Building compliance from the beginning

Grants evaluation is not just about increasing efficiency. It's also about gaining the knowledge needed to improve the work being done. There are many possible approaches to evaluation. Grantmakers need to find the right approach for them and then use it in the right way.

The process of ensuring compliance begins before you've made a grant. Consultants Barry Smith and Fiona Dempster advise grantmakers to consider 10 questions early on, and carry out risk assessment at each step.

  1. What outcomes do you want to achieve?You need to be able to say in one simple sentence what you want to achieve. Make sure it's aspirational and try to ensure it's measurable.
  2. What is to be delivered?Define what you are hoping people will do to deliver the outcome you have set.
  3. What types of organisations can deliver it best?Think about how you want it delivered, by whom, to what standards and within what risk parameters. Determine which of these are critical.
  4. What is to be checked?Do you need the organisation to be incorporated? To have up-to-date insurance policies? Are there financial or capability requirements you need to insist on? Do you need to know about their financial or governance history? Do you need to check on the skills and qualifications of their staff? Understand and prioritise the characteristics you need.
  5. How do you want the checks to be done?You might build your requirements into a contract or ask for proof during the application process. You might require third-party checks or references. You might require one check or several throughout a process.
  6. Who is to do the checks?Is self-assessment and assurance by applicants sufficient, or will you need to carry out further checks? Do you need to involve a third party? Which one?
  7. When do you want checking done?You may require more frequent checking depending on project duration, milestones, and the capacity of the funded organisations.
  8. What are the links between compliance items and outcomes?Compliance should be used positively rather than punitively. If a milestone is missed, you should question whether there is a capacity or capability issue and whether something can be done about it, rather than just withdrawing the grant.
  9. How will you treat emerging versus established organisations?Do you need to provide coaching for emerging organisations? Do you need to maintain a closer relationship with them? Do you need a help desk?
  10. What steps will you take if it all goes wrong?Develop a clear plan covering how you will deal with your political masters, the community response, media attention, and the organisation involved if it all goes wrong.

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