By Mandi Moshay
Project Streamline has a simple premise: that the cumulative impact of the philanthropic sector’s requirements undermines nonprofit effectiveness, causing grantseekers to devote too much time to seeking funding (often without payoff) and reporting on grants (often without benefit) to the detriment of their mission-based work.
Five years ago, Project Streamline – a field-wide effort led by the Grants Managers Network – published “Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted From Purpose,” a study of the burdens of application and reporting.
Since then, the effort has developed resources to help grantmakers understand this burden and take steps to reduce it. Project Streamline produced practical tools, convened conversations, offered workshops and webinars, and released a self-assessment instrument, developed in partnership with the Center for Effective Philanthropy. Many grantmaking associations and other philanthropy support groups have promoted streamlining concepts and principles.
Has it worked? Well, it depends on who you ask.
In a just-released report, Practices That Matter, Project Streamline documents how even as many foundations are increasingly aware of and committed to streamlining, the experience of the average nonprofit organization with multiple funders still spends time responding to application and reporting requirements that are poorly designed, redundant, inappropriately scaled, or mystifying.
Across the sector, a lack of feedback and a mismatch between foundation values and practices lead to persistent problems and bad habits that waste grantseeker time and cause unnecessary aggravation.
For example, many grantmakers surveyed reported that they have streamlined by moving to an online application system. But grantseekers reported that most of the online systems they encounter are extremely cumbersome to use: timing out the user, failing to save work, and preventing easy cutting and pasting.
Practices That Matter doesn’t just point out problems – it also suggests five streamlined practices that matter most. Not surprisingly, nonprofits want online systems that work well and save their work from year to year. They also want to be able to submit budget and financial information in their own authentic formats. And they want consistent, collegial communication that answers questions that arise during the process.
Grantmakers can test their own streamlining prowess by taking the lighthearted “How Do You Line Up” quiz, and get no-nonsense advice from Ask Dr. Streamline on Project Streamline’s blog. A new workshop focusing on connecting values with the practices that matter will be offered in 2013.