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Streamlining Grantmaking, from Both Sides

Does your organization make or apply for grants? If so, is your work better off now than it was five years ago? If your answer is "yes," you may have Project Streamline to thank. Project Streamline is dedicated to improving grant application and reporting. What started as an intriguing idea and drove initial examination is now an integral, industry-wide model of change.

Progress to date has been quite promising, especially when funders and grantseekers share stories about their improved experiences, decreased costs, and increased efficiency at every level.

To capture these experiences and determine to what extent the field has streamlined, the partners behind Project Streamline are working on an assessment of the project's impact so far. The findings will codify the successes made to date and help continue to raise awareness of the issues at hand. Most important, the assessment will create opportunities to identify the most promising methods to successful streamlining and then promote these practices throughout the industry.

Grantmakers and grantseekers can contribute to these important field-wide data by completing a short survey. Both surveys close on December 15, 2012.

Survey for GrantMAKERS  |  Survey for GrantSEEKERS

The data collected from funders and grantees will help create a final assessment, which will address the following topics:

  • Awareness: To what extent has Project Streamline—indeed, the concept of streamlining itself—penetrated the field?
  • Action: To what extent have grantmakers taken action to streamline their application and reporting processes?
  • Impact: What kind of difference has streamlining made to grantmakers and nonprofits?

Your help is crucial to completing the assessment and producing the top recommendations for more effective and efficient grantmaking. Consider the key benchmarks as they apply to your own streamlining efforts or those of your funders, and please share your experiences. Join the Project Streamline mailing list to get updated when the assessment report is released.

Grants Managers Network, Making the Case for Streamlining (Among Other Revolutions)

Project Streamline has succeeded because of the efforts of many organizations, but none more so than the Grants Managers Network. GMN is the only association for grant operations professionals and the driving force behind the effort to streamline grantmaking.

"GMN's mission includes a significant commitment to effective practices," says Michelle Greanias, herself a former grants manager and now the executive director of GMN. "Streamlining is a major part of effectiveness, for both grantmakers and their grantees."

Determined to address the great waste of time and energy caused by inconsistent and inefficient reporting and application procedures, GMN has led Project Streamline from the beginning—an initial report, "Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted from Purpose," began with the premise that in our zeal to be thorough, strategic, and effective, grantmakers often fail to consider the cumulative impact that thousands of separate requirements have on grantseekers. The goal of Project Streamline has been to create a set of principles to inform grantmakers' decisions about their information-gathering practices.

Principles for streamlining aren't the only guiding documents Grants Managers Network has helped create. The organization has worked to build knowledge within the industry about not just the work of grants managers but the professionals themselves, those doing the operational work at the center of successful philanthropy.

  • GMN's Body of Knowledge is like a syllabus to a college major in grants management. Since 1996, GMN volunteers, current practitioners, have compiled and coded resources, best practices, professional development opportunities, templates, and testimonials that form the backbone of learning how to be a grants manager.
  • GMN releases a bi-annual salary survey that explores compensation and benefits for grants professionals. The report is meant to help grants managers understand their value and negotiate competitive compensation as well as guide employers looking to measure salary ranges and other trends. The next salary survey is due in 2013.
  • Recognizing the close ties between grantmaking and the technology it takes to do it, GMN has been at the forefront of research on the connection, first with "A Consumer's Guide to Grants Management Software," which compared 20 grants management software products, describing the core strengths and weaknesses of each system, and most recently with a report on grantmakers' information technology practices and preferred systems, meant to give grantmaking organizations information on new trends and insights into what peer organizations are doing. Both reports were a collaboration with the Technology Affinity Group.

In 2013, GMN is taking a closer look at the professional development needs of their 2,200+ members, who range from brand-new-to-the-field to seasoned experts with decades of experience.

"The learning landscape for our members is wide, but it also needs to be deep. We're looking at how to provide core instruction while also building continuing education connections that reach beyond what happens in the classroom," Greanias says.

GMN is ahead of the curve on offering hands-on, experiential learning for members, who work as volunteers on every aspect of the organization's management and resources. Members plan and design conference sessions, write content for newsletters, and are even producing a new journal called GMNsight: Advancing Grantmaking, which is meant to start and continue conversations that are not just changing the role of grants managers but impacting philanthropy as a whole.

The central piece, keystone, and apex of GMN's network is their exclusive online member community, which pre-dates Facebook and Twitter and skips chatter in favor of discussions about international grantmaking and pre-screening for referrals. Members consistently rate the GMN member community as among the most valuable of any organization to which they belong. In fact, 73 percent of members report that the community is the first place they look for information about grants management. "The ability to ask questions, seek responses, and have open dialogue among peers in this industry is invaluable," says one member, while another notes, "I am the only one doing this job at my organization. With access to the GMN community, I don’t feel alone, knowing I can ask for help and read others’ questions, too."

"That's what GMN is really about," Greanias says, "It's about the members and what we can do to help them grow, learn, and become better grantmaking professionals."

Nikki Powell, Grants Managers Network
© 2012, Grants Managers Network

Nikki Powell is the communications manager for the Grants Managers Network, which manages Project Streamline.

Topics: Fundraising