October 18, 2017

6 Steps to Increasing and Amplifying Your Grants’ Impact

Smart planning and tracking from the start can deliver you end results worth sharing.

Take a look at your organization’s mission statement. It’s gotta be somewhere -- probably on your website, or in pretty, cursive-style letters on the lobby wall. If you do a lot for your development team, you may be able to recite it by heart.

No matter who you are -- whether you work for a foundation or a charity or a corporation or a school -- I will bet you your mission doesn’t include words like “raise funds” or “give grants” or even “help people.” No, your mission goes deep and talks about improving a community, fighting for social change, supporting those who cannot do it on their own, or advancing research or an entire industry.  It talks about making a real and emotional impact.

Yet day-to-day, teams that exist to do these amazing and important things are bogged down with decidedly less lyrical tasks required to make that mission happen. They are sorting through paperwork, tracking down documents, answering emails, and cobbling together PowerPoints that try and show how they are “giving grants” or “helping people.” You know you are doing more. Show it.

By creating an impact tracking and sharing strategy you enable your team to gather, track, and communicate how you are truly delivering on that mission. You are showing relevance and results -- two items that can be cyclical and help continue the process for even greater impact. Here’s how.

  1. Streamline your grant application in order to receive better submissions. Yes, the grant seeker has some work to do in a stellar, ground-breaking proposal. But you can certainly help them by providing a clearer path to navigate. Grants by their nature require a lot of details -- summaries, projections, budgets, letters, research. Make sure you grant application outlines each of these requirements and steps as clearly as possible. As most grant makers have moved online, consider not just a super-long web form but a stepped submission portal that allows applicants to track their progress, stop and take a break when needed, and upload all their materials into one destination. They are sure to deliver better applications when provided the platform in which to do so.
  2. Curate a strong team of reviewers, and provide them the right tools. It’s a heavy hat to wear, being the one who decides whose project has the greatest potential. Look for diversity of background, industry, and thought when creating your team of reviewers, as their unique insights will help ensure all possibilities are considered and vetted. Reviewing all the data submitted by sometimes thousands of applicants is also no simple task, so a reviewer’s portal that gives them a clear look at all the application on their list, how they has scored thus far, and allowing them to see their grading rubric and the application itself side by side no matter where they are will help them focus on the content and not the process.
  3. Outline all details of the grant and get grantee approval prior to disbursement. It need not be a complicated legal document, but clearly stating the amount being given, exactly what for, and the deliverables expected is a best practice that will help both you and the grantee. Be sure to include not just the actual ways the grant will be used, but the ways that the grantee will communicate their progress with you, be that progress reports, surveys, or presentations. This information is crucial to you being able to see the real impact of each dollar, so require it in the format that will be most beneficial to your organization. For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provides a super detailed, clear guide to how they plan to measure and track impact through the grant lifecycle; while this is well beyond what many smaller orgs can and will do, outlining the data that is needed and how it will be reviewed is important for everyone.
  4. Look not just for results in terms of actions, but of influence. Any grant can tackle an action -- 100 meals served, four buildings rehabbed. But the influence is the real value behind what is being done. In this editorial in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Jason Saul argues that it’s the influence that is most important, in terms of impact, mission fulfillment, and continuing it all by securing additional donations.
  5. Utilize a system to store, manage, and track all your results. A personal email or a phone call may be nice, but they are hindering when it comes to effectively tracking impact data. Instead use the system you utilized to create the application to continue a dialogue with your grantee and provide them a place to leave their feedback. They can upload reports that will now historically live alongside their original application documents, or answer surveys along with other grant recipients that you can easily turn into graphs and other easy-to-share demonstrations of your organization’s efforts.
  6. Share. There are stories to tell -- deep, emotional, moving stories that deserve a spotlight. Your board wants to hear them, and they should. But keep sharing. Create personal profiles of those who benefited and share them on social media. Shadow your grantee with a video camera and publish a behind the scenes look at the grant in action on your blog. These stories are good and necessary year-round, but particularly helpful to refer to as you approach active donation seasons; our stories of real impact may create some impact of their own, softening the hearts of potential donors and supporters.
Topic(s): Grants Management

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