I have been serving as a grant writing consultant full-time for more than eight years now, and I still find myself on a holy-grail-like quest to assist the nonprofits that my team and I serve find the right tool for their grant management needs. The field is such a small niche within the fundraising and donor management software environment, that when you Google “grant management software,” the vast majority of what is in the top results is related to grant management software for foundations, NOT for nonprofits.
While I have effectively designed countless versions of Excel based grant management software tracking documents and scorecards to help clients manage the different phases of the grant process, I firmly believe that there should and can be a non-Excel based customizable solution available to a majority of nonprofits. The “ugliest spreadsheet” contests by Philantech highlight the gaps and inconsistencies in the approach of individually customized grant management Excel based tools. Therefore I have remained constantly focused on looking at the balance between cost, function, and ease of use from the products currently on the market.
I decided to reengage in the grant management quest once again with renewed passion after the 2012 Grant Professionals Association conference in Indianapolis where I had the pleasure of meeting many of the grant management software staff in person. Each software team was incredibly anxious to assist with my questions and to see what parameters of my internal software requirements they could meet. My quest felt ambitious: to find one software package that my team and I could become experts with, and help our clients become more efficient at managing their grants from research through implementation and reporting.
I was determined to find a solution. However, after countless hours of demos and conversations with grant management software staff, I have come to two important realizations about grant management software and why the reality of the “90.6 percent of nonprofits use in-house tools for managing grant funds” continues to persist (The Complex State of Grant Management: Adopting New Strategies for Success from Streamlink Software).
- The current barriers to nonprofits purchasing and implementing grant management software are significant enough to stymie most potential efforts and outweigh the potential gain in efficiency of record keeping. While barriers will vary from nonprofit to nonprofit, typically they include software cost, compatibility issues with existing software, and staff capacity for training.
- A majority of widely offered grant management software is either best suited to large academic institutions and research focused health care organizations or to smaller nonprofits where “smaller” suggests multi-million dollar operating budgets.
With those realizations in mind, I have listed some key questions to help you determine if grant management software is an appropriate step for your organization to take. And, if it is an appropriate step, how to determine which software package is the best fit.
Is grant management software appropriate for your organization?
- Are you currently obligated to use a specific grant reporting or accounting software package due to committed funding? If yes, do you want to double track your contracts?
- What percent of your annual revenue is from grant revenue? How many grants are you managing on an annual basis? Is the number significant enough to justify the purchase price of grant management software?
- Are the grant funds received from a mix of foundations, state, and federal funds? Are they more heavily in one of the three categories than another? Will a software package help you to organize and manage your varied grants more consistently?
- Do you have internal policies in place to ensure collection of all grant related records and the utilization of grant management best practices? Are those responsible for collecting records committed to using a grant management software package?
- What aspects of your current in-house tool work well for you and which would you like to see enhanced?
What barriers to successful implementation of grant management software, if any, exist within your organization?
- Is your organization happy with its current donor management software program? If so, what would be the benefit of changing and how much training time would be required?
- Does the donor management software program have a specific grant module add-on? If so, what is the additional annual expense?
- Do you have a functional in-house tool that is successfully helping to manage grant applications and awards? If so, why buy a software application at this time?
Which grant management software package is best for your organization?
- What is your ability to host your own product on an internal server versus the need to have hosted web-based products? Have you weighed the advantages and potential disadvantages of a web-based product?
- Can your organization afford to purchase the software and can you include the annual users’ fees in your annual budget? If not, how will you pay for the continued services and upgrades?
- Have you considered the reliability of the software company’s support staff to assist you as you learn the new package? Will there support staff continue to be available throughout your contract?
The individual results of the responses to these questions create their own end game to the matrix of decision making related to the purchase of grant making software versus the continuation of home grown tools. As your organization’s responses to the questions above shift, so may your response to whether or not there is currently a grant management software product available to meet your needs.
An eternal optimist, I remain hopeful that the grant management industry will continue to adapt its products in order to better serve a larger contingent of the nonprofit market that is currently designing, redesigning, and then designing again their custom excel spreadsheets.