Each year, around $80 billion is distributed in grants across Australia. It's big business but unbelievably, prior to 2009 no homegrown, standardised process or system existed to manage this massive industry.
Grantmakers had wasted millions upon millions of precious (and mostly public) funds building customised grants management systems that were designed by people with no knowledge of the craft of grantmaking and that were out of date the moment they were completed. Often, the systems sought to emulate processes that had grown organically (and often eccentrically) over many years, leading to the creation of online systems that would make Frankstein's Monster blush.
Grantmakers squandered millions more on poorly designed programs that did not deliver the hoped-for social improvements.
At the same, Our Community had uncovered a seething undercurrent of "grants rage" among grantseekers of all types and sizes. Grantees lamented the tragic state of the technology systems they were subjected to, tore their hair out about mad processes that forced them to report on things that were never acted upon, lamented the lost opportunities for the exchange of knowledge. Most of this was done in silence - grantees' dependence on the cash that was given out left them reluctant to express or act on their concerns.
Auditors were not so shy. Our Community's grantmaking publication tracked report after report criticising poor processes, weak audit trails and grantmakers who did not know what effect they were having, if any.
Our Community's EasyGrants database and newsletter had tracked almost every grants program and every grantmaker in Australia - local, state and federal government, philanthropic and corporate; around 2500 live grants at any given time - for well over a decade. At the same time, our grantmaking education arm had been tracking local and international trends, innovations and best practices in grantmaking, and gone face-to-face with grantamkers through conferences and networking programs. We identified a second vein of grants rage - grantmakers too were frustrated about the expensive, clunky, outdated systems they'd been lumbered with.
In 2009, Our Community assembled a special team, operating within the walls and the social agenda of Our Community, to develop a technology solution that would address many of these philosophical and practical problems. SmartyGrants was born.
SmartyGrants is a hosted grants management application that allows grantmakers to receive and manage applications - but it is much more than just a tech solution. SmartyGrants drives sector-wide reform by building best practice into an intuitive and affordable product that grantmakers want to use because it makes their lives easier and their outcomes better.
Grantmakers can use the service for as long as they like (agreements are only 12 months in duration and data is fully portable so customers can leave at any time) and get the benefits of constant upgrades and innovations.
The good practice tips and tools and networking and training opportunties that are delivered through the Australian Institute of Grants Management help to reinforce the reform agenda.
Our story is far from complete. We have an ambitious agenda to keep driving change.