There’s been a lot of buzz recently about grant management systems – which technology to use, how much to invest and when it’s the right time for a grant management system. The reality is everyone has a system, whether you’re writing everything down in your calendar, an onerous excel spreadsheet or, my personal favorite, the post-it note wall-papered office. When I do trainings, people always ask me how many proposals they should be writing each year or how many funders they should have in their grants portfolio before investing in a system.
There’s no magical formula to know when it’s the right time to make the leap to technology or how much you should invest in a system. But, like most things in life, in grant writing, you reap what you sow.
There are only two ways to increase grant revenues:
- attract new funders or,
- get bigger awards from the ones you already have.
Both take investment. Attracting new funders means increasing either your production volume or your success rate. To do either you need a system. To do both, you need an even better system.
Getting bigger awards from the funders you already have requires the capacity to satisfy post-award deadlines and having the time to cultivate deeper relationships, something you can’t do if you are overwhelmed with meeting proposal deadlines and managing information.
A system will help you stay ahead of due dates, identify better potential funders, keep your message consistent, make stronger asks, organize information easier and retrieve it faster, and allow you to focus more on relationships rather than forms and deadlines. Wherever your grant revenues are now, if you want to take them to the next level, you need a system.
It’s never too early to get started. There are many platforms available to choose from. Here are things to consider when picking the right system for you:
- Are you looking for a system to manage one organization’s workload or are you a consultant looking to manage your work for multiple clients?
- Do you need a system that will support fundraising with individual donors as well as your grant applications?
- Are you looking to complement existing tools or are you looking to replace the system you are currently using? And, what is your timeframe for adopting a new grant management system?
- How much file storage do you need, and what is your budget to get started?
- How many people will be using the system? Do your team members need to work collaboratively, or do you have a supervisor or clients who will want access too?
It’s important to pick a system that meets your current needs and is also poised to grow with you – after all, the purpose of the system is to help you grow. Also, make sure your system has a mechanism to manage all dates for reports and other follow-up requirements.
Whichever system you choose, you will need to input your current funder and grants information to get started. This can be the biggest obstacle for some — don’t let it be. Many grant management software applications offer onboarding and tech support to assist you with getting your current information uploaded. They may be compatible with your current systems or allow .csv file upload.
Even if you need to enter each funder and grant individually, it can be a powerful team building, work planning, or performance evaluation activity. It is the perfect time to do “data cleaning”, develop protocols on how to categorize funders and organize grant related documents. Once your information is in the system, it is a great opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of your grant fundraising and look critically at which efforts are yielding good returns on investment, which programs are better received by funders, and to be more strategic in attracting new funding sources. With many grant management solutions, summary data showing the results and status of your grant fundraising efforts is available at your fingertips – saving you hours of time calculating and pulling information whenever it is needed by your team. You will have more accurate data to forecast scenarios as you participate in setting your strategy for funding growth. And you can predict how much future funding could be at risk if resources were reduced. Also, when you can manage post-award deadlines better, cultivating larger awards from existing funders becomes easier, which takes less lead time and relationship building investment than attracting new funders at the same funding levels.
In addition to no longer waking up in the middle of the night in sweats wondering if you missed a deadline or forgot a report, with a system in place, the next time there is a staff change, the institutional memory (and money) will not suffer. You can be confident when talking with funders because you know what was said last time you connected, can easily find a copy of the grant agreement and verify you have submitted your reports, met the benchmarks, and provided everything on time. The best part about having a digital system in place is that a powerful system actually makes you more powerful. In addition to generating more money, you will generate more time — allowing you to build stronger relationships with your funders and achieve better outcomes.
And last, but not least, after you have your digital management system in place, you can finally schedule a vacation without your computer and the world won’t fall apart.
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