a website – and why don’t you have a website?  Even if you don’t have – or don’t want - an online application, you can still help your grantees by putting together a very simple website (it can even be one page).  But I digress.  When a prospective grantee visits your website, can they easily find clear information about:
    • Your priorities
    • What types of organizations and projects you will consider funding (organization type, size, location, issue area, types of grants/requests)
    • What types of organizations and projects you will not consider funding
    • What information should be submitted for a grant request
    • When
    • To Whom
    • In what format
    • What your deadlines are
    • When they can expect to hear something back from you – how long does it take for a request to be considered?  If a grant is awarded, how long does it take from the date the decision is made until the grant funds are in the grantee’s hands?
    • What are the reporting requirements for awarded grants
    • How the applicant can get questions answered in the application process
    • Your preferred initial form of communication (should applicants talk to a program officer?  Submit an LOI if they meet the basic eligibility requirements?  Take an online eligibility quiz?)
  • We have increased the full cost of our grants by asking for information we don’t need. Seeking grants is costly.  Nonprofits spend a tremendous amount of time (read: money that could be spent on other mission-related activities) doing it.  The Center for Effective Philanthropy has said that 13% of every foundation grant dollar is spent administering the grants.  13%.  That’s $6B across the sector. And the breakdown of that 13% is roughly 1.5% foundation expenditures, 11.5% nonprofit expenditures. Foundations can help that. 
  • Take the time at least every other year to review your LOI, proposal, and report forms and processes.  What information are you requesting from your applicants and grantees? 
    • For each piece of information, ask yourself, “How are we using this information?”  If the answer is, “We aren’t,” or “I’m not sure,” get rid of it.  It will save your applicants and grantees time.  Incidentally, it will also save you time, since you and your staff, board, and reviewers will not have to read information that is extraneous to your decision-making process. 
    • Next, for each piece of information, ask yourself
  • We have not actively encouraged our grantees to talk about failure, and we have therefore collectively not learned from it.  Not every project is going to be successful.  Even the most impactful and well-run organizations will have some initiatives that will not work.  If a grant has not gone well, will your grantees tell you about what went wrong?  Will they really?  Many (even most) nonprofits fear sharing failures with foundations.  Their concern is their perception that foundations only fund successful programs.  If you’ve funded them once, they really really really want you to fund them again.  What if their admission that something didn’t go perfectly discourages you from funding them again?  Failures in programs and initiatives (even organizations as a whole) create amazing learning opportunities, not only for the organization but for you as the funder and for the field as a whole.  Assuming that you fund several organizations that work on similar issues – and talk to other foundations that fund similar issues – you’re uniquely positioned to learn from one project’s failures and shortcomings and shorten the learning curve for others so that they don’t have to make the same mistakes.  But you need to get an honest assessment from your grantees of what worked and what didn’t.  This isn’t easy, given the concern that many nonprofits feel about sharing less-than-stellar results. Encourage your grantees to talk about failures.  Reward them for doing so by funding them again – and by helping the issue that they’re working on by sharing information productively and broadly.
  • We have been unwilling to take risks.  It makes a ton of sense of invest in things that work.  But there are a lot of new, innovative, potentially world-changing ideas and organizations out there.  And they’re having a hard time getting funding, particularly because they’re new.  They don’t have a track record, which clearly makes them a riskier investment.  But with higher risk also comes the potential for higher reward.  Some of these unproven new ideas will radically improve whatever issue they’re dedicated to tackling.  And we’ll never know their full potential unless they get some support.  I’m not advocating turning away from successful organizations and programs, but rather trying to push beyond the comfort zone of only investing in things you’ve invested in previously.  It doesn’t have to be a lot.  Maybe 5% of your grants next year could be to organizations under two years old?  Maybe even under a year old?  And maybe you could connect them with other resources (knowledge, people, potentially other funders even?) to help set them up for success?  You may “lose” that money.  But you may invest in something world-changing.

Feel free to add your own grantmaking transgressions in the comments.

B Corporations Help Nonprofits Align Spending with Mission

  
  
  

BCorp logo

Note: this post originally appeared on GuideStar's Trust Blog on January 18th, 2011.

Nonprofits in the U.S. spent $1.3 trillion in 2007, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.  That money was spent delivering needed services, providing salaries and benefits to employees, and paying for tools and professional services.  

Nonprofits now have a way to align their spending with their missions: B Corporations for Nonprofits.

B Corporations are a new kind of company that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.  Certified by a nonprofit called B Lab, B Corporations must achieve a passing score in a comprehensive survey that evaluates social and environmental responsibility.  There are over 365 B Corporations in 30 industries, and several of them are specifically dedicated to serving the needs of nonprofit organizations.

