Post 10: On Organization: Standardize your Expectations

[eJP note: This post, by Gidi Grinstein, was originally published on May 13, 2008, as part of a series on Philanthropy in Israel. With this year’s Jewish Funders Network conference taking place in Israel, we thought it would be timely to rerun the series.]

Standardizing expectations from grantees should be high on the agenda of the heavy hitters of Jewish philanthropy in Israel. At present, each grantor has a particular set of expectations for proposals, as well as for reporting. This reality leads to a huge waste of resources of time and money. A few simple agreed guidelines could make a big difference here.

A couple of years ago, the Reut Institute that I founded and head submitted a request for a grant in the sum of few tens of thousands of dollars from a very prominent West Coast foundation. Our area of work generally fit their area of giving and a couple of initial personal interactions led us to believe that we have a good chance of receiving a grant. So we decided to apply.

A few months and more than a hundred written, formatted and proofread pages later we were declined. Apparently the decision not to support us was made for absolutely legitimate reasons. What I found inappropriate and upsetting was the disrespect to our time, energy and resources in the process. Many dozens of hours were spent formulating the original application and responding to subsequent requests for further information. This is a very considerable investment for a small nonprofit. Reporting would have been cumbersome too. And this is just one foundation.

Most of the foundations that we work with have largely similar requests for information both for the grant request and as well as for the reporting. This is notwithstanding the fact that each grantor has its unique vision and mission that understandably require a partially tailored response. The issue is that each grantor has a different set of expectations regarding the format, sequence and length of the grant request or report. This is a cause of great waste of energy, time and resources.

The remedy is obvious: large parts of this process can and should be standardized. The heavy hitters of Jewish philanthropy in Israel should agree on a format of delivering the basic general information on an annual or bi-annual format for reporting that would become a standard.

What should be in this report? The answer is simple: whatever the ‘heavy hitters’ could agree upon. For example, in the context of grant requests, it should include basic organizational, managerial and financial information, as well as a short description of vision, mission, strategy and unique value proposition or guidelines for the strategic development (see post no. 12 on institution building and management)

There are a number of potential benefits to such a standard. First, it is efficient. Each grantee will have to prepare one-report-fit-all each year and use it for all of its applications and reporting. This would only consolidate already existing practice as most of us the grantees cut-and-paste from one proposal and report to another. Second, it will allow nonprofits to focus on the part that really matters, which deals with the way in which their suggested project fits the vision and mission of their grantor. Third, it will create a platform for greater transparency in the nonprofit world in Israel as these standardized reports could be posted on the internet. Finally, organizations will be able to learn from each other and to borrow best practices as reflected in these reports.

Standardizing of grant requests and reporting may be good for all parties. The challenge is for the grantors to come together and agree on the standard. It seems that the ethos of the philanthropic has been that donors do things their way with their own money. Hence, standardizing is no small task, but a very important one.

Gidi Grinstein is the Founder and President of the Reut Institute.