Next Modern Grantmaking Trainings
We’re next running our ‘Modern Grantmaking Fundamentals’ training on 27th March 2024. Our last workshop sold out so book your place here now!
We’re also running an updated ‘Improving Grantseeker Experiences’ training workshop on 20th March 2024. Book now!How to prevent curiosity from killing the grantmaking cat
Once a grantmaking organisation has forked over some cash, it generally wants to know that 'something good' has happened as a result.
From this simple and eminently reasonable-sounding aspiration a world of pain, waste and confusion often ensues.
Now, within a short newsletter we cannot give you a complete, universal guide to impact research excellence (so sorry). The methods required to establish whether a grant given to a vaccine research project
made ‘something good’ happen are completely different from those you need to deploy to learn whether an art project installing bells on seashores
led to ‘something good’ happening.
However, there are a few common mistakes that crop up during the act of monitoring
grants that make life painful for grantees across a wide range of sectors. We want to share these as an early Christmas present for you and your grantees.
Before we dive into how you can avoid these monitoring mistakes we just need to define one key term. By ‘monitoring’ here we are talking about funders asking grantees to report back on certain questions - often indicators - such as “How much money has been spent?” or “How many classes have you run?” plus more open ended questions like “Can we help you with anything?”. Monitoring is mostly the business of collecting outputs, not outcomes. All clear? OK - here’s the advice.Monitoring mistakes
The first mistake
is always asking your grantee to supply monitoring reports written bespoke
for your funder, when you might be able to get all the information you need simply by reading an existing monitoring report that has been written for someone else. To avoid this potential duplication of effort, ask a grantee to send along a report or two they have done for another funder, or for their own board. With a bit of luck it will contain all or most of what you need anyway, and you can save your grantee the effort of writing you new stuff.
The second mistake
is letting your list of monitoring questions get longer and longer
, without ever taking time to prune the list back down. It’s the easiest thing in the world for your list of standard grant monitoring questions to slowly expand as people inside your organisation go “Ooh, it would be great to know X”. Each extra question takes additional time out of the lives of people within grantees, time spent filling in your paperwork instead of - you know - doing their jobs. Snip snip.
The third mistake
is to ask for monitoring reports that do not lead to any actions or changes within your funding organisation
. Think about it - the only reason your colleagues or trustees want to know anything about the result of making grants is so that they can make better choices in future. [Well, unless you’re unlucky enough to work for a funder that actively doesn’t want to learn. If this is the case, skip straight to our new jobs section below!]
But most funders monitor grants because they really want
to do things better.
So ask yourself, and ask your colleagues and trustees “When are the last few times we did something new or different because of something contained within a monitoring report?” Once you’ve got some answers to this question down on a page, compare them to your current monitoring questions. Are there some monitoring questions that produce data that your organisation simply never acts on? Or are you actually getting far more monitoring reports into your inbox than you ever actually read? If so it might be time to reduce what you’re asking for. Mixing up yer outcomes with yer outputs
The fourth mistake
is a bit more subtle. This is the mistake of asking grantees to demonstrate the outcomes of a grant in their monitoring reports. You can make this mistake by asking seemingly innocent questions like “What impacts has the grant had so far?” of “How have people benefited from the grant?”
Why does this count as a mistake? After all, these questions don’t sound like unreasonable things to ask grantees. But at heart these types of questions are neither fair nor useful to ask.
Monitoring is ordinarily the business of gathering simple factual information grants like ‘Did you buy that minibus?’, ‘Did you run 100 mentoring sessions?” or ‘Did you spend the money we gave you?’. Sometimes it branches out into qualitative questions like "Have you faced any unexpected problems?", but not much further. Monitoring is fairly quick and easy to do, and gives us some basic info we need that tells us if things have gone really wrong or not.
However, most ordinary monitoring absolutely cannot
tell you what the outcomes
of a grant have been: for example whether a new minibus meaningfully improved the lives of people who sat it in. Most monitoring cannot tell you whether the grantee that spent your money is fundamentally impactful or not. And yet it is precisely these deeply meaningful outcome measures that we as funders really yearn for, to help us sleep soundly at night. So the temptation to add them to our list of monitoring questions is great.
However the only way that you can find out the actual outcomes of a grant is by using suitable evaluation
methods, ideally deployed by people who don’t have a strong motive to report back an untrue or overly optimistic interpretation of what’s going on. As mentioned above, these evaluation methods are totally different for different sectors, and they are almost always going to be different from the methods used in ordinary grant monitoring.An inconvenient truth
Here we have run into one of those deeply uncomfortable facts that the grantmaking sector doesn’t like to talk about much; while we may want to have awesome evidence on the outcomes of every grant we make, we almost certainly can’t actually have it. Why not? Simply because it would just be too expensive and time-consuming to collect evidence of outcomes for most grants. The only funders who don't have to bow to this rule are a handful of giant funders that make massive grants in areas like science.
So asking grantees to tell you what outcomes they have delivered in a monitoring report is asking them to give you information they usually don’t actually have
. This is stressful and unfair for the people to whom you have posed these questions. And the answers you get back won’t contain the meaningful outcomes evidence which you seek, which is bad for you too.
To wrap up, if you’re now thinking “Crikey, guess I need to think a bit more about our monitoring approach” then super, our mission is accomplished. Here's a final suggestion to start the new year with: arrange a time in the diaries of a colleague or a trustee, and sit down with them and a copy of this newsletter. Run through these four mistakes and see how they relate to your current monitoring process. Bingo! Latest Reading - Modern Grantmaking recommends How about a new job or trustee role in grantmaking?
- Global Greengrants Fund UK is hiring for a Finance and Operations Administrator. £37k per year. Deadline is 11pm, 31 December 2023.
- Cheshire Community Foundation is hiring for a Head of Grants & Impact. £45,000 – £50,000 per year. Deadline is 1st January 2024.
- The Ernest Cook Trust is hiring for a Research & Impact Lead. £34-37,000 FTE (pro rata for part time). Deadline is 9am, 2nd January 2024.
- Comic Relief is hiring for a Head of Climate Justice. £53k - £55,699 18 month fixed term contract. Deadline is 11:59pm, 3rd January 2024.
- John Ellerman Foundation is hiring for a Head of Research and Impact. £70k per year. Deadline is 12pm, midday, 8th January 2024.
Want to see your job ad in next month’s newsletter? Ping us! We now only share job ads that #ShowTheSalary
. Grantmaking ‘joke’ of the monthWhat did the unsuccessful applicant say when sent a rejection email on 24th December?
…Yule be sorry.
Bonus Christmas cracker Why did the elf go to the Podiatrist?
Because he had mistletoe.
Got any terrible or actually funny grantmaking jokes to share?......tell us. Have you been forwarded this newsletter? Want to subscribe?
No problem - sign up here.Who writes this newsletter?
We are Gemma Bull and Tom Steinberg - we run Modern Grantmaking. We do consulting
specifically for funders, and wrote a book
on how to be a modern grantmaker, too. We love chatting to anyone with any interesting news in grantmaking-land, so please do get in touch.