Choosing a Grant Management Solution: 4 Steps to Success
Introduction, By Gregor McCall, Blackbaud Europe
The philanthropic world is evolving; organisations have an obligation to their supporters and recipients to be transparent – what impact is your funding delivering, how collaborative is your organisation, do you benchmark? Grantees expectations are also increasing regarding user experience – what does your submission process say about your organisation?
The right Grant Management Solution (GMS) can help run your grant activities smoothly and effectively, allowing you to be more strategic and direct the right funding to the right places.
Choosing the right solution is a little like baking a cake; you need the right ingredients in a perfect proportion to go with the correct equipment. The process of selecting a Grant Management Solution is one that shouldn’t be rushed. It takes patience and a commitment to detail. By ensuring you find the right fit, your project will have a better chance of succeeding.
A good solution provides the data that guides your efforts, which increases your efficiency and effectiveness. Knowing what you want is an essential factor in not only selecting the right software, but also helping your project succeed. Identify your business needs, prepare an outline, discuss it with your team members, evaluate the issues and form solutions. This crucial aspect plays a major role in your software selection. If you want the best; know what you need.
There are four key stages you will go through when selecting Grant Management Software (GMS) for your organisation; gathering requirements, making a business case, vendor evaluation, and finally selection. This guide will discuss these steps in detail so you can find a software solution best suited to you organisation’s current and future needs.
Step 1: Gathering Requirements
When beginning this process, you should not only consider your current business requirements, but also keep in mind what your organisation will need in the future. The right Grant Management Solution can help your organisation to adapt to any changes ahead and grow with them.
Your Requirements Checklist:
The Cloud One of the first things you should consider is a cloud-based software option. This will allow you to access your GMS from anywhere, as long as you have a connection to the Internet.
Consider Ease of Use
You and your staff will have to learn to use the software that you purchase. It is likely that you will have staff turnover in the future. Therefore, you should consider choosing an GMS that not only meets your needs but is easy to learn given the time and resources you can commit to training employees on how to use the software.
Think About Support
You will need to decide what type of support you require to help you use the product. Most vendors offer a full suite of help options — email, phone and online support. You should read any online forums about other users’ experience with customer support from the software vendor that you choose, because they are not all created equal and you’ll quickly find the ones that do not prioritise their customers’ success!
How much growth in your grant activities do you expect over the short-to-medium term? After you make your projections, you will then have a good idea of how scalable the software needs to be to meet this growth. For example, do you need the technology to run just on laptops and desktops, or mobile devices as well? How expensive is it to add additional users to your software?
Could You Use Workflow Management?
If you choose to operate in a paperless office environment, then you will need to choose a software programme that either has built-in workflow processes or lets you build them to meet your grant management processes. Since you will not have physical paper copies floating around your office for review and approval, you will need to have the ability to design the approve processes for simple and complex tasks.
Consider Data Security Needs
Data security is always important because you will want to make sure personal information is protected. Whatever the level of security needed, you will want to make sure that the designs are built into your software programmes or that you can implement the necessary security features into an IT plan to meet these needs.
A Holistic Approach
Consider a vendor that can help you in other areas. Often an overhaul to a specific department or process can uncover other needs that you weren’t aware of before. A good vendor will work with you to discover how they can assist you in achieving your goals. You should encourage vendors to discuss what else they can bring to the table.
Step 2: Making a Business Case
Making the choice to implement any new software solution is a significant strategic decision for an organisation. In order to get everyone in the organisation on board, it’s important that the requirements for a new solution are communicated thoroughly before vendors are approached. If the internal process is organised and signed off at an early stage, the whole process will run much more smoothly
Tips for creating a business case:
- Put yourself into various roles at your non-profit. You have a good understanding of what you need from the new solution, but you should speak to different teams and departments to find out how they could benefit.
- Stick to your objectives. Staying laser-focused on your organisation’s mission is the best way to keep the interest of your senior colleagues and trustees.
- Consider ROI. With any new purchase, the return on investment (ROI) will rightly be scrutinised. In order to keep your project on track, you’ll need to be able to effectively answer any questions that your CEO, trustees and others will have regarding the value of your new investment.
