As one of Canada’s leading community foundations, Vancouver Foundation has been making meaningful and lasting impact in neighbourhoods and communities since 1943. Grantbook is fortunate to work with the Foundation as their team prepares for the implementation of a new Grants Management System (GMS).
One of the requirements for the new system is the ability to automate some or all of the tasks involved in matching existing community funds to eligible projects, ensuring that the fund-holders’ intent for their philanthropic dollars is respected and the highest-impact projects are funded.
Over the past month, Grantbook and Vancouver Foundation staff have embarked on a journey of research and assessment. We followed a 5-step methodology:
- Research and identify appropriate community foundations to meet and interview
- Develop a list of interview questions to facilitate discussion and gather insight
- Meet with representatives from peer organizations and summarize discussions
- Analyze findings from meetings to identify trends and possible solutions
- Present recommendations for process changes and GMS requirements
Through this research, we found that some of the largest community foundations across North America are performing fund-matching through manual processes involving complex Excel spreadsheets and significant staff hours. None of the groups we spoke with were able to automate or partially automate the process, not even those using robust grants management and financial systems.
Manual fund-matching presents a significant challenge to community foundations because it results in two major problems:
- Internal users are prevented from having seamless access to the data they need to make informed decisions because grant and fund data is stored and maintained in multiple systems. This compromises the foundation’s ability to compile, learn from and share accurate data.
- Manual processes require significant staff time and are vulnerable to human error and thus compromise the ability to formalize systems and processes that are efficient and scalable.
OkCupid for Fund-Matching
Given these challenges we feel that an important gap in grants management systemization exists. Fortunately, we can envision a solution: an “OkCupid for Community Foundation Fund-matching,” if you like.
The system would find fund matches much like a dating app uses your profile and other relevant information to find you potential romantic matches. In a dating app, the user looks through the pool of possible matches and selects the one (or few!) they would like to pursue further. Here, a Grant Manager acting on behalf of the fund, can select one or more grants to match with the fund at hand.
In order to facilitate an accurate matching, a system would have to identify points of similarity between funds and grant applications using a comprehensive and uniform system of coding for both entities. The workflow would look something like this:
The grant manager opens a payment record for a given grant and clicks on a button to identify the funding source/budget from which this payment is to be made.The system presents a list of eligible Funds to select from. The presented funds should only be those with intent that match the subject/geographic/demographic or other area of the grant and, if possible, should be ranked in the order of most restricted to least restricted funding.The grant manager selects one or more funds to support the project, apportioning the payment as needed.
It is important to note that the system can only recommend suitable funds based on information carefully curated by foundation staff, and it is ultimately the decision of the staff to make the final selection of funds to be used to support the awarded projects.
We are excited about the opportunity to find modern solutions for organizations like Vancouver Foundation, that operate at a high level of output, but are bogged down by aging processes and outmoded tools. Over the coming months we will work with Vancouver Foundation and their GMS partner to design and pilot this functionality.
As we continue to brainstorm what the solution could look like, we welcome your ideas, suggestions, input and tales of previous attempts to create this kind of matchmaking functionality. Please tweet us @Grantbookorg if you have any suggestions or experiences you think we should know about as we move forward with this project.
Of course, we don’t expect any romantic relationships to come out of the matching tool we’ve described in this blog post! We do, however, hope it will make it easier to match charitable projects to funding available through their local community foundation, in this case Vancouver Foundation.
We look forward to presenting a prototype of the solution soon!