May 29, 2019

How to Foster Great Relationships with Your Grant Reviewers

As a grant manager, have you ever felt stressed or lost when it comes to managing your grant reviewers? You're not alone. We'll share five tips to guide your team with ease - and improve the overall grantmaking experience for everyone.

There’s a ton of information out there on how to write the perfect grant application, evaluate submissions fairly, and build relationships with grantees. However, one element of the grantmaking process is often left out of the conversation - managing grant reviewers.

Despite this oversight, it's a vital skill for grant managers. A great relationship with your review team can have many positive benefits on your organization's grant program, including:

  • Improved Reviewer Retention - By consistently providing an excellent experience for grant reviewers, they'll be willing to participate again and recommend your organization to others.
  • Increased Review Efficiency - When you anticipate the needs and questions of grant reviewers, they'll complete their work more quickly and with less support from your staff.
  • Improved Review Quality - With a clear understanding of the review standards, your organization can feel confident that their evaluation process is fair and thorough.

So, how can a grant manager ensure a pleasant, seamless experience for grant reviewers? Here are five steps that will make a big difference.

1. Provide clear expectations

Many grant reviewers have a lot on their plate. They're taking time out of their busy schedule to participate in your grant process. Although larger organizations may offer an honorarium, many reviewers volunteer their time.

With that in mind, make sure you're clear about what's involved and how much time will take.

First, you'll need to assess your grant program.

  • What's the volume of anticipated submissions?
  • How many submissions will each reviewer receive (approximately)?
  • What's involved in a review (completing a form, providing comments)?
  • How long will it take to review one submission (on average)?
  • How much time will the reviewer have to complete their assignments?
  • How many rounds of review will there be?
  • Are there any other tasks that will take up the reviewer's time?
  • Will there be any meetings (in person or virtual)?

Once you have the answers, put together a quick guide for all prospective reviewers. You could format it like a job description or an FAQ document. Make this part of your Call for Reviewers press release or add it to your website. That way, the expectations are clear from the beginning, and it sets the tone for a respectful collaboration.

2. Streamline the process

For the same reasons noted above, making the review process easy on your team will go a long way. They’re juggling a lot of responsibilities and this is only a small part of their day.

Let's talk about a few ways you can streamline your grant management process from the reviewer's perspective.

One-Stop Shop

When you email (or mail) a reviewer their assignments, you're adding another element to their responsibilities - organizing and tracking applications. You selected them for their subject matter expertise, not their administrative skills. And that's certainly not what they want to spend their time doing.

Instead, choose a grant management system that has an easy to use reviewer portal. With one sign-on, they can access all their assignments, complete their review, communicate with you and the team, and see the status of the grant program.

Since they're likely squeezing their review tasks in amongst their day, a portal keeps everything organized and ready for them. Plus, it's easily accessible online.

Single View Evaluation

You can also make their job more manageable with a dual screen for evaluation. A side-by-side view of the application and the scorecard fields means there's no need to print the documents for reference or toggle between screens to remember details about the application.

It's the small details like these that reviewers appreciate. A modern, professional interface also gives them a positive impression of your organization.

3. Remove annoyances

Your goal is to anticipate any potential for frustration and simplify your reviewer's experience whenever possible.

Screen Unqualified Applications

If your reviewer receives an application that's not qualified, it's a waste of their time. Especially if they recognize this fact after they spent time reading it. With grant management software, you can implement a set of qualification questions at the beginning of the application form to weed out any applicants who don't meet the minimum requirements. They won't make it to the reviewer's pile, saving them time and hassle.

Define Your Evaluation Criteria Clearly

If your review criteria are hard to understand or the scoring system is unclear, this is going to slow your reviewers down too. They'll have to contact your staff or muddle through, which means your evaluation process is compromised.

Opt for a scorecard with a built-in, flexible scoring function that gives you complete control over how you tally evaluation criteria. You can also provide text instructions in the reviewer portal to make sure all your reviewers are on the same page. This consistency will improve your review quality.

Whether you use simple yes or no questions, weighted scorecards, or qualitative evaluation methods, your reviewers need to understand precisely how you define each criterion and guidance on how to provide their feedback.

You'll make life easier for your review team by adding these details to your grant reviewer guide and reminding them within their portal.

4. Be helpful

There's no better way to build a positive working relationship than by being helpful. Keep in mind that even though certain things might seem obvious to you, a new reviewer might be confused or need a bit of hand-holding the first time around.

By using grant management software, you can be helpful, yet save yourself time:

  • Use color to help them quickly see the status of each assignment
  • Send automated reminders when deadlines are approaching
  • Incorporate explanation text in the portal to guide them
  • Respond to their questions from the inbox right inside the portal

Responding to questions quickly is the best way to build goodwill. Often, reviewers will only have a small window of time in their day to work on the applications. If they don't hear from you, they'll be at a standstill, and it will put them behind.

5. Volunteer as a grant reviewer

Wait, what? Stay with us. If you have the opportunity to do so, this is the single best way to understand your grant reviewer's perspective. You can:

  • Learn best practices from another organization
  • Test out their grant management software
  • See where you feel lost and what you need to get back on track
  • Read messages from the grant manager and evaluate their tone and helpfulness

Do you feel valued? Are you frustrated? Would you recommend that organization to another potential reviewer? These are all questions that you can answer with a new level of insight.


By doing everything possible to improve your grant reviewer's experience, you'll keep them involved, save staff time, and improve your evaluation process. While it may not be the primary focus of many grant programs, building solid relationships with your review team can have a significant impact on the success of your organization.


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