WTF, Funders!?

Image by M.Maslany

There are tens of thousands of non profits and charities across Canada who rely on grants from various sources to fund their program work. Ostensibly, this work is serving a greater public interest or good that is otherwise not well enough addressed by private or government means and so, as a society, we rely on non profits and charities to fill that gap.

Grant seeking organizations must spend a significant amount of time writing grants internally, or hiring writers to support the grant research, writing, implementation and reporting process. Grants can come from various levels of government, corporations, private foundations, public foundations, other charitable organizations and more.

At Sharp Six we have written well over 50 grant applications and so we understand the ins and outs of the grant writing process for a broad range of funders. We have noticed there is sometimes a disconnect between the amount of work required to prepare or administer a grant and the funding amount available from the grantor; we feel that some funders have a disproportionate view of the value of their small grants and they need to adjust their processes to align well with what support, financial or otherwise, they are able to offer grantees.

Some funders can have very arduous processes that take up a disproportionate amount of a grant seeking organization’s time, especially in relation to the funding or other support potential. This is especially noticeable in British Columbia, where there are an extremely limited number of funders who will consider multi year requests. Thus, grant seeking organizations are stuck going through the same time wasting processes every year if they would like renewed funding from a grantor.

Some funders may argue that the time it takes an organization to articulate a project or program can strengthen the organization’s goals and direction of their program. We agree with this! It’s great that this time can act as a way to help organizations refine their work and set specific, measurable goals.

HOWEVER, the actual process of a grant application can often be time consuming for non valuable reasons such as:

  • Overly complicated criteria that is not thoroughly explained.
  • Excessive requests for information or multiple stage processes for grants of less than $5000 (causing non profits to spend almost that much money in staff or grant writer time to write the application).
  • Unclear or vague timelines and/or deadlines to submit proposals.
  • Lack of specified character or word limits until the grantee is logged into an un-saveable online application.
  • Ridiculously outdated requirements for the use of specific software or submission by fax or by mail in duplicate or triplicate.

What types of funders tend to do this? Here are a couple of examples we have come across that are particularly challenging when it comes to spending unnecessary time:

Funder 1

  • The questions are only available as screen shots meaning grant writers have no ability to copy and paste questions and must re-write all questions.
  • The application submission process is limited to Internet Explorer when using the online application portal. Internet Explorer. Yes, that’s right, the browser you used LAST CENTURY and is now virtually inaccessible on any Mac except your grandmother’s Classic II. And, for the record, this funder has no plans to change their Internet Explorer requirement at any point in the future.

Funder 2

  • The deadline is listed as “no later than the 15th” of the month, but the funder expects applications to be submitted by the 14th at 11:59pm… and will only tell you that if you happen to call the funder’s agent in the days prior to the 15th. A unique and confusing interpretation of a deadline, to be sure.

Funder 3

  • The application is a substantial two stage process for an average grant size of $2,000 given to grantees.
  • The online portal has many bugs and glitches that require the applicant to contact the funder, causing wasted time and delays on both ends.
  • Two reports are required plus an intake survey are required, and deadlines for these reports are inconsistent and do not align with requirements for the following year’s application.

Here is what we would LOVE to see from funders to make the process easier while still adding value through project & goal refinement:

  • Clearly laid out, consolidated criteria all in one place.
  • Clearly noted deadlines (or if there is a better time for grantees to submit applications make sure to note it with clear dates – avoiding phrases like “we usually meet at XYZ time so try to get it to us 2 weeks in advance not counting holidays…”).
  • Examples of what has been funded in the past available on the funder website.
  • Access to the full list of application questions without requirements such as creating an account, completing certain questions first (allowing grant writers to assess the scope of the application before applying and create a draft in advance).
  • Any word counts or character limits clearly articulated in the list of questions or grant criteria.
  • An online portal that includes a PDF and Word version of the questions before even creating an account.
  • A permanent move away from last century’s practices, including multiple paper copies, single sided paper requirements, obsolete software and anything that has a fax number.

And finally, funders should work collaboratively with grantees to refine their process. A more clearly defined grant or funding stream means grant writers can better determine if a grant or funding opportunity is a good match for their organization. Clarity in the application process save time for both granter writers and funders. So ask for feedback! In particular:

  • Include a short survey at the end of the grant application requesting information on key ways to improve your process AND implement suggestions to improve efficiency of the process.
  • Ask a colleague or staff person not directly involved in the funding process to read the criteria and ensure questions are addressed.

Want to learn more about our experience with grant research & writing? Need support refining your funding program? Drop us a line and we’d be happy to chat.