We have just launched the results of our research into what charities want from grant-makers, and what a model grant-maker looks like in the eyes of charities. ‘Taking nothing for granted’ is an extensive piece of research and here is a blog outlining what we believe are some of the hallmarks of a model grant-maker.
Hallmark 1: up to date accessible information on grants
Charities find it extremely frustrating when they cannot find up to date information on grant criteria, or when their applications are rejected for reasons that could have been made clear before they applied. In the age of the internet, charities would like up to date information based on the actual criteria that are being applied. They also want to know whether particular funding streams are still available for a given financial year.
Hallmark 2: clear criteria with only limited flexibility
Charities do not like grant-makers that have only vague criteria or state they are for general charitable purposes. The difficulty for a charity is knowing whether a grant-making trust is the least bit interested in what they do. Charities need to know whether they should expend the effort to make an application. So in our survey by far and away the most common response was wanting clear criteria without too much or too little freedom.
Hallmark 3: quick decision making and short application moratoriums
Perhaps one of the bigger sources of difference between what the typical charity wants and the typical grant-maker offers is the speed of decision making and moratoriums placed on grantees after an unsuccessful application. Charities would like decisions to be made in three months or less, whereas they said that grant-makers typically take 6-12 months. Similarly they would like very short moratoriums if any at all: half of all charities want a gap of a year and the vast majority of the rest would like a shorter moratorium than a year.
Hallmark 4: two-stage application processes
One of the recent developments in the world of grant-making trusts is the two stage application. For the most part charities like this development, with two broad caveats. The first is that the initial stage is about the concept of the application and does not require them to do all the work for both stages in order to apply for the first stage. The second caveat is that the first stage has enough room to do justice to their application, and is not ‘reductio ad absurdum’.
Hallmark 5: electronic not paper applications
One simple request from charities that should be good for grant-makers too is for applications to be made online or by email. Electronic applications reduce printing and paper waste, and make it very easy to let a charity know that its application has been received. And what is the point of printing a copy of an annual report when it can be sent as a pdf?
Hallmark 6: core funding not project funding
When charities were asked if they would take a smaller grant that was unrestricted in place of a larger unrestricted grant many of them said they would; particularly the smaller charities who placed a very high value on core funds. In the Open Forum, the participants said how restricted funds were typically more expensive to implement and harder to manage. The delegates at the Open Forum said that core funds were very high on their wish lists.
Hallmark 7: multi-year funding not single year funding
Alongside core funds, multi-year funding was also highly valued (this hallmark is derived more from the Open Forum and the interviews and there is no specific data supporting it in the earlier sections). The cost of constantly applying for grants was one reason, but the certainty that a multi-year grant brought to small organisations was also a key issue. Charities think that more multi-year and core funding would make grant-makers’ money go further and let charities focus on what they know works. As one charity said “It’s often quite frustrating to constantly have to think of new and different when tried and tested works.”
Hallmark 8: personal contact with knowledgeable staff or decision-makers
Charities like to know that there are real people at the grant-makers where they submit applications. They want to be able to contact people and ask questions. Charities want to know that their applications reach a staff members’ desk and want the staff to understand their work. For a charity putting in applications to, or even getting a grant from, a face-less void where correspondence is forbidden can be deeply frustrating. Charities also said they would like to build long-term relationships with grant-makers, as this would make both applications and reporting back easier.
Hallmark 9: good feedback on applications
Charities love constructive feedback – but any feedback is better than none. Charities told us of posting off parcels of paperwork and hearing nothing for 12 months, not even an acknowledgement; they wrote the application off as a rejection. Charities know good feedback is hard to give, but it helps to know whether they are whistling in the wind or missing a grant by a whisker.
Hallmark 10: proportionate paperwork and processes
Perhaps the over-riding desire from charities is that all processes and ‘paperwork’ are in proportion. Making applications takes time and energy and so charities want the process (and the reporting back) to be in proportion to the potential reward. The bigger the grant, the more detailed the information required.
One of the issues that came out of the research is the potential for a win/win between charities and grant-makers. Fewer applications with a greater chance of success are good for both charity and grant-maker. Making funds go further must be good for both grant-maker and charity.
Hallmark 11: using knowledge and insight as non-money grants
Grant-makers have massive non-financial assets. They gather numerous reports from their grantees. Specialist grant-makers in particular can build up a formidable knowledge about what works and what doesn’t (and many presumably use that in their grant-making decisions). We believe that a hallmark of a model grant-maker going forward will increasingly be to use their non-monetary assets, for the benefit of themselves and grantees, to great effect. This could be through seminars, through ‘best practice’ reports or a variety of other mechanisms.
If you would like any more information please download the whole report or the executive summary here.