Over the past 18 months, Rasmuson Foundation has reflected on and evaluated how the pursuit of our mission is supported through the design of our grantmaking processes and programs. We also engaged the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) to survey grantees’ perceptions about our operations and measure the quality of our relationships to see how we measure up against our grantmaking peers.
As a result of these activities and the feedback provided by grantees, the Foundation was presented with several opportunities to improve. So we did.
What we heard
CEP surveyed 272 Rasmuson-funded grantees during the months of February and March 2011 and requested input in areas including: impact on grantee fields of interest and local communities; impact on grantee organizations; funder-grantee relationships; grant process and administration; and assistance beyond the “check.”
There was lots of good news in the results. Grantees said Rasmuson Foundation has ‘significant positive impact’ in local communities (above 87% of all funders), that the Foundation is perceived as ‘influential,’ and that our staff is more ‘helpful’ compared to our peers.
We’re particularly proud of the finding that the perceived value of ‘non-monetary assistance’ provided to strengthen grantees’ work is rated among the highest compared to the entire universe in CEP’s foundation dataset. Activities such as management and strategic planning advice, facilitating collaborations, partnerships, and convenings, and providing training opportunities are considered in this measurement.
Grantees indicate high satisfaction with the Foundation’s online grant application tool.
And about half of grantees believe that the Foundation’s policy on board giving is very, or extremely helpful. Nearly 20% say it’s a burden.
We also learned that our investment in social media has been an effective way to inform the field about the Foundation’s programs and priorities.
There were also two key areas were grantees told us we could improve. The Foundation ranked below its peers in ‘responsiveness of staff.’ We believe this can be attributed in part to program staff transition that we underwent over the past three years, and our failure to notify grantees about how staff changes affected their projects and key contacts within the Foundation.
Another area marked for improvement is in elevating the net gain in some grant programs. When measuring the time spent preparing applications to total value of award, respondents indicated a notable lower “dollar return” compared to cohort funders (with the exception of the Tier 2 program where the net gain is greater than the time investment).
What we did: Changes to Grantmaking Programs
First, grant programs were changed to make them less complicated. We reduced the number of grant types administered by the Foundation by collapsing some existing programs together while retaining (and in some ways expanding) our commitment to range of activities the old programs supported. These changes primary affect the two largest programs, Tier 1 grants and Tier 2 grants.
Simply stated, now Tier 1 grants support requests under $25,000; Tier 2 grants support requests over $25,000. Gone is the Small Tier 2 program. The real benefit for applicants is that the Tier 1 program can now accept proposals for needs beyond capital to include technology updates, capacity building, program expansion and creative works. And since some of these activities originated within the Arts Initiative, moving them under the Tier 1 umbrella means more organizations are eligible to apply.
The Foundation’s commitment to the arts is unchanged. Harper Arts Touring Fund grants and Arts in Education grants are now administered by the Alaska State Council on the Arts, a change we think will leverage additional resources and expand opportunities for grantseekers. Activities previously supported by Organizational Advancement grants and Creative Ventures grants are now eligible for Tier 1 or Tier 2 support. The Individual Artist Award program is unchanged, and new this year, artists completed their applications online.
Our website now features these changes to programs, and our updated FAQs provide additional information about criteria and eligibility.
What we did: Simplifying Grantmaking Processes
In addition to program changes, we’ve implemented a number of process changes that will make applying, managing and reporting on grants, especially Tier 1 grants, easier. Our hope is that these changes will allow all of us to spend more time on mission-critical activities and less time on paperwork.
Tier 1 applications can be completed online, and we strive for a 90-day turnaround for decisions. Once a grant is approved, a check is included with your award notification and grant agreement – payment requests are no longer required. Final reporting has also been simplified; we ask that you provide a short description summarizing the project outcomes.
Our efforts to simplify the Tier 1 process do come with a couple of expectations of applicants. First, we discourage grant extensions. Most Tier 1 grants should be closed within a 12 month period. Your application should be timed so that your project can be completed within this timeframe, or, we urge you to work with your program officer to create a grant period that better suits your needs. Second, we want to eliminate budget reallocations and the paperwork that accompanies them. Instead, we allow some small variances in line items realizing that costs are subject to change once a project is underway.