- Communicate. It’s important to bring others at the organisation along with you on this journey. Make sure any developments and decisions are communicated so people feel like they are part of the process from the beginning.
- Understand the sign-off process. From the off-set, make sure it’s clear who needs to be involved at each level, and who is responsible for the ultimate sign-off when the final choice is made.
Step 3: Vendor Evaluation
When your organisation is on board with the decision to move forward with the purchase, you should contact vendors and discuss with them your requirements.
You should prepare to view demos of each solution from the vendors you approach. When asking a potential solution partner to provide your organisation with a demo, think about what it is exactly that you want out of it. Ensure that you prepare both the vendor and your organisation; make a list of questions in advance so you can set expectations ahead of time, and make sure the right people are in attendance from your organisation.
The basic six steps involved in the Vendor Evaluation process are:
Key things to look out for when reviewing vendors:
Partnership: The relationship between organisations is always the key to the success of projects. Look for a vendor who is open to establishing a partnership which not only shares the risks and the rewards, but will establish a synergy between your organisations and a spirit of mutual endeavor. Understand if the vendor will provide a key contact who will work closely with you, seamlessly integrating into your everyday work on the programme, providing support, expertise, decisive resolution of any issues and, very importantly, enthusiasm.
Track Record: Not all vendors have a focused track record in the philanthropic sector, try to understand where their priorities and focus lies, do they truly live and breathe what you do? Are their staff from the sector? Do they really understand the grant management challenges you face, or are they just pushing out software? It is important you identify vendors who have the necessary capacity and experience to deliver the solution within the project timeframe and on budget.
Reliable References & Industry Approval: Choose a vendor where the majority of their customers have similar processes and requirements to yours, identify vendors who work hard to implement solutions and deliver a service that exceeds expectations and have been successful in building productive long-term relationships with their customers.
Innovation & Continuous Improvement: Continuous improvement and innovation is so important when considering technology vendors. Do the vendors you are considering embrace the technology arena and the challenges to find better, more valuable and quicker solutions for their customers? How often do they review processes, collect and act upon customer satisfaction comments and conduct lessons-learned exercises at the end stage of projects? How much do they invest in Research & Development each year?
Organisation Stability: Most technology projects are a long-term investment, therefore its important the vendors also see this and have a solid financial foundation, with dedicated members of staff, and many satisfied customers across the grant sector that continue to work with them. Try and understand the strategic focus of the vendor and whether it is centred on grant management and their growth will continue to be managed carefully with their success dependent on their people and their reputation for reliability, honesty and integrity.
Step 4: Selection and Implementation
The final step is to choose the best solution for your organisation! You know what you require and have seen what potential partners can offer you. Now is the time to make your selection and bask in the glory of choosing a solution that will make your working life easier and drive your organisation towards its goals.
Before signing with the vendor, make sure you get:
- Internal approval
- Statement of work from the vendor
- A clear process for internal sign-off, including approval from the finance and legal teams as well as your board of directors
Most GMS implementation plans and timeframes will be tailored to your needs, but it will generally follow the 5 steps outlined here:
1. Kick-Off: Preliminary Planning Session
Once your signed paperwork is received, a consultant from your chosen vendor will contact you to schedule your initial planning session. At this session your consultant will provide an overview of functionality and the project implementation steps. This will help you both to mutually agree on a high-level timeline for this project.
2. Discovery and Design Session(s)
Your consultant will schedule discovery workshop session to review your workflows and processes, and work with you to determine the best way to make those processes work in the GMS – allowing the consultant to document what you ‘require’ the system to do. At this stage, typically you will review with the consultant the data you wish to migrate to the GMS.
3. Set-up of Your System
Your chosen vendor will build your system, including your custom application form(s), according to your requirements, and migrate over the data designated above.
4. End User Training
During this session, your consultant will deliver onsite training to members of staff how to navigate and use your GMS.
5. Go Live!
If you have questions concerning Grantmaking Solutions, would like to find out more about Blackbaud, or at the beginning of the solution evaluation process and would simply find it useful to chat with a professional consultant, please contact us at :