Three Principles for Effective Grant Making Part 2 (Post-Award)

Introducing three key principles and related best practices to improve processes in the award and post-award phases of grant-making.

7 / 9
Strategy Stakeholder Management

This Practical Giving Guide is the final installment in a two-part series on effective grant-making for corporate philanthropy. It introduces three key principles and related best practices to improve processes in the award and post-award phases of grant making. Additional guides are available on related topics including improving the pre-award grant-making process, structuring a grant, and selecting projects.

Key Takeaways

  • In the post-award phase of grant-making, funders should listen closely to grantees about the health of their work, and as a general rule, they should listen more than they speak.
  • Funders can employ three key principles during the award and post-award grant-making phases to strengthen overall outcomes: 1) a little due diligence goes a long way, 2) measure to drive learning and improvement, not merely compliance, and 3) encourage sustainable results that outlive the grant.
  • Funders should conduct diligence to be reasonably assured a grantee has the infrastructure, experience and policies in place to effectively manage funds in its current state or with practical and sustainable adjustments.
  • If a grantee is planning significant growth based on a grant from a single funder, due diligence should be conducted to be determine if the grantee can continue to thrive if funding from the organisation stops.
  • Monitoring for the sake of learning what works and what does not, and for identifying areas where improvements can be made is far more effective in driving results than is monitoring for compliance. 
  • The processes to monitor and evaluate should be adequately resourced, started as early as possible, and characterised as a learning exercise.
  • It is responsible practice to ensure that a grantee is well positioned to continue carrying out their work after a grant ends, at least better positioned to deliver against a new grant.
  • Funders should be proactive in anticipating grantee capacity needs and offer support that help ensure that impact survives beyond the life of the grant.

 

Introduction

Corporate giving is a key contributor in achieving community, national, and global development targets. In Part 1 of this series we stated the case for instituting practices that maximise the impact of corporate philanthropy. Part 1 homed-in on key principles and practices that yield the best results from the pre-award stages of the grant-making process. While the pre-award phase is ripe with opportunities to insitute effective practices that contribute to positive outcomes, the opportunity to maximise impact does not cease as soon as a grant is negotiated. The award and post-award phases offer plenty of opportunities to secure positive influence and generate meaningful outcomes.

As you move into these latter phases of grant making, it is important to remember that you’ve elected to work with a grantee because you recognise that they have far deeper expertise and or knowledge in the issues being addressed and the programme than your own organisation does. As such, your interactions with your grantee in the post-award phase should be governed by an overarching theme: funders should listen closely to what their grantees are saying about their work, and as a general rule, they should listen more than they speak. This is not to suggest that funders have no say in how grant resources are deployed. But by listening intently, funders avail of wider opportunities to benefit from the expertise of the very organisations they hand selected as partners. Doing so establishes a dynamic that emphasizes the value placed on input from grantees. That dynamic facilitates transparency and trust that is integral to successful outcomes. And perhaps most importantly, it helps to identify, anticipate and mitigate risks that erode impact and threaten programme success.

Fundamentals

With your pre-award solicitation and negotiations complete, you are now ready to award a grant. Funders can employ three key principles during the award and post-award grant-making phases to strengthen overall outcomes:

  • Principle 1: A little due diligence goes a long way
  • Principle 2: Monitoring and measuring to track learning and improvement, not merely compliance
  • Principle 3: Encourage sustainable results that outlive the grant
Figure 1: Three key principles to improve the award and post-award grant-making phases
image title

Key Principle 1: A little due diligence goes a long way

Why it is important: In the award stage, conducting simple due diligence prior to conferring a grant can help you operate responsibly towards a grantee and avoid common pitfalls down the road. One of the most important forms of diligence is to determine if your intended grantee can reasonably accommodate your grant within its existing structure, or at least has a sound realistic plan to do so with practical and sustainable growth.  Community organisations can cast a wide fundraising net and prioritise pitching for larger grants to offset the burdens of ongoing fundraising. These grants often call for innovative, scaled programming, and smaller organisations are under pressure to grow their staff, assets, and other infrastructure by orders of magnitude in order to deliver. Sometimes this growth is seen as an opportunity and can be achieved. More often than not, quickly and drastically increasing a grantees operating budget or funding significant structural changes is a hefty risk that threatens the success of your grant and the sustainability of the operations of the grantee. The risk is even greater if this is done based on funding from a sole grant-maker.

