The process you go through to help you decide which applications to fund requires you to consider your values, your priorities and your appetite for risk. The better your assessment process, the easier it will be to come to a decision.
What does assessment encompass?
Assessment can refer to the whole process of reviewing applications, making recommendations for funding, and making final decisions. This assessment help sheet is concerned with the assessment of applications before they reach the final decision-making stage, and the broad considerations that are to be had outside of any structured decision-making framework.
How should we approach it?
The variety of approaches grantmakers take to assessing applications is just about as broad as the variety of different grantmakers. Here are some examples:
- Some organisations have one or two grants management staff assess each application, often scoring them against set criteria.
- Sometimes individual team members assess applications, before coming together as a group to review those assessments.
- Often, a standard assessment form is used, checking, for example, that all criteria in the grants guidelines are met. This ensures that there is a permanent record of how an application was assessed..
- Some organisations outsource assessment to an independent panel. The panel then feeds recommendations back to the grantmaking organisation.
- You might take into account whether the applicant is clear about their vision and direction; their approach to risk; how they value and support their people; how they intend to manage change and develop; and whether they are committed to quality.
- You might consider eligibility (in terms of meeting guidelines and goals), previous acquittals and the organisation's overall health.
- You might - as at least one Australian grantmaker does - require the applicant to submit two independent "assessor reports" with each application. Applicants are themselves asked to nominate two independent assessors, download an assessor report for them to fill out, and ensure that those reports are submitted by the closing date. The assessments are confidential, which encourages the sharing of honest opinions.
- You might request or invite more traditional letters of support from the organisation's stakeholders.
- You need to have a good understanding of your organisation's own values, because you will be weighing applicants' proposed projects against them.
- You can ask for contact details of referees, and conduct confidential conversations with them yourself.
- You can ask your own contacts what they think of the applicant organisations, recognising, though, that everyone has their own biases.
- Increasingly, assessments are being conducted online. Each assessment panel member might conduct their own assessment online, and then the group comes together for a discussion to make a final recommendation.
- The more comprehensive and complete the assessment, the easier decision making will be.
Assessing projects versus assessing organisations
- Your primary concern might be whether the project is a good idea.
- Assessing projects rather than organisations can be problematic: there's nothing to stop a dysfunctional organisation from applying for funding for a great project.
- Some grantmakers believe it's not necessary to focus too closely on the project, because providing that the organisation running it is robust, they know best how to spend grant money.
- You might prefer to know whether an organisation has a successful track record, an appropriate governance structure and sound finances.
- Or you might recognise that many community groups have short life-spans and therefore not bother with stringent guidelines in relation to track records.
- You might be more concerned about which people are going to put the proposed project into practice than you are about the managing organisation. You might want to know about the individuals' capacity and expertise.
- You might be more concerned about the community in which the organisation operates and whether the project is, firstly, necessary and, secondly, likely to be successful.
- You can require each applicant to provide a copy of their constitution and latest audited financial statements. You can request a short history of the organisation, its aims, membership numbers and management structure.
- You can consider whether the organisation has set realistic, measurable and achievable goals and outcomes. You can consider whether it has a demonstrated ability to achieve the project's objectives.
- You might establish an organisation's eligibility first, and then consider the proposal second.
- Risk doesn't have to be a deal breaker. In fact it can be very healthy and closely tied to innovation.
- We know of one grantmaker who not so concerned about funding risk but is very concerned when they as the grantmaker identify more risks than the grantseeking organisation itself is aware of.
- Risk is arguably unavoidable; it is understanding the risk involved that is essential.
Weighing it all up
- Your assessment might uncover some issues of concern, but leave you with a positive impression of a project and organisation overall.
- The next task, then, is deciding how much of a risk you are willing to take.
- There might be measures you can put in place to mitigate those risks, or you might fund a compromise version of the applicant's proposal.
- You might decide you need to hold an application over for a future funding round, to give you more time to properly assess an organisation.