If a program review results in significant changes to a grantmaking program, the program will require repackaging and the new approach will need to be communicated to grantseekers. One Australian grantmaker, Lotterywest, has been through the process and has some good lessons to share.
Why conduct a review?
Lotterywest had a solid grants program with good approval ratings and efficiency metrics, but they felt that they needed to take a good look at what they were doing. When they did, they decided they could do it better. Lotterywest was procedurally driven, assessing projects on compliance with guidelines rather than the project's merits. They believed they were at risk of being stuck in a box-ticking mindset, or at least being perceived to be.
How did the program change?
As a result of the review, Lotterywest decided to move towards greater flexibility and responsiveness. The journey came with worries about being swamped with applications "for everything under the sun", having to say "no" more frequently, damaging their reputation and inflating their administrative workload.
Thirty-six guidelines were replaced by five broad funding priorities:
- Extending the capacity of not-for-profit organisations
- Strengthening community service delivery
- Enhancing community development initiatives
- Valuing Western Australia's heritage
- Advancing participation in community life.
The priorities were put in place not as a framework to use to filter out applications but to be inclusive and to help applicants find a way in. Robust accountability practices gave the organisation the confidence to support a wider range of developmental, community-driven initiatives than they had before.
The worries proved unfounded: productivity went up, and the level of requests received and grants approved both went down. The size of grants awarded went up as the strength of applications improved.
Lotterywest's grantmaking review coincided with a broader organisational rebranding. Extensive research, internal reflection and communication resulted in the declaration of four organisational characteristics: "rewarding", "inspirational", "trusted" and "engaging". These tied in closely with the funding priorities.
Major changes to a program like this require careful communication - both to enact internal cultural change and to maintain the organisation's connection with grantseekers. Changes included:
- revising all wording and publishing, including hard-copy documentation
- establishing a dedicated communications role
- revamping the grants website.
Reviewing and rebranding tips from Lotterywest
- Allow plenty of time and internal resources.
- See the allocation of resources as an investment rather than a cost.
- Don't underestimate existing internal wisdom or the value of external input.
- Be sensitive to and learn from people's resistance, discomfort and fear.
- Have faith in yourselves and the sector you support.