By Kelly Medinger
A look at what happens behind the scenes with grant applications
This is the second post in a multi-part series that explores a year in the life of the Knott Foundation behind the scenes
Do you ever wonder what happens to your grant application after you click “submit”? Or who reads your final report once your grant is over? If so, this blog post is for you!
As part of our “behind the scenes” blog series, we’re taking a look at the inner workings of the Knott Foundation from strategic planning to grantmaking. This is the second post in the three-part series:
- Part I (read it here) recapped our strategic journey over the past three years to share our donor intent and legacy, explore our own talents and resources, and create a common education base around community needs and conditions.
- Part II (this post) examines what happens behind the scenes with grant applications – from the time a letter of inquiry comes in the door to when a final grant report is submitted.
- Part III will feature a Q&A with trustees about the family’s participation in our grantmaking process, including reflections on their giving philosophies and experiences as site visitors.
Letters of Inquiry
Our grantmaking process starts with registration in our online Grants Portal and submission of a letter of inquiry.
Nearing the deadline, our Grants Manager, Kathleen, starts processing all of the letters that are submitted. Your letter merges into a template, with key information at the top (organization name and address, request amount, project title, etc.) and the body of your letter below. We also include a chart of your funding history and attach your one-page Financial Analysis Form.
All of the letters and financial forms are organized by program area and sent to a committee of our board who review the letters three times a year. The committee spends a couple weeks looking through the information and then meets to discuss the submissions.
Each cycle we receive approximately 60 letters of inquiry. In the end we only invite 1 in 4 applicants to submit a full proposal – more a factor of our own limited resources than anything else. Notably, while education is our largest program area in terms of funding, about half of the letters we receive each year are in the human services program area.
By the end of the month we notify every applicant via email whether your letter of inquiry was advanced or not. Sometimes applicants will call (understandably) to find out why their letter was not advanced. While we’re always happy to take a call or respond to an email, it’s rare that we have any specific feedback for applicants (other than we simply didn’t have enough resources to bring them in).
The full proposal process starts with a phone call and a conversation with Kathleen. She walks you through the application guidelines and what to expect, and emails you a link to the full proposal template in our Grants Portal.
One unique feature of this stage in our process is the opportunity to have Kathleen review a draft of your proposal. A good number of our applicants take advantage of this opportunity each cycle, and Kathleen shares her feedback through the Grants Portal. We see this as a great opportunity for knowledge-sharing: we learn from the information contained in your proposal, and we’re also able to ask questions or share ideas that we’ve gleaned from others who have done similar projects in the past.
Once you submit your full proposal and all of the required attachments, your proposal is merged into a template (similar to the letter of inquiry). A list of all of the applicants is sent to a committee of our board who votes on grants, and each committee member selects which organization(s) they want to explore.
About a month or so after submitting your full proposal, a trustee or staff member will usually contact you to schedule a site visit. That person will have all of the information you submitted with your grant application, as well as a copy of your post grant report from your most recent grant (if applicable).
Once the site visits are complete, the committee meets to discuss and vote on each proposal. While the letter of inquiry process is highly competitive (with only 1 in 4 applications advanced), by the full proposal stage the odds are much better: about 80% of our applicants receive at least a portion of what they asked for.
After this meeting, we call you to relay the news about your proposal, regardless of the outcome.
A few years ago my colleague, Kathleen, spearheaded a new modality for interim reporting: phone conversations! For years we used to require our grantees submit a written report at the 6-month mark of their grant; however, Kathleen knew from her experience as our Grants Manager that the information exchange could be (and would be) better over the phone.
For this step, Kathleen contacts you to schedule the phone conversation. Each conversation typically lasts about 30 minutes. Some organizations delegate the call to their development person, while others pull in one or more program people to discuss the details of the grant-funded project. Either way the conversation is fruitful; both parties can ask questions, link to other resources, problem-solve, or even brainstorm new ideas.
Throughout these phone conversations, Kathleen takes notes. She shares her notes with me and the trustee who conducted the original site visit for the grant. Over time, these interim phone conversations have become an integral part of our knowledge gathering and knowledge sharing in the field.
Post Grant Reports
At the end of each grant, a post grant report is due. Unlike the interim report, this is a written report prepared by the grantee that recaps the challenges and successes encountered during the grant period. Kathleen reviews all of the reports and prepares a brief summary of each. I review both the summaries and the reports, and if there are no issues, we officially “close” the grant in our system.
Like our notes from the interim report conversations, your post grant report is shared with the trustee who conducted the original site visit. But your report ALSO becomes part of your next grant application, as we seek to incorporate an assessment of your previous stewardship into any new request for funding.
So that’s it – our grant process from soup to nuts! I hope this post has given you a window into what happens “behind the scenes” once your letter of inquiry, full proposal, and grant reports are submitted. If you have any input on our process from your standpoint – timing, requirements, feedback, etc. – please feel free to share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.