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Grant partnerships will avoid the pain

Posted on 09 Oct 2019

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Our Community

Port Phillip Community Group executive officer Karen Sait has sat on both sides of the table when it comes to grants, so she understands what it takes for funders to make things easier for recipients.

The simple answer? Good partnerships.

In practice, it can be complicated, but achieving better partnerships can reap extensive rewards for both parties.

As a councillor for four years with the Port Phillip Council - based in Melbourne's lively beachside suburb of St Kilda - Ms Sait has seen a diverse range of grant programs in action.

She's also been involved in approving grants while working in senior management roles with Victoria's Transport Accident Commission and inner-city health services.

It's a broad perspective for a community group executive officer whose organisation is reliant on grants, and who is grappling with the smallest budget she's ever had.

Ms Sait spoke at the Grantmaking in Australian conference alongside grantees from McAuley Community Services for Women and the North Melbourne Football Club's community engagement program.

Karen Sait
Karen Sait has extensive experience in granting funds, and seeking them too.

She told delegates she acknowledges there are challenges for funders and grantseekers when it comes to dealing with grants processes.

After the panel session, she told Grants Management Intelligence that the panel members - who represented community, anti-violence, housing security and sports outreach organisations - had common goals and challenges. Each organisation was seeking to grow, dealing with complexity in the services they were delivering, and relying on grants to get that business done.

While she understands that grantmakers are expected to get the best value for money they can, and be accountable for their programs, grantseekers are under pressure to deliver services and "make a difference", she says.

"It's about how to make that marriage work."

Relationships are crucial

That marriage analogy is apt, because developing a strong relationship is crucial, especially when things go wrong. For example, that relationship will pay dividends when a grantee is struggling to deliver what they've promised. It shouldn't be a shock if that happens, because as Ms Sait says, "People change, needs change, demands change."

Yet knowing there's a grantmaker on the other end of the phone willing to listen - without a grantee "getting in trouble" - will help to enable adjustments to a program that will produce the outcomes a funder is expecting, she says.

"I think that works to the benefit of everyone," Ms Sait says.

That honest relationship can also steer a potential grantseeker away from a grant they don't have a chance of succeeding with.

"Being told 'this is not the grant for you' can also do us a great favour."

That view echoes the 2017 Grants in Australia research study, which revealed that grantseekers who'd won six or more grants in the past year were far more likely to have a good relationship with their funder than those who'd won fewer grants.

When funders don't listen

We're often told that listening is the secret of a good relationship, and listening to grantseekers is no different.

Ms Sait says one of the most difficult challenges for grantseekers is when a grantmaker asks for feedback, is given it, and then promptly ignores it.

"If they've asked for feedback about the application or the acquittal process, and you know you're not the only grantee that has provided similar information, yet year after year, it's the same format (of question) that comes out. That's really frustrating."

You want that multi-page acquittal for how much money?

Another frustrating issue that's frequently raised by grantseekers is excessive bureaucracy for minor grants.

Ms Sait recalls a $1000 grant to pay for a computer, and describes the grants process associated with it as a "crack up" - but not in a good way. Her organisation's staff found themselves laughing at the length of the application form and the two-part acquittal, with reports expected at the halfway point and at the end of the process.

"It was obviously a generic type of acquittal process, when truly a receipt of purchase would have been quite adequate for a $1000 item."

"For a $5000 or $1000 grant, it's about recognising the business of not-for-profits, the process of applying for grants, and then streamlining both the application and the acquittal to match the amount of funds and outcomes that you're delivering."

It's all about ensuring that the "cost" of applying for and acquitting a grant - including the staff time and resources of both funders and grantseekers - does not outweigh the benefits of receiving one.

When it's time to go back to the grantmaking manifesto

Before presenting at the conference, Ms Sait examined the AIGM Grantmaking Manifesto, which lays out the central tenets of good grantmaking. She said it reinforced her view that grantees and grantmakers must work together for better impact.

"I think it's fantastic, both from a grantmaker and a grantee perspective, because there's a lot of information in there that I think informs both sides of the equation."

The manifesto declares:

  • Grantmaking is an absolutely central element in the Australian economic system.
  • Not one dollar should be wasted on poorly designed, poorly articulated, poorly evaluated, or inefficient grants programs and systems. Grantmakers should maximise resources by sharing lessons, and seeking and learning from lessons shared by others.
  • Australia needs more and better professional grantmakers.
  • The job of grantmaking should be afforded appropriate professional status, training and recompense.
  • Grantmakers should listen to the communities they serve.
  • Grantmakers should be driven by outcomes, not process. They should trust and respect their grantees and offer programs, systems and processes appropriate to their needs and capacities.
  • Grantmakers should be efficient.
  • Wastage is indefensible. Skimping on systems, technology and professional staff is equally wicked.
  • Grantmakers should be ethical.
  • Grantmakers should ensure that the process of grantmaking is fair, unbiased, and transparent.

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