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Metrics to Drive Grant Performance

“What gets measured, gets done!”

This saying is simple, if you’re keeping track of something, then you’re probably doing it… right? But the process of identifying the right metrics and reports to measure and communicate is far more complex… especially when it comes to finding metrics to drive grant performance.


Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of successful grant writers, consultants, executive directors and other grant professionals. Most are well aware of the effort it takes to develop funder relationships, properly research opportunities, successfully apply for grants, and build internal processes that increase efficiency and minimize mistakes. But translating that knowledge into establishing goals and setting the correct metrics to help them reach their goals is a skill that is often overlooked and underappreciated. In addition, the effort it takes to track and report on those metrics can be very time-consuming, especially if you do not have the right tools for the job. And, if measuring your progress takes time away from the very fundraising efforts you are trying to measure, you are presented with a tough tradeoff!

Proper Metrics

It is a challenge to establish the proper metrics for your organization, and then efficiently measure them, without negatively impacting the time you have to spend on grant writing and related fundraising activities.

But you can start with finding a proper benchmark for your organization. Fortunately, we have resources available that report on what other organizations are doing with their grant efforts. You can use these reports – such as GrantStation’s semi-annual grant survey – to get a feel for what other organizations are doing. But there are elements about your organization and how mature your grant processes are that can make your situation different than the organizations like those reported in these studies. You need to consider your own history, organizational strengths and reputation, competition for funds, and potential funding for your mission when you establish your benchmarks and metrics.

And try to avoid setting unrealistic expectations for what you can accomplish – especially with the tools and resources you have available. If the metrics you are being held accountable to aren’t based in reality, it can not only be demotivating, but it can incentivize activities that might damage your efforts and reputation in the long run. For instance, sending out cold grant applications to funders who you haven’t thoroughly researched may impact your chance of getting future funding– even if you do everything right the next time.

Measuring Everything

And don’t try to measure everything all at once. Try to find the metrics you can effectively track with the resources you have, and that will reflect the areas you need to focus on to be successful in the long run. And then build on those over time. Making progress on tracking metrics is a goal itself!

To aid you in brainstorming some metrics you might consider – I’ve included a list of ideas for grant performance metrics that I’ve gleaned from my many conversations with grant professionals:

Number of grant applications submitted – This is a basic metric, but consideration needs to be given to establishing a realistic baseline for how long it takes to create a quality application. Also, recognize if your plan has grant cycles spread throughout the year or bunched together in the spring and fall.

Type of grant applications – Tracking and setting metrics for various types of grant applications can help you track and communicate the time and effort it takes for each type. For instance, submitting a continuation grant will probably take a lot less time than a new, competitive grant application. Applying to different types of funders (foundation, corporation, government) can also require varying amounts of effort.

Win rate – What is a good win rate? It depends. Do you do a good job vetting your funding opportunities and making sure they are good candidates before you apply? If you do, you should be able to see the difference that effort makes in your win rate over time. And saving time by not applying to funders where the chance of funding is low is a good behavior to encourage.

Funding awarded – This is the end goal. Always keep a tab on this metric. Be consistent in how you track and communicate multi-year awards, and if there are large awards that might overshadow others, consider setting a metric that eliminates them from the total so you can see the growth of the other sources more clearly.

Number of funders – This metric can help you track and report on the diversity of your funding sources. Making sure that you aren’t becoming dependent on a small set of funders is important to a sustainable grant practice.

Number of new grant opportunities researched – Never stop cultivating new sources. Having a metric that puts visibility on this activity can help make sure time is allotted to this important activity – and that the searching happens at regular intervals.

Number of new funders you are applying to – This activity takes time and effort, so measuring it separately can help make sure that the long-term health of your grant funding stream is constantly nurtured. Highlighting metrics such as this one can help communicate their importance – even though it might take more time to submit fewer of these types of applications.

Number of meetings to build and establish funder relationships – Going back to the mantra, “What gets measured, gets done” applies here. Ask any grant writer and they will tell you how important relationships are. If relationships are so critical to success, there should be a metric that helps support and recognize the activities that are required to build them.

Grant process metrics – Establishing metrics that help you establish a solid, repeatable, and proper grant process is part of the ultimate goal. The percentage of grants that went through proper sign off and have all of the important grant documents archived online is an example of this type of metric.

Show Us Your ROI

Once you establish your metrics, you can use them to help show the return on investment (ROI) for the tools and resources you need to continue building a sustainable grant practice. You can use your metrics to show the impact of developing your skills, getting more grant-related education, hiring a grant coordinator or intern, or purchasing a grant management system.

And as mentioned before – effectively tracking your grant metrics takes time and effort. Many people start out trying to track their grants in a combination of spreadsheets, calendars, task lists, file storage systems, whiteboards, and colored binders. This might work for a while, but if you start having success in your efforts (and we all hope you do!), you may quickly outgrow it. So if you are serious about tracking and reporting metrics, a grant management solution with a robust reporting capability can be a critical component of your ultimate success. In addition to simplifying the tracking and reporting of your metrics – a grant management solution can also help you effectively plan for the peaks and valleys in the timing of your grant applications, remember the optimal time to apply for funding based on the funder’s grant cycle, and avoid costly mistakes(such as missing grant reports or other deadlines) that will undermine your efforts.

I wish you the best of luck in this endeavor and welcome any comments or suggestions. If you have other metrics you use to monitor and drive your grant performance – please share and I will add them to the list.

*This post originally appeared on SmartEGrants blog – August 10, 2016

About the Author

Tammy Tilzey is the Client Marketing Manager - Nonprofits, which encompasses intuitive grant management solutions designed to increase the efficiency and funding success of nonprofits. She particularly enjoys working and collaborating with passionate clients and coworkers. Tammy holds a B.S. degree in Computer Science from Montana State University and has held development, marketing, and services leadership roles at several growing software companies. In her role at Foundant Technologies, Tammy is able to further our mission to maximize the impact of the philanthropic community. What could be better than that? Tammy serves as membership chair for the Grant Professionals Association’s Idaho Chapter and also serves as Board Secretary for the Grant Professionals Certification Institute (GPCI).

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