The idea of a common application for grant-seeking organizations is not new, but with the rise of Generative AI, there is a new influencer in the space. What do Generative AI platforms like ChatGPT say are the best application questions, and how does that measure up against what other experts say? Also, is there one section that everyone agrees should be included in all applications? We dug into these questions and the answers were surprising.
Streamlining questions in order to get answers that clearly show differentiation is a well-known best practice for researchers in every field. Philanthropy adopted this research-based approach decades ago and has been working on refining the process ever since. In 2014, Philanthropy New York and the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers (CNJG) spearheaded a project to develop common application and report forms to help streamline the grant application process and ease the often-time-consuming grant preparation process. The four-page application format includes directions for use, a sample cover sheet, and the common grant proposal guidelines.
Six years later, #FixtheForm was launched by GrantAdvisor after their research showed that millions of mission-related hours were lost every year to the time-consuming grant application process. Today, there are more than 2,500 anonymous reviews from nonprofits on GrantAdvisor.org, indicating that “technical time-wasters” are still a significant part of the application process for many grantmaking organizations.
Finding the perfect application is an ongoing exercise. For instance, check out ChatGPT’s suggestions shown below. These suggestions are very broad and, depending on the type of private foundation and the size of the grant, may make the application too onerous. The basic premise put forth from ChatGPT that “it’s important to ask thoughtful and pertinent questions” is sound and echoes one of the top pain points captured by #FixtheForm: “Time taken disproportionate to funding amount awarded.”
Even the idea of a common application isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. While Philanthropy New York and CNJG have a common application that fits their region, Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania’s common application is unique to their area. Using an application that is the right fit for the grant being made can be a complicated endeavor. Grantmakers want to get it right and maximize time. Technology can be an efficient way to access and share information that nonprofit organizations are already providing. For instance, organizations like Candid collect and provide general answers and broad feedback about nonprofits, which can be paired with grant-specific information collected through a shorter application, when needed.
At Foundation Source, our foundation management platform, Impactfully, is the engine that drives our philanthropic services and provides time savings and impact-generating results for the private foundations we serve. The grants management portion of Impactfully comes with the ability for foundations to use online applications and outcomes reports.
“We provide two starting templates for Foundation Source clients that support the majority of use cases—a basic application and a detailed application,” said Ted Stenger, Foundation Source’s director of product, customer experience and support. “Drawing on more than 20 years of experience servicing thousands of foundations, we know that applications are not one-size-fits-all, but we also know that there are some standard questions that can be used to help streamline the process for the nonprofits completing those applications. Our application software also includes policy-based workflows that helps make sure the effort nonprofits are putting into completing the form matches the size of the grant they are getting.”
Combining best practices and customization is the best way to create an application that provides valuable information and meets your foundation’s needs. Following the three tips below will ensure that your foundation’s application process is efficient and effective.
- Eligibility Quiz: If you have an open application process, make sure that you have an eligibility quiz. This will help ensure that only eligible applicants take the time to apply, saving valuable time and effort for everyone involved.
- Self Service-Portal: Make sure that the applicants can return to their application in draft mode and check back for the status of their grant and payments. This eliminates the need for emails or calls and helps keep important information flowing.
- Feedback Survey: At the end of each application, many foundations will leave space for open-ended feedback. Listening to your applicants and responding to their needs is key to being a good partner.
ChatGPT’s Grant Application Suggestions:
When interacting with nonprofits seeking grants, it’s important to ask thoughtful and pertinent questions to gain a comprehensive understanding of their organization and determine their suitability for funding. Here are some questions you can ask:
1. Mission and Goals:
- What is your organization’s mission and primary objectives?
- How does your work align with our grant-giving priorities?
- What specific outcomes or impact do you aim to achieve through your programs?
2. Program Details:
- Can you provide an overview of the program or project for which you are seeking funding?
- What are the specific activities and strategies employed in this program?
- How do you measure the success or effectiveness of your programs?
- What evidence or data supports the need for this program in your community?
3. Organizational Capacity:
- How long has your organization been operating, and what is your track record?
- Can you share information about your leadership team and key staff members?
- What partnerships or collaborations do you have with other organizations or stakeholders?
- How do you ensure accountability and transparency in your operations and finances?
- How do you plan to sustain the program beyond the grant period?
- Have you secured funding from other sources? If yes, which ones?
- How do you engage with donors or supporters to maintain long-term relationships?
5. Budget and Financials:
- Could you provide a breakdown of your project budget, including the amount you are requesting from our grant?
- How do you allocate funds to different program components or operational expenses?
- Can you share your organization’s audited financial statements or annual reports?
6. Impact and Evaluation:
- How do you measure the impact of your programs on the community or target population?
- What evaluation methods do you use to assess the effectiveness of your organization’s work?
- Can you provide any success stories or testimonials from individuals or groups impacted by your programs?
7. Collaboration and Learning:
- Are you open to collaborating with other organizations working in similar areas?
- How do you incorporate feedback and learning into your program design and implementation?
- What steps do you take to continuously improve your organization’s work?
Remember, these questions serve as a starting point for understanding the nonprofit’s work, impact, and capacity. Feel free to tailor and expand upon them based on your specific grant-giving priorities and requirements.
Here at Foundation Source, as we continue to enhance our foundation management platform, we will keep collecting feedback on how and where ChatGPT and other leading-edge capabilities might play an additive role in philanthropic giving.
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