Open door vs open applications
Conversations with those working at the coal face are a vital contribution to our practice development. Commencing in July 2018, we introduced a new system for all prospective applicants to speak with a member of the Grants Team prior to starting an application. While we have had this process in place for our large Impact grants round since 2014, it is now a requirement across all rounds. This has proved to be a valuable amendment that has streamlined processes for the Grants Team, Grants Advisory Committee, Trustees and, most importantly, for our potential applicants. The impact of this new process was dramatic. Of the 278 enquiries we received, 94 proceeded to application (down from 135 in the previous year) from which 55 were able to be funded from the year’s budget allocation. This is an approval rating of 59% for FY19, up 19% from last year.
Introducing a new process is a risk. In our role as facilitators and advisors, it is always pleasing to receive unsolicited feedback as it provides valuable insights into our own performance, like the following response from a grantseeker who did not proceed to application:
“I wanted to take a moment to thank you for having a process in place to review the suitability of grants at an early stage. Being asked to provide you with an overview and then having a frank conversation about how its fits and what the Trust is looking for has been very helpful. As a very time-poor CEO in a small organisation, it is greatly appreciated not to have invested my time in writing a grant that seemed a fit from my end, but was really a square peg squeezing into a round hole.” (Jenny Davidson, CEO, Council of Single Mothers and their Children.)
These conversations are also an important two-way learning process. Taking the time to speak with all grantseekers prior to application enables us to build our knowledge of current promising practices, what is in development across the sector and where we can best leverage our support to contribute to positive change across our areas of interest. We also get to explain what we look for in an application, explore if there is alignment with their work and our interests, share insights from past grantees, identify potential duplication, facilitate connections, act as sounding boards, and provide advice.
“Thanks for your time last week, and your patience with my as yet, very unpolished explanations of our work. I was conscious that it was a conversation that was far more helpful for us than you, at this stage, and I really appreciated it… NFPs and the sector benefit enormously from the expertise and advice of trust and foundation professionals in these other non-financial ways, and probably don’t tell you often enough unless it results in a grant, so thank you.” (Barb Taylor, Development Director, Heide)
The reduction in the number of applications received has enabled us to engage more deeply with grantseekers and with our sector colleagues. We now have additional time to participate further in discussion groups relevant to the areas we fund, and in conversations with our peers in philanthropy. As a result, we are better informed of current trends, whether it be an important learning from fellow funders, emerging social issues, or changes in government policy and public funding affecting our grantees. Similarly we share our learnings with sector peers, applicants and grantees.
With transparency and sharing knowledge a key aspect for the Trust, we were one of first 18 Australian funders to submit data for the inauguration of Foundation Maps Australia. It is great to see that the number of grantmakers on the site has now grown to 47. The value of this resource will continue to grow as more funders contribute their grant data. Foundation Maps is an international initiative that draws from a comprehensive giving database, enabling a drill down into grants by population, location, subject area and funder. As well as making HMSTrust’s full history of granting available on our website via our Grantee Database, our grants data for the past six years is now available on Foundation Maps and will continue to be updated annually, as we continue our commitment to transparency.
In the coming year, we continue to look forward to many continued and new conversations as we work towards achieving HMSTrust’s vision of “A strong, just and sustainable Victoria”.
Lea-Anne Bradley, Grants Manager
Sarah Bartak, Grants and Communications Officer
Michelle Springall, Grants Support and Executive Assistant