A group of B Corporations has joined together to raise awareness among nonprofits of the services that B Corporations can offer and the benefits of working with suppliers that, while structured as for-profit businesses, are dedicated to social and environmental responsibility.  

At a press conference at Busboys and Poets (also a B Corporation) in Washington, DC on Tuesday, January 18, representatives from Care2, PhilanTech, PICnet and Better World Telecom announced the formation of B Corps for Nonprofits and the launch of the www.bcorpsfornonprofits.com website.

B Corporations for Nonprofits are Certified B Corporations that earn more than 50 percent of their revenue from nonprofit clients, and/or that have a client base that is at least nonprofit organizations.

In addition to Care2, PhilanTech, PICnet, and Better World Telecom, B Corps for Nonprofits includes Mal Warwick | Donordigital, Free Range Studios, Green Retirement Plans, The Soap Group and Social K.

There are three things that make B Corporations that serve the nonprofit sector different:

  1. B Corps are not like other companies. They are social entrepreneurs with "do-gooder missions" similar to – and complementary with – the vital missions of nonprofit organizations.
  2. B Corps for Nonprofits proudly focus on serving nonprofits as their primary clients. Nonprofits are not a "sideshow" to these organizations – they are the "Main Event!"
  3. B Corps have committed to "walk the walk," not just "talk the talk," of social responsibility. They do this by meeting or exceeding a set of specific, measurable B Corporation standards, including workplace diversity, carbon neutrality, recycling and waste reduction, donating a portion of profits to good causes, etc.

Nonprofits frequently want to know that their vendors are “good” companies.  B Corporations are values-driven companies.  They are dedicated to pursuing social and environmental bottom lines while also being sustainable businesses. They have been independently vetted and verified by a third party as beneficial companies.  As such, nonprofits can feel confident that the money they spend with B Corporations has positive social and environmental impacts.

Next time you’re looking for a new website, social action network, grant management system, phone network, benefits plan, or a number of other services, remember that the company you choose can be one that is aligned with your organization’s mission and values.

Streamlining Grants Management - A Little Humor and a Lot of Truth

  
  
  

Vladimir Nabokov wrote, "Satire is a lesson, parody is a game."

Grant T. Goldhammer and Ophelia Pain's article entitled "A Strategic Nonprofit Reorganization Plan" is just the type of satire the sector needs to drive home some critical lessons about improving relationships between funders and grantees.

In it, the authors (one of whom, according to the Nonprofit Quarterly, on whose pages both have appeared, created the Philanthrobabble Generator) satirize several common dynamics between funders and their grantees, attempting to turn the relationship on its head, in the form of a letter - really a manifesto - from a nonprofit to its funders.  For example,

Program autonomy. We will no longer seek funding for specific projects of interest to the foundation community;​ instead, all future grants will support activities at our organization’s sole discretion. This change will allow us to develop programs that best meet the needs of the communities we serve and provide for greater public input and accountability.

and

Streamlined grant-application process. We send you an invoice, you send us the money. No staff or board review on the funder side. This streamlined approval process will reduce meetings and bureaucracy as well as free up foundation staff and funds for expanded grantmaking.

(read the whole piece here)

While, as satire, the piece clearly goes to an extreme, it makes some important points:

  • Nonprofits need general operating support.  This has been a much-discussed topic in recent months (and years!), but little has changed in terms of the numbers of grants awarded for general operating support versus program grants;
  • Funder-grantee dynamics.  Funders have money.  Grantees want money.  Funders ask grantees to do things.  Grantees want money.  Grantees therefore do things.  Those things are not always the best use of the grantees' resources.  Collaborations are great, for example, and funders are frequently in an ideal position to identify potential collaborations.  Requiring specific collaborations is another story, and not necessarily beneficial to all paries;
  • Streamlining grant applications.  While the segment quoted above clearly takes it to an extreme, streamlining the grant administration process has benefits not only for the grantee, but also for the funder.

What do you think?  What lessons can we - as a sector - learn from this satirical send-up of the funder-grantee relationship?

nabokov

Nabokov monument photo from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monument_Nabokov_Montreux_23.12.2006.jpg

Grant Dating, Part 2: Preparing for Your First Date

  
  
  

This is Part 2 of the Grant Dating series, following Part 1: Getting Out There.

That first date can be nerve wracking.  You've found someone interesting through a mutual friend or an online service.  You think they're cute (as foundations go) and you want to make a good impression.

