The grants management process is tricky. Not only are there legal and technical sides to consider, at the base of it all is a cause or community who needs your support. The stakes are high and a deep passion for the work you do doesn’t make the logistics any simpler.

Choosing the right grants management system can be the gamechanger to grantmakers. Technology with crucial key features can increase efficiency and accuracy, however there’s a lot to consider when searching for the right one. How can you find the best grants management system for your foundation?
How do you find the best grants management system for your foundation?

  • What are the corporate philanthropy challenges you’re facing TODAY? Discover where your current process has holes so you know exactly what features you need.
  • In order to purchase a grants management system, you need to know how much of the budget is dedicated to it.
  • Don’t compromise. Make a list of needs and wants and refer to it often when you’re tempted to go for the lowest cost option or the grants management system with the flashiest marketing.
  • Are you a corporate philanthropy team lead or is it just part of your everyday duties? Different organizations will need different features for their grants management.
  • Research with ease of use “top of mind”. Take demos, ask sales reps and don’t be rushed into a decision.
  • Make your decision. There are many grants management systems on the market today, find one who will act as an extension of your department.

1. Establish Your Needs
What areas cause your team to struggle most? Create a list of challenges you face and how those challenges could be addressed. For example, if your organization has a disorganized application process, it will be critical your grants management software allows for a customizable application solution. Be sure to list specific requirements of your application. If your applicants need to submit additional documentation or attach information, you will want to make sure that is an option available within the tool. Here is a list of common pain points:

  • Securing management buy-in and/or funding
  • Driving employee participation and engagement
  • The complexity and volume of work that comes with the many steps in the grants management process
  • Creating reports/providing proof of our impact
  • Getting what I need from a “Home Grown” or outdated system
  • Managing multiple disparate systems
  • Organization vetting
  • Managing payments to NPOs

2. Determine a Realistic Budget
There are grants management systems and tools of various sizes. Some cater to small teams who need straightforward, uncomplicated solutions while others specialize in large foundations, offering complex reporting features and the ability to add multiple users. As a grantmaker, your primary concern is keeping funds going to the right people and cause. Be honest about what you can afford and work from there. Don’t be afraid to discuss your limitations with the software provider. Many have personalized pricing.

3. Prioritize the Must-Haves
With your specific needs in mind and a solid understanding of your budget, you can begin to understand how realistic it is to have each met. Make a list of your top requirements for a grants management system with the most important at the top. Separate your must-haves from the nice-to-haves and keep the list next to you when you search for options.

4. Consider the Limitations of Your Team
Take a moment to understand who will work with the system and in what ways. If your team can handle a heavy technical burden, then simplicity might not be the biggest deal, however, maybe your tech-y team doesn’t have a whole lot of time available. Consider the time, technical and industry-specific limitations of your foundation in your quest to finding the right software. And be honest with the vendors you work with in the selection process. Many grants management solutions provide their users access to industry-experts or 24/7 troubleshooting. Both will be comforts in an emergency.

5. Research Tools
While obvious, it should be stated: research options. First, do a basic web search for grants management system. Tack on your industry or cause on the the query if you feel your foundation will need specialized attention and understandings. Don’t stick to the first few results either. Expand your research by asking for recommendations from your colleagues, including nonprofits you serve. While they may not know about the internal features, they can give honest feedback on the tools they’ve worked with in the past. At the end of the day, you need your solution to be easy for your grantseekers as well as your team.

6. Demo the Options
Once you have a list of your options and a clear understanding of your foundation’s capabilities and needs, it’s time to start testing the waters. Start by looking over their website, considering their clientele and reading their materials. Often, grants management software vendors provide glimpses into their tool via screenshots of the system or videos. Don’t be afraid to read their blogs or sign up for newsletters. Not only will you have access to information, you might learn of specials or deals. Once you’ve narrowed your search to a few solutions, schedule a demo with the top choices. Try to schedule one-on-one or personalized demos if possible. That way the vendor can cater to your specific organization and team. While you demo, ask questions and share your concerns or limitations and take note of what features of the tool will and won’t work.

7. Evaluate & Decide
After all the research and strategizing, you can now compare each tool. You might have a clear winner, in which case you can happily sign on the dotted line and begin implementation. However, if there is no first choice, first turn to a pro and con list. Be sure to keep your must-haves close when writing these out or discussing with a team. If after weighing all your options you still can’t decide, it might be time to revisit step 5. There are numerous softwares and solutions for grants management. And don’t automatically avoid the big names who serve big names. Some larger solutions and suites that seem out of your budget might very well offer personalized solutions that will start small and grow with you and your team.

At the end of a hard day, all the hours and paperwork is worth it when the funds you’ve set aside finally begin helping the people and groups intended. Don’t get lost in the logistics. This step by step process will help you find the best grants management system. Finding the right solution for your foundation means finding the right way to serve your cause and community.