Grant nerds’ great tips for better funding

Posted on 02 Sep 2022

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Playful Thinking lead facilitator Daniel Teitelbaum

What do you get if you arrange hundreds of Australia’s most capable grantmaking professionals in a room for the 2022 SmartyGrants Grantmaking Intelligence Conference, then squeeze them for their collective wisdom?

Playful Thinking lead facilitator and philosopher Daniel Teitelbaum led the liveliest session of the day in which grantmakers quizzed each other about what they’d learnt at the event.

Want to boost confidence in grants administration? Try these ideas

Asked what grant managers could do to boost public confidence in grants administration, delegates were quick to suggest the following:

  • use simple forms
  • have clear information about eligibilty, evaluation and assessments
  • have transparent processes, timelines, and funding distribution
  • employ good communication of probity, rules, and expectations
  • develop good relationships with regular applicants
  • publish audits, evaluations and details of successful grant projects
  • eliminate political bias with the use of highly visible information
  • involve the community in decisions, such as with live pitching sessions or participatory grantmaking
  • ensure key decisions aren’t all made by too few people

Go faster, without unnecessary risks

In an era where grantmakers are expected to expedite funding, especially in a crisis, funders have some great ideas about how to better distribute funds fast. Asked how they would speed up their processes without exposing their organisation to excessive risk, they suggested the following:

  • start with good governance, legal advice, good forms, good questions
  • provide clear guidelines and simple applications
  • ask only what’s really needed to ensure probity
  • conduct basic eligibility checks before allowing applications
  • clearly communicate expectations upfront
  • boost staffing for application processing and eligibility checking
  • use PDF signature functionality such as Acrobat Sign for online applications
  • bulk process as much as possible
  • examine your data to understand what issues need addressing early on
  • consider whether you even need a grants program for funds distribution
The SmartyGrants Grantmaking Intelligence Conference is known for delegates sharing knowledge.
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Our Community executive director Kathy Richardson told delegates the event was a sell-out.
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The event was held live in the RACV Club in Melbourne's CBD and also virtually.
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The event is a rare opportunity for professional grantmakers to rub shoulders.
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There were plenty of "sharp" questions from experienced grants practitioners.
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Organisers expected that every delegate would take home actionable ideas.
Danielle Wood Grants Conference Day One 16
Keynote speaker Danielle Wood, CEO of the Grattan Institute, revealed exclusive details of a porkbarrelling study.
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Moreton Bay Regional Council's Nicole Schellback said: "You just can't put a price on what you learn".
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There were plenty of tricky questions for speakers.
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One of the liveliest sessions saw delegates prompted to come up with actions they'd learnt from the event.
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Innovation Lab director of data science Dr Paola Oliva-Altamirano.
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The event was a rare chance for grantmakers to network.

First steps for outcomes measurement

Asked what they would do first if they were asked to start measuring outcomes, it was clear that grantmakers had already given this some thought, with suggestions such as these:

  • start a conversation with other SmartyGrants users
  • ask whether you’re measuring short-term or long-term outcomes
  • examine the outcome logic maps you can see online
  • consider “the story” you want to tell
  • allow grantees and other stakeholders ample time to make adjustments, since it can take “up to five years” to use outcomes measurement well
  • ensure training and conversations use a “shared, simple language”
  • undertake a desktop review of the outcomes measurements already used internally
  • find the people in your organisation who drafted those measures
  • check whether you’re bound by certain outcome frameworks or requirements, as many state and federal agencies are.

Are you actually funding the right projects?

A key issue for grantmakers is whether they’re actually funding the right programs. Here’s what delegates suggested:

  • consider whether you’re advertising in the right places for the right applicants
  • ensure you’ve got the right people judging the applicants
  • consider your outcomes, both short-term and long-term, to evaluate whether your objectives are being met
  • define what “right” really means, which is a way of saying it’s essential to target the right applicants and outcomes
  • ensure governance and guidelines are spot on
  • create “customer service” channels with Q&As, live webinars and other ways to help guide applicants
  • assess applications against clear criteria, with a variety of people involved in decisions, but each with clearly delineated roles.

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