Monday, February 2, 2009


Grantsmanship used to be simpler. I can recall, back in the day, when foundation founders were intimate participants in local organizations and made commitments on a verbal exchange. In the last 25 years, troublesome “customs” have led to where we are now – buried alive applying for a grant and swamped after we’ve been lucky enough to receive one!

The Rand Corp. studied a nonprofit social service agency in western PA a couple of years ago and found that work hours spent on compliance reporting consumed 11 percentof the agency's annual budget! Hindsight is 20/20 -- grantsmanship needs lasik surgery.

That just might be Project Streamline, a coalition of grantseekers and grantmakers founded to study the impact of grant application and reporting practices. The Project commissioned a report last year that should be receiving far more attention in the non-profit sector than it has. Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted From Purpose: Challenges and Opportunities in Grant Application and Reporting looked at the burdensome grantsmanship practices grantseekers have decried for years now.

Acknowledging an “effectiveness paradox,” foundations are “beginning to discover that some measures they’ve adopted to ensure strategic and accountable grant making might be backfiring, resulting in a system that creates burdens on time, energy and ultimately effectiveness not only of nonprofit practitioners but foundations themselves.”

Sara Engelhardt, former program officer at the Carnegie Corporation who left the presidency of the Foundation Center, says the process is congested with middlemen, including trustees and program officers. She believes charities often have to “rewrite their budgets according to very specific requests related to a grant maker's needs.”

For some of my clients a grant is a pyrrhic victory – it costs more to service than the grant is worth. Those are the people Project Streamline wants to hear from at -- and so would I. You can share your thoughts and opinions and experiences anonymously: “…most of the red tape involved prohibits XXX organization from getting funded,” “…some grantmakers have developed complex application requirements that are not proportionate to the size of their grants.” Let’s hear it!

More on the Common Grant Application and right-sizing of grant applications at a later date.


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