A two-stage application process - where an expression of interest precedes a full grant application - is usually a genuine win-win. It saves grantmakers from assessing lengthy applications about projects that are unlikely to be funded and it saves applicants from spending time writing those same applications.
How does it work?
- Grantmakers invite expressions of interest (EOIs) from anyone who wishes to apply for a grant.
- The EOI provides the grantmaker with a broad outline of the project or program for which funding is being sought. This might include:
- contact details;
- the name of the project;
- the main aim of the project;
- the difference it is expected to make (the outcomes); and
- a rough estimate of how much it will cost.
- The applicant's eligibility is considered, as is how the project fits with the grantmaker's overall mission.
- In some two-stage processes, the grantseeker is given feedback and invited to resubmit their application.
- Only grantseekers with a reasonable chance of securing a grant are invited to submit a second-stage application.
- The second-stage application does not request information that has already been covered in the EOI. (You might even automatically transfer all of the information from the EOI to an application form before the applicant is asked to add to it).
- The quality of the project itself, the likelihood of it achieving its outcomes and the group's capacity to deliver are likely to be among the considerations at this stage.
When does it make sense to use a two-stage application process?
A two-stage application process may be useful for your program if:
- Your grant criteria are clear and it is possible to tell fairly accurately, based on a broad outline, whether or not a project meets those criteria.
- Applicant numbers are large.
- The grant money is significant and there is strong competition for funding.
- You don't just award grants to the same groups or projects every year.
What are the benefits?
- The grantmaker does not waste time assessing ineligible or unsuitable applications.
- Grants officers have less to do after an initial check has been done by other staff.
- The grantseeker does not waste time on applications that are unlikely to bear fruit.
- The grantmaker is better able to predict and manage workflow - they know how many applications they will receive.
- The grantmaker is able to support and advise groups at an early stage.
What are the risks?
- Grantseekers might not take the advertised two-step process seriously, and may wrongly assume that if they don't submit an EOI or only do a rough job of it, they will still have an opportunity to submit a lengthier application later. Careful management of expectations is required to address this risk.
- Those groups who do get through to the second round may think they are a shoe-in for securing a grant. Again, careful management of expectations is required.
- If you invite too few second-stage applications, you may find that assessors do not have sufficiently diverse projects to consider.
- Two-stage application processes often advertise short turnaround times for the assessment of expressions of interest. While this is best-practice in terms of grantseekers' needs, it can put significant pressure on staff.
- If you provide grantseekers with feedback and allow them to resubmit their applications you may find that you are creating more work for both of you, instead of less - but it can lead to better-thought-out projects at the final stage.