Grants Management Systems: Primer for Best Practices, Part 3

To read the full "Primer for Best Practices," click here.

The following article is an excerpt adapted from the research report "Benchmarking Study of Best Practices in Grant Management Software for State Arts Agencies," conducted on behalf of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts in 2014.

By Sally Cao, Lauren Harrison, Graciela Kahn, Signe Lindberg, Lillian Mo, Kimmy Nguyen, Ana Vazquez-Trejo, and Ying Zhu, Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University.

Conduct Digital Panelist Reviews That Incorporate Funding Formulas

With grants management systems, the whole application process can be done online. To accommodate the needs of a diverse pool of reviewers, the system should allow them to view each application online and to access and download each application in a printer-friendly format. Grants managers should take full advantage of GMS panel review features by incorporating funding formulas (weight and average calculations) to the evaluation forms that reviewers fill out and then having reviewers input their final scores into the system. If set up correctly, the GMS will automatically compile the scores inputted by reviewers, weight the individual scores against the rest of the pool, and rank them. This ranking makes it easier for reviewers to get an accurate picture of the overall recommendations and amend scores, if necessary. Grants managers can then use these rankings to present their funding recommendations to those who make the final funding decisions.

Be Transparent in Communications with Applicants and Grantees

To efficiently complete the application stage of the grant making lifecycle, arts agencies need to provide effective communication with applicants so that they understand the next steps, whether it be receiving grant funds or getting feedback on declined applications. Agency websites are often the first point of contact and should provide a concise FAQ section, using clear language to address application and technical issues. Further, arts agencies can post minutes of council and/or panel meetings where decisions are made. Information regarding how to contact the agency with any additional questions should also be easily accessible to applicants.

"Common Characteristics of Highly Rated Funding Guidelines," from Foundation Communications: The Grantee Perspective. Source: Center for Effective Philanthropy

"Common Characteristics of Highly Rated Funding Guidelines," from Foundation Communications: The Grantee Perspective.

Source: Center for Effective Philanthropy

Project Streamline offers valuable recommendations for effective communication in its report Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted from Purpose. Among the suggestions are seeking feedback from grantees and applicants, conducting a business process review, identifying where redundancies exist, and communicating clearly and regularly with grantees.

Communication with grantees is further emphasized in a report by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which provides a series of “practical steps” a foundation can take to improve its communications: “Gather staff to talk about their individual approaches to communicating with grantees and encourage internal sharing of practices, consider creating an internal guide explaining those practices—as well as the foundation’s underlying philosophy on communicating with grantees, provide orientation to new staff that includes standards on communicating.” Keeping a communications log ensures continuity and efficiency in communications with stakeholders, especially over a long period of time. If multiple staff members are involved in different stages of the grant lifecycle, keeping that log within the GMS (or in a system that integrates with it) makes it easier for grant managers to access all relevant information and decreases the chance for data to be redundant or outdated. As the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s report states, communication with declined applicants is also important to the overall success of any grantmaking organization.