The Project Streamline report begins:
A national organization has dozens of foundation funders, each with a distinct application process, different requirements, and its own cycle for funding.
As part of their annual report to a funder, staff from a nonprofit service agency have to categorize their clients according to the funder’s specifications, even though the categories are not the same ones that the nonprofit uses.
Three times each year, a family foundation with broad funding guidelines receives 70-80 proposals in the mail. This overwhelms the single staff person, as well as the board members who serve as program officers.
Most grantmakers take their responsibilities to support nonprofit and other public-serving organizations seriously, and spend considerable time thinking about how they can be most effective. Stories of highly productive, warm, and mutually satisfying partnerships between organizations and their funders abound. Yet the grantmaking process is rife with inefficiencies such as those suggested in the above stories, and these inefficiencies mean that everyone is wasting time and money that could be devoted to accomplishing missions.
The Project Streamline report goes on to outline how incredibly inefficient the grantmaking process of foundations are and says:
Determined to address the great waste of time and energy caused by inconsistent and inefficient reporting and application procedures, eight organizations representing grantmakers and grantseekers came together to form Project Streamline. Project partners include the following organizations:
- Grants Managers Network
- Association of Fundraising Professionals
- Association of Small Foundations
- Council on Foundations
- Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers
- Foundation Center
- Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
- National Council of Nonprofit Associations
Together, these diverse partners commissioned a scan of grant application and reporting practices, their impact on grantseekers and grantmakers, and the implications for the field. This report is the result. Its goal is to spark thinking and dialogue on this topic across a wide range of grantmaking stakeholders of all shapes and sizes. (Emphasis from the original).
The report cites “Ten Flaws in the System” and three “Creative Approaches” to fixing the system. Given the readership of this blog includes a pretty even split of funders and grantees, I thought I’d run with the reports hope to “spark thinking and dialogue on this topic” and start discussing the report here. I’ll start Monday with “Flaw #1”. Some initial comments on the report can be found on the Project Streamline website (is comment #1 ironic? I sure hope so!)
One quote from the report caught my eye. It is one of those things that is both shocking as well as unsurprising to anyone who knows philanthropy.
“The administrative burden placed by funders on community nonprofit organizations is so heavy and so unrelenting, and places so many constraints on their ability to operate that it is a wonder they can deliver any services effectively.”
—Lynn Eakin, from We Can’t Afford to Do Business This Way
Speaking of ironies, don’t you just love how a foundation report on reducing paperwork is, itself, more than 40 pages long?
Perhaps the biggest irony of all is how much LONGER the report was before it was streamlined for publication! We tried to balance the need to report thoroughly on the topic and the desire to create something that would actually be read and not simply end up on a shelf.
For a much shorter synopsis of Project Streamline’s key findings and recommended principles, I hope that readers will check out out our 2-page “snapshot” executive summary, which can be found at http://www.projectstreamline.org