It is difficult to give honest feedback to funders about their application processes. Nobody wants to risk criticising them – wouldn’t that be biting the hand that feeds you?
But funders need feedback and they have some options to hear what applicants have to say. The Centre for Effective Philanthropy carry out applicant and grantee perception surveys and help funders to benchmark their results. And I was pleased to see that GrantAdvisor has come over from California to the UK. Described as TripAdvisor for funders, applicants can now rate and review funders and the public-nature of the scores should help drive change through transparency. They are currently running a pilot in the UK so do join in if you have applied to any of these funders:
Esmee Fairbairn Foundation
Two Ridings Community Foundation
Paul Hamlyn Foundation
Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust
National Lottery Community Fund
Lloyds Bank Foundation
Bishop Radford Trust
Devon Community Foundation
City Bridge Trust
Probably not surprisingly, these early adopters are getting favourable reviews. I think the value will come when more funders are included, and any unhelpful practice is called out.
In the meantime, grant seekers may need to find other ways to tell it like it is. At an event this summer I asked the 50 fundraisers present what annoyed them most about application processes. So, whilst we are still waiting for full, open exchanges here is a summary of what they said …
What annoys me most is …
Word counts – this was the most frequent response e.g. “word restrictions along with wanting complex answers”
A lack of response – whether this was a lack of feedback, not being available to discuss bids or not hearing back e.g. “not getting a ‘no’ just hearing nothing”
The sheer length, complexity and diversity of information requested e.g. “the large amount of information you have to give e.g. 3 references”
Being asked for unnecessary information – bugbears were being asked to submit documents available online via charity commission website and being asked financial questions that are covered in the accounts
Poor design of the process - e.g. “unwieldy application forms”, “badly formatted word documents”, “saying they fund core costs but the application form is geared for projects”, “repetitive questions” and “when the IT doesn’t work”
Lack of clarity – e.g. “when a funder gives you very little information about what they like to fund” which is made worse when they won’t talk to you to clarify their criteria and requirements
Funders – do take heed. They may not say it to your face, but this is what some of your applicants are thinking. One particularly blunt comment was: “What annoys me most is their prejudices and preconceptions – they are stuck in a rut.” Which raises the question: when did you last revise your process? The list above shows there is still some way to go to remove unnecessary steps and constraints in application processes. If funders listen, there are lots of great suggestions as to how application processes can be fairer and simpler.