Note: if you're looking for actual dating advice, you're in the wrong place.  If you want grant datting advice, read on.

Do your homework.  Before your grant date (whether it's a phone call or a meeting), learn whatever you can about the foundation, its funding priorities, what it has funded in the past.  Make sure you're up to date on innovations and new things in your issue area.  You want to be able to impress the funder with your knowledge.  There are few things that are more of a turn-off on a first date than not having some basic information.  (Note to those of you looking for relationship - not grant - advice and are still reading: Googling your date too much - and starting with detailed knowlede about them gets a little creept.  But it works well for grant dating.)

Prepare some questions to ask.  Remember, this is a relationship.  While you need to talk about you (and compellingly...more about that below), be sure to ask your grant date about him/herself, too.  Everyone likes to talk about themselves (to some degree), and asking questions can both build a rapport and provide useful information about how to prepare a proposal or move forward in building a relationship.

Be yourself.  You've gotten a first date with this funder.  Try to relax, and talk about your organization and what makes it great.  Don't try to talk in headlines -- present good, compelling information about your organization (both numbers and stories are good), but remember that this is a conversation, and that you're just starting to get to know each other.  Be sure that you're not saying anything in this first date that you won't be able to substantiate in a later date.  And remember that they liked you enough to agree to the date -- don't try to be someone you're not.

What are your tips for preparing for a first grant date?  What other grant dating advice would you like to read?

teddy bear date

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/4595312874/

Online Grant Management - Millennium Development Goals and Data

  
  
  
Millennium Development GoalsThis morning, I attended the Washington DC viewing of TEDxChange.  For the uninitiated, TED is an organization that presents talks (generally at TED - Technology, Entertainment, Design - conferences) by interesting and accomplished people, or, as the organization frames it, "Ideas worth spreading."

(As an aside, TED talks are really worth checking out.  One of my favorites has nothing to do with philanthropy or grants – Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk, as a brain surgeon, talking about her experience having a stroke.)

The impetus for this morning's TEDxChange was the 10th anniversary of the UN Millennium Development Goals (for more information about the MDGs, check out the UN MDG site).  The lineup of speakers included Mechai Viravadiya, Founder and Chairman of the Population and Community Development Association (nicknamed "Mr. Condom"), Graca Machel, former Minister for Education and Culture in Mozambique, Hans Rosling, Professor of International Health (and prior TED talk presenter - worth watching), and Melinda French Gates of the Gates Foundation.

I'll leave it to others to summarize everything that was said during the talks (or you can watch the whole thing here), and focus on one theme that emerged as I listened to the talks and to the panel of experts assembled for post-event discussion at AED in Dupont Circle in DC: the importance of data in achieving the MDGs - and in social and economic change in general.

Gates' talk used Coca Cola to highlight things that work in developing countries and to propose some lessons at could be applied to development work.  Coke, she said, does three things incredibly well in developing countries: it uses real-time data, empowers local entrepreneurs, and has incredible marketing.

That first point - having and using real-time data - struck me.  Without data, how do we know what's working and what isn't?  Without data, how do we know if any intervention is actually having an impact?  How can we make a case for supporting one initiative over another?  Or the case to support an organization doing the work?  While NGOs clearly aren't the same thing as a multinational company, the broader point is well taken.  

Hans Rosling's talk also highlighted the importance of data (admittedly, the whole talk was about statistics, so of course data is important!).  He showed compelling visualizations of declines in infant mortality rates in both developing and developed countries (and made the point that, particularly as infant mortality rates decline, the distinction between "Western" and "not Western" countries is increasingly irrelevant).  Without good data - and good data collection tools, how would we know that infant mortality rates are declining?  How could the people and organizations working on that issue identify which interventions are working, or which are the most successful?

The importance of data in social change applies just as clearly to foundations and other grantmakers combating poverty, protecting the environment, and supporting communities here in the U.S.  Good data helps grantmakers determine which organizations to support, which interventions are most effective - and can, perhaps, be replicated, which initiative are, perhaps, less effective.  Long term data - trend analysis over several years - can be particularly helpful in both identifying what's working, and in tracking changes in populations and communities served.  More than just helpful, I would argue that information is critical to the work that nonprofits and philanthropies do every day.   And the importance of good tools to support that data collection can't be understated.  

As governments, NGOs, philanthropies and others continue to work towards the MDGs - and other social, economic, and environmental goals - my hope is that organizations will continue to work together not only to accomplish their goals, but to efficiently track, share, and use the revenant data.


Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jiadoldol/1805531326/

Philanthropy Statistics Update – Giving Trends and the Economy

  
  
  

numbers in boxes

Following up on last month’s post about philanthropy statistics, here are a few more, drawn from the Foundation Center’s Highlights of Foundation Giving Trends, and GuideStar’s The Effect of the Economy on the Nonprofit Sector:

  • From the Foundation Center:
    • In 2008, 164,353 grants were awarded by a sample of 1,490 large foundations to 63,794 recipient organizations;
      • The average number of grants awarded by each of those 1,490 large foundations was 110;
    • The amount of grant dollars dedicated to program support (~50%) and general support (~19%) remained consistent with the previous year’s numbers;
    • All foundation types (independent, corporate, and community) prioritized giving for education and human services.  Independent foundations also prioritized giving for health, though that data could be slightly skewed by the large number of dollars the Gates Foundation has poured into health funding;
  • From the GuideStar survey:
    • 40% of respondents say that total contributions to their organizations decreased in the first five months of the year, compared to the first five months of 2009, while 28% stayed the same;
      • A previous GuideStar survey, whose results were released around the same time last year, found that 52% of respondents said that total contributions to their organizations had decreased compared to 2008.  The fact that fewer nonprofits are now reporting decreases is somewhat encouraging, but does not imply that those nonprofits that did not report a decrease this year are necessarily in good shape from a fundraising perspective;
    • Decreases in individual giving where the top-cited reasons for contributions decreasing (both fewer gifts and smaller gifts);
      • Given that individuals make up the largest percentage of donations to nonprofits, this is not surprising;
    • Corporate gifts and foundation grants also happened in fewer numbers and for fewer dollars;
    • Though fewer grants were awarded, 41% of grantmakers reported that the number of requests they received increased;
    • 62% of grantmaking organizations (both private foundations and grantmaking public charities responded to the survey) indicated that they had not made any major changes to their grantmaking practices.  Last year, 43% of grantmakers had made changes as a result of the economy.  In 2009, 20% said they had cut back on the types of programs they funded; this year, that number was down to 12%.  Here’s hoping it’s 0% in the next survey.

 

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stewf/2026818238/

Transparency, Accountability, Authenticity - Foundations and Websites

  
  
  

Jim Canales, CEO of the James Irvine Foundation, wrote a guest blog post on Tactical Philanthropy as part of the soon-to-be-renamed "Audacious Ideas" series.  In it, he calls on large foundations to commit to increasing transparency, accountability, and authenticity in their working relationships with their grantees.

He specifically encourages foundations to make their processes more open, more transparent; to be held accountable to grantees (and to make the mechanisms for that accountability known to grantees) and to infuse interactions with grantees and applicants with respect.  He further points out that if the largest 250 foundations committed to these types of activities, the quality of grantor-grantee relationships could be significantly improved.

I applaud Mr. Canales' calls to action, and also agree with him that what he's calling for are things that foundations should be doing anyway -- that what he's calling for should not, in fact, be audacious, though it turns out that it is, among current foundation practices.

I would take his encouragement one step further, and apply it to all foundations, not just the 250 largest.  There is something of a gulf in the foundation world between the largest foundations (which, admittedly, comprise the largest percentage of dollars granted), and the remainder of the over 77,000 foundations that interact with grantees and prospective grantees in one way or another. 

Nonprofits -- those that are on the grantee side of the grantee-grantor relationship -- apply for and receive funding from foundations that are not in that top 250.  And they spend significant amounts of time doing it.  The top 250 foundations are more likely to have websites and to publish annual reports than their smaller peers.  It is generally easier for prospective grantees to find information about them and to interact with them.

The smaller foundations, many of which have few or no staff, frequently feel disconnected from the larger foundations, and that "keeping up with the Gateses" is out of their reach.

Here is one concrete step that I think every foundation, regardless of size, should take to move a little bit closer to Mr. Canales' vision of transparency, accountability, and authenticity: every foundation should have a website.

While not every foundation accepts unsolicited proposals, that does not mean that their work should be hidden from public view.  I have contended previously that foundations should be more transparent.  All foundations should voluntarily disclose basic information about their activities - what their funds support and in what quantities, how decisions are made, whether the foundation accepts unsolicited proposals (and if it doesn't, that's fine - putting up a website with clear guidelines and restrictions goes a long way towards letting prospective grantees know what to expect - and what not to expect).

Brad Smith, the President of the Foundation Center, makes the case in this post that all foundations, as a result of their favorable tax treatment, should accept unsolicited proposals (with the ability to express a preference for solicited submissions).

What do you think?  Should every foundation have a website?  Should all foundations accept unsolicited proposals?

work in progress sign

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hellochris/2801931497/
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