Most would agree that grantmaking is a rewarding career, but one aspect is likely a little more challenging: choosing which applicants will receive funds and which will not.
The application process often serves as the avenue by which a potential grantee is introduced to you – the grantmaker – and vice versa. Through the application process, you have the opportunity to get to know each other more intimately and determine whether their program is the right home for your funds, the place where they will make the greatest impact in the community or world you serve.
Evaluating applications based on the right criteria can help you make consistent, confident decisions about grant money and allocating donations in the most productive and meaningful way. Here are some of the factors to take into consideration as you evaluate applications.
When evaluating organizational experience, consider the following:
- Has the organization received a grant like this before and managed the funds appropriately?
- Has the organization launched and run a program like this in the past? What was the impact?
- Does the organization have leaders on board who have the education and experience to successfully lead this initiative and manage these funds?
- Does the organization’s previous experience predict its future success?
Look for nonprofit organizations that leverage partnerships with beneficial partners, like for-profit organizations, other nonprofits, government entities, and public figures. These partners may lend well to the success of a new program, support the nonprofit as it ventures into new territory, provide expertise and guidance, and engage additional partners.
An important aspect of the decision-making process is evaluating an organization’s financial well-being. Documents that can help paint a better picture of the nonprofit’s financial status include the Statement of Financial Position or Balance Sheet, the Statement of Activities or Income Statement, and the Statement of Cash Flows. Grantmakers should be comfortable interpreting these documents and asking questions about individual line items as they arise.
A description of the program should be included in the grant application. This program description – a few sentences describing the overarching goals behind the program – should provide the information you need to evaluate its alignment with your foundation’s mission, vision, and core values.
Things to consider as you evaluate alignment include the philanthropy category the program falls into (and your remaining budget in that particular category, if applicable), whether the program’s goals are aligned with the goals of your foundation and its donors, and whether you believe the program can successfully achieve those goals based on the information provided in the application.
Mechanism for Measuring Outcomes
Before you award grant dollars, it’s important to know how the grantee will measure the success of their program and how you’ll be kept informed of those key performance indicators. Have they shared their plan for monitoring and measuring outcomes?
Are the metrics they plan to measure directly correlated to the program’s goals? Will the measures they’ve selected demonstrate whether program outcomes have been met? If not, what metrics do you recommend or request they measure, and how often?
When reviewing the application or proposal, consider the budget. Will a grant from your organization help the grantee fund the program? Will the program launch with or without your funding? Are the projected costs both realistic and as modest as feasible? Does the project make good use of donor/foundation funds?
As you consider the potential grantee, consider who will benefit from the program. Is the potential audience broad or narrow? Does it serve the populations the foundation has committed to serving (i.e., the disadvantaged, certain minority groups, women, etc.)? Does it serve all people equitably?
Additionally, review the application to ensure there are adequate plans in place to communicate the program and its benefits to those who need it, recognizing that those in greatest need often have limited access to digital communications.
It’s okay for a program to serve a narrow group as long as there’s a valid need and it’s aligned with the foundation’s key initiatives. For example, children in foster care might be a narrow population but one in great need.
Questions to consider around need include:
- Does this program set out to solve a real problem?
- Does the problem this program addresses exist in our region?
- Is this problem addressed by other programs, agencies, or organizations?
- Are those programs, agencies, or organizations meeting the need?
- Are there other sources of funding available to meet this need?
Evaluating regional needs can help you make tough decisions between great applicants with impactful ideas. A program is only as good as the people it serves – so there must be a demonstrated need in order to fund it.
Finally, there are some logistical things that can help you determine the quality of an applicant and predict their success. A neat application that is free of grammatical errors should stand out above a sloppy, error-filled application. This attention to detail in the application process predicts attention to detail in the program planning, launch, and implementation.
Look for realistic timelines and alternative plans. Applicants who have considered Plan B and Plan C are more likely to stay the course as they encounter challenges and barriers along the way, ensuring there is delivery at the end of the project.
Additionally, ensure the applicant follows the rules when applying for the grant. The application process is your first impression of the potential grantee, and their ability to read and follow instructions might be a predictor of their ability to collaborate moving forward.
All that said, small nonprofits and new nonprofits are most likely to fall short when submitting their first grant applications. It’s always a good idea to share candid feedback with the applicant to help them improve their grant-writing skills for future cycles and opportunities. Using grant management solutions can help you track applicants, decisions, and correspondence for improved efficiency and transparency.
In short, grant writing is a rewarding but challenging career that comes with the tough responsibility of choosing which applicants will receive funds and which will receive denials. Carefully reviewing applications for need, equity, program alignment, and more can help you make the most informed decisions, stewarding donor dollars responsibly and equitably. Finally, using grant management solutions to share feedback with applicants who were denied is courteous and helps them improve moving forward. Learn more about GivingData’s grant management software today.