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Friday, January 19, 2018

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Streamline… Simplify…Be more efficient… many funders want to streamline the grant application and reporting process
Jacqueline Beretta

July, 2007

Staff, time and space limitations? Simplication will take some hard work to get the nonprofits and the foundations together in order to design a template for a grant appication and universal reporting system that would serve the entire 3rd sector in Texas. I’m game….are you game?

It seems that now not only nonprofits are rooting for this. The time spent on grantwriting, reporting, and managing is excruciating – I can vouch for that on both sides of the fence. Wouldn’t it be great to do a great job applying and reporting while having more time to carry out the mission? Win – win all the way. And now it seems that there is some movement in this direction to look at the entire process to propell it forward into the present.

Nine out of 10 of a group of leading institutions that fund nonprofits want to streamline the grant application and reporting processes, according to the findings of a recent survey released today by Harvard University's Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations and the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF).

The survey data was collected from over 80 respondents, including attendees at a 2007 Hauser Center and NFF symposium entitled "Capital Ideas: Moving from Short-Term Engagement to Long-Term Sustainability." The pre- symposium survey was sent to all symposium invitees and also to the members of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO).

Survey results were published in conference proceedings that were released today. The proceedings offer draft principles for all social sector funders, including foundations, individual donors and government agencies. They suggest key steps that can improve the impact of funds flowing into the nonprofit sector.

"Funders can do a great deal to strengthen the health of nonprofits by changing how they structure, steward, and share funding," noted Kathleen W. Buechel, a visiting practitioner at Harvard's Hauser Center and co-convenor of the symposium. "The survey findings and symposium proceedings highlight promising practices that are well within the reach of most funders. They underscore solid but simple principles like sharing data and existing metrics, streamlining reporting or sustaining and pooling funding for longer-term impact. Taken together, these accessible reforms should help more nonprofits deepen their capabilities to meet more of society's most pressing needs."

Nonprofit Finance Fund President and CEO Clara Miller, a symposium co- convenor said: "The best grantmakers find ways to use money wisely to help front-line nonprofits succeed, often against overpowering odds. Unfortunately, some time-honored funding practices actually work against success: overly narrow restrictions on the use of funds, expensive customized reporting requirements, and starvation-level overhead rates, to name just three that can improve through simpler, more 'enterprise-friendly' practices. The survey shows that many in the funding community -- at private foundations, intermediaries, and government -- are increasingly embracing new ways to fund an effective social sector."

The Hauser/NFF survey yielded six key areas of strong agreement:

1. 90 percent of respondents see the need to simplify grant applications and reporting, to make grantee effort commensurate with grant size and scope.
2. 79 percent said that most grants should have fewer line items and other restrictions.
3. 83 percent said that foundations should increase the size and length of grants, even if that meant that fewer nonprofits were supported.
4. Seventy percent agreed that standardization with other funders of grant applications and reporting is advisable.
5. 94 percent said that foundation relationships with grantees should change from oversight to partnership.
6. 89 percent said that foundations should jointly decide with grantees on evaluation tools and metrics.

The Hauser/NFF symposium focused on an overarching theme: that in order to resolve social problems, philanthropy, government, individuals, and nonprofits must themselves be united, and that currently, too many initiatives that are meant to increase nonprofit efficiency unintentionally undermine it.

With leadership from Harvard University's Hauser Center and NFF, conference participants recognized a growing need to share their message with the broader constituency in order to create an even more effective social sector. Participants generated draft funding principles -- key steps that funders can take collectively and individually to improve the way nonprofits are supported. The most recent version of these funding principles can be found in the newly released conference proceedings.

"These funding principles, if followed by enough funders, have the potential to transform the sector, enabling nonprofits to escape the relentless pressures to deliver current services to the detriment of the organization's financial health and organizational capacity," said symposium co-convenor Elizabeth Keating, a visiting assistant professor at Boston College and recent senior fellow at Harvard's Hauser Center.

The Capital Ideas Survey results, conference proceedings and an executive summary are available on the Capital Ideas Symposium Web site, and at the NFF Web site,

The Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations is a Harvard University-wide research center that seeks to expand understanding and accelerate critical thinking about nonprofit organizations and civil society among scholars, practitioners, policymakers, and the general public by encouraging scholarship, developing curriculum, fostering mutual learning between academics and practitioners, and shaping policies that enhance the sector and its role in society.

The only national community development financial institution (CDFI) focused exclusively on nonprofits, Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) helps organizations strengthen their financial health and improve their capacity to serve their communities. With NFF's help, nonprofits build and renovate facilities, expand operations, fund growth needs and sustain operations over time. NFF serves both nonprofits and their funders, offering an integrated package of financial and advisory services.


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