This is a guest post by Laura Solomons, a non profit professional, grant giver, grant seeker and part of the team behind #FixTheForm
“I just filled out a 6 figure request where I had 4x the real- estate to describe the structure of my board of directors and board governance than I had to describe the program, outcomes and impacts”.
“It makes me wonder if the funder is more concerned about board governance than they are program delivery? It’s fine to give limits, I know funders don’t want to read War and Peace 100x in every grant cycle, but it often seems like these character counts/word limits are completely arbitrary or irrelevant to what I would assume the funder would use to judge the worthiness of the project.’”
“I appreciate the need for brevity but when so little space is allocated I spend far too much time translating a request into Haiku format and it’s difficult, nigh impossible, to tell the org’s story well.”
“Each funder makes up their own random sequence of questions so we’re always starting from scratch.”
LarkOwl’s wonderful blog, which I read eagerly each week, often spends time giving invaluable advice for how Trust fundraisers can increase their chances of securing a grant. Accompanying this blog post will no doubt be even more of those valuable and vital tips for success. The reality is that grant-seekers are competing for a slice of a finite pie.
However, do we ever get the chance to question the tools via which we ask for that pie?
Or, in other words, have you ever had a moment where you WISH that you weren’t asking for money so you could tell a funder just how much time they are wasting with faulty, broken, nonsensical application forms and processes?
Through a random and fortunate sequence of events, I became a Trustee of a grant-giving organisation early in my fundraising career. At first, I went into funder networking spaces feeling a bit of a spy and an imposter. I felt lucky. I thought maybe it would increase my chances of success for the charity I worked for.
Then over time, those thoughts evolved… ‘funders are just people like us’… funders are often time-poor or struggling having not always invested in their own staff or processes’ and finally…‘funders spend A LOT of time discussing things that don’t relate to the lived experience of grant-seekers and charities’.
I sat in webinar upon webinar focused on what funders consider the ‘big’ issues – ‘collaboration’, ‘power’, ‘responsible investing’. But when I put my fundraising hat back on, I heard a different story – ‘word counts’, ‘no feedback’, ‘unclear eligibility requirements’.
When we step back, we can see we all exist for the same purpose and to achieve the same goals BUT what is deeply sad and frustrating is that so often grant-givers and grant-seekers are worlds apart in the conversations we are having and where we are having to focus our time and efforts.
Ultimately, it’s charitable missions that lose. It’s holding us back to have to work around broken application forms and processes. It wastes our valuable time and resources. It’s unfair for everyone – but especially smaller and grassroots charities, that are often black and minority-ethnic led.
FixtheForm was born out of this very frustration: 500 grant-seekers from nine different countries told us what they think needs to change…and they didn’t hold back.
Click here for the summary of results (and some more information about who we are).
In addition, we have hundreds of powerful quotes sharing why this is an issue – myself and my wonderful co-collaborator Kari sat there reading them in awe, nodding along – a few have been used to kick off this blog post.
We are starting with the top fix – not being able to see the full application form ahead of time – it was voted for most often and voted most painful. It’s the one thing that nobody could justify – there is NO GOOD REASON for funders not to display their questions on their website using a downloadable, editable form.
So we are kicking off a time-limited campaign in partnership with the Technology Association of Grantmakers: 100 Forms in 100 Days. To participate, foundations must do three things:
o Create their form in an editable, downloadable document (preferably word),
o Post it on the foundation’s public webpage (not behind a user wall), and
Attached is the FixTheForm Checklist – we’ve absorbed the data, had conversations with funders and FixtheForm is in motion.
If you’re reading this, and hopefully fired up, here’s what you can do:
- Send Trusts and Foundations 100 Forms in 100 Days and encourage them to participate.
- Watch out for the public launch on Twitter and help us make some noise – we don’t want to just reach those Trusts already looking at best practice – we want to agitate on this issue and create widespread change.
- FixtheForm as a campaign is focused on the top fix but we will be setting out principles and an approach for a ReFormer community – send your thoughts about what that community of funders should focus on to FixtheForm@gmail.com.
- Consider become a grant-giving Trustee – ESPECIALLY if you have lived experience to contribute alongside your professional experience – many Trusts are looking at participatory grantmaking – ‘nothing about us without us’ – and it’s vital you’re part of the conversation as to where and how money is being distributed. You can look at Getting on Board, or the ACF website where roles are often share