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Creating a Grantmaker, Grantee, Participant Feedback Loop

By Kate Caldecott

A lot of individual pieces have to come together for successful grantmaking. You have to design a solid program that addresses a specific need in your target community. Then you have to get the applications you want. You have to select the right applications for funding. Then you have to evaluate the results and use those learnings to inform the next round. You can enhance your ability to carry out each of these steps by cultivating honest, open and ongoing communication with not-for-profits, community groups, grantees and applicants.


Input on Grant Program Design

Let’s start at the beginning with program design. Grant programs aren’t like typical business in which the money comes from the people who receive the product or service. The people who receive grant services – the kids playing sports, the participants in economic development projects, the adolescent mothers in education program – don’t have a direct way of telling us, the funders, what they need. This means that:

This will help ensure that that your grant program is relevant to the targeted beneficiaries. Along with soliciting input from grantees about the program design, you should also ask for feedback on the process. Was the application form clear or confusing? Did applicants have communication with their Grants Officer during the grant term. Did they know how to get answers to their questions? Are there parts of the process that they found overly burdensome? This kind of feedback can lead to refinements that not only improve your program for applicants and grantees, but that may also make things easier for you.


Tip for SmartyGrants: Include “ease of application” feedback questions in your application form. I find people are good at giving constructive tips (eg: budget question design not easy to read) that help you improve your forms.



Getting the Grant Applications You Want


Grantmakers sometimes feel frustrated or disappointed in the applications they receive. They may feel that they are only receiving applications from (and therefore only funding) the same players, or the same types of projects over and over again. Do what you’ve always done and you will get what you’ve always gotten. There are three simple things you can do to expand and improve the quality of applications you receive:




There are a lot of ways to notify the community of a grant round – releases, websites, radio and newspaper ads to name a few. If you are wanting to engage with communities that have historically been underrepresented in receiving grant funding (a particular culturally and linguistically diverse community), you may need to invest some time in establishing a relationship and building trust before they are willing to come to the table. Seek if you can speak with the leaders or influencers of the community and ask for their feedback and support in promoting the program.

You can also review your round announcements and guidelines to ensure that language, visuals and examples of the types of project you may fund are appropriate and inclusive. Again, ask applicants for feedback. How did they learn of the grant round? Did anything in the announcement or guidelines discourage them from applying?


Technical Assistance


AIGM research recently revealed that a whopping 54% of grantseekers had started applications that they never submitted. That represents a lot of wasted time on behalf of the very people we are counting on to help carry out our mission. SmartyGrants makes it easy to see unsubmitted applications. Why not check in on unsubmitted applications a week before the round closes. You can download a report of unsubmitted applications, contact the applicants and ask if they need any assistance. A few minutes on the phone explaining a sticky question could result in new applications and better outcomes. You may discover that many potential applicants are struggling with the same difficulty (budget questions, logic models, etc.). In this case you might want to send out an explanatory email to all applicants.


To View Unsubmitted Applications in SmartyGrants

    1. Go to the relevant Program.
    2. Go to the relevant Round.
    3. Click on the number of unsubmitted applications.
    4. A list of unsubmitted applications will be displayed.
Unsubmitted Grant Applications SmartyGrants

Meaningful Feedback


Again and again, one of the chief complaints cited by grantseekers is that they don’t receive meaningful feedback on their failed applications. They can’t improve if they don’t know what they did wrong. Be willing to provide specific feedback (http://katecaldecott.com.au/2016/10/providing-meaningful-feedback-to-unsuccessful-applicants/). It will pay off in the future.


Funding the Right Grant Projects

Assessment should also be part of your feedback loop. Consider including a member of the target population on your assessment panel. Note assessors’ specific concerns so you can provide meaningful feedback to both successful and unsuccessful applicants. Assessment can also reveal things about your process. For instance, if there is a question/criterion where most or all of the applicants scored low, it may imply that the questions was unclear or misinterpreted. Before you open the next round, contact some or your applicants. Tell them what the questions was trying to get at it and see if they have any suggestions.





Your grantees’ work may end when they submit their acquittal reports, but yours is just beginning. We’ve all heard how important evaluation is, but it’s equally important that you use and share the results of that evaluation. 

After you’ve acquitted and evaluated your grants, revisit your assessment. Knowing what you know now, would you choose the same projects again? If not, what would you need to change (the allowable activities listed in your guidelines, the weighting of various assessment criteria, etc.) in order to choose better projects. If there are particular projects you wish you would have chosen, then call and invite those organizations to apply in the next round.


Share the results with all of your applicants (and why not include unsuccessful applicants). Let them know what worked and what didn’t, what the biggest surprises were and what changes you’re considering for the future. Ask if they’ve heard of similar, or differing, results from other funders. An email newsletter is probably the easiest way to share your results, but consider making a short video that you can share with grantees, and that they can then share with other stakeholders. 

You may also want to host an event with your grantees. This could be an opportunity to celebrate what went well, as well as share results and challenges. Getting grantees’ perspective on how things went might shed light on the “why” behind some of your results.


Building relationships and developing an ongoing dialogue with your applicants and grantees takes time and effort. If you would like assistance, please contact me at kate@katecaldecott.com.au or 0447 227 598.


    See how your grant program stacks up. Together we'll review your grant program, how SmartyGrants can benefit your organisation, and how your program is performing.



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    • Kate Caldecott worked with me on Australia Post’s Our Neighbourhood Community Grants program. She assisted with the grant process design and SmartyGrants grant management implementation.

      In working with Kate, I would describe her as being: passionate, knowledgeable, dedicated to community with a willingness to going the extra mile, above and beyond. It is always a pleasure to work with Kate.

      - Erin McKenzie, Community Events and Partnerships Advisor, Community Relations Australia Post
    • This is the perfect opportunity for me to thank you, in particular, ….. for the outstanding customer service you have all provided. You have not only helped us use SG effectively, but kept the panic at bay. There is lots more to learn about what SG can do and I’m sure we will be in regular contact …….

      Thanks to you all – you are fabulous!

      - Debra Slater-Lee, Programs Manager State NRM Office (WA)
    • Being a complete newbie on all aspects of Smartygrants I was daunted by the task of being completely responsible for the outcome of a major grant funding round at the Shire. I did the training and it still did not make much sense to me until I had my first session with Kate. The way in which Kate was able to clarify, explain and help me understand the rationale and functions of the system was brilliant, her manner always patient and professional, and her willingness to transfer knowledge and information commendable. Thanks to Kate I am now a confident user of Smartygrants

      - Marilyn A Gippsland VIC
    • Kate’s involvement in the final stages of the major review of two of Sunshine Coast Council’s funding programs added significant value to our work. As well as identifying additional sources of information for analysis, and suggesting enhancements to data presentation, Kate provided a professional critique of the review, validating our analysis of the review findings and the options identified in our report to Council.

      - Margaret Cattanach Team Leader Community Connections Community Services Sunshine Coast Council