Key Principle 2: Monitoring and measuring to track learning and improvement, not merely compliance

Why it is important: Tracking progress towards results is crucial during the implementation and monitoring stage. For grant makers, monitoring often means ensuring that resources are being employed as agreed and that a programme is on track to meet a set of predefined targets. If progress is on track, the programme is believed to be in compliance with the terms of the grant. While compliance is important, monitoring solely to ‘tick the boxes’ can be short sighted. Monitoring for the sake of learning what works and what does not, and for identifying areas where improvements can be made is far more effective in driving results. Approaching the monitoring function solely as a policing initiative drives a grantee to focus narrowly on reporting while building blinders to the feedback loops and process improvements that can increase impact.

  • Co-design targets that are consistently and reasonably measured: Co-designing targets is a great way to leverage grantee expertise and ensure their buy-in. Grantees have an unparalleled understanding of issue areas and are well placed to help craft targets that meaningfully measure results. Furthermore, they can suggest a reasonable frequency with which progress is measured so as to make the most efficient use of their internal resources. As the funder, you can always encourage or reward the setting and achievement of stretch goals. 
  • Consider funding monitoring, evaluation, and learning activities: If it was not part of your initial grant award, you can consider seperately funding monitoring, evaluation, and learning activities. Data collection and evaluations are labour intensive and require specific skillsets. Community organisations do not always have internal resources specifically dedicated to these important functions, making them a struggle to carry out properly. Funding can be employed in a variety of ways including:
    • Financing the addition of a dedicated staff member,
    • Sponsoring an external programme evaluation or study,
    • Procuring a software package that supports data collection and analysis, or
    • Sponsoring a conference or peer gathering to share learnings.
  • Consider a neutral evaluator: Because both you and your grantee are heavily invested and likely proud of your programme, it is best practice to contract a neutral party to carry out your programme evaluation. While internal staff can certainly be involved, studies led by neutral evaluators carry more credibility and have higher chances of attracting further funding based on evidence of impact.
  • Encourage risk flagging: Risks are inherent to any project, but efforts should be made to mitigate them wherever possible. Your grantee is best placed to flag risks before they take root. Funders should encourage an open dialogue with grantees so risks can be managed efficiently.
  • Share information on what works and what does not: Programme evaluations, lessons learned, and other information around successes and failures should be shared when possible and prudent to do so. This hindsight is invaluable to other organisations working in similar areas, but more importantly publishing evidence around programme impact can attract follow-on funding from other organisations providing opportunities for scale and sustainability. 
  • Consider site visits: While not substitutes for deep learning or evaluation, site visits are simple ways to gain insights on a programme and to witness first hand its successes and challenges. 

Key Principle 3: Encourage sustainable results that outlive the grant

Why it is important: Eventually, your organisation will have to decide to reinvest or move funding elsewhere. In the final stage of the grant process, it is responsible practice to ensure that grantees are well positioned to continue carrying out their work if a grant ends, or is at least better equipped to deliver against a new grant. With lean budgets and urgent work, community organisations are rarely afforded an opportunity to upgrade their processes or professionally develop their staff. The results achieved through your grant may not be longstanding if adequate attention is not paid to their sustainability and longevity.

  • Support capacity building: Non-profits benefit from support and capacity building in a range of areas including communications, leadership development, strategic planning, etc. Increasing their capacity in these areas means they will be able to attract new funding, operate more efficiently, communicate their impact, etc. Funders can build the capacity of grantees primarily in two ways:
    1. Through direct technical support or training from funder’s internal staff and systems, or
    2. By sponsoring external third-party support or training. 
  • Consider reinvesting and be transparent about your intentions: The end of a grant does not necessarily mean you need to exit the relationship. You can absolutely consider reinvesting with an existing grantee to further your prevous work or take on new initiatives. Regardless of whether or not you renengage, it is essential that you remain transparent about your intentions so that your grantee can adequately prepare for changes or fundraise to replace your grant.