Choosing a Collaborative Grants Management System

In our last post - Defining a Collaborative Grants Management System, Laura outlined our vision for a “collaborative grants management system”, which would allow our two organizations-- the Social Sector Accelerator and CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation—to collaborate together, with grantees, and with the sector as a whole.  In this post she describes the four-step process for how we moved from that vision to a decision as to which vendor would work best for us.

1. Defining Minimum Viable Requirements

Based on the overall vision of a collaborative grant process and platform that moved more resources into organizations in the Global South, we pulled together an Excel document of 60 key requirements for the system, and prioritized them as to what was “Critical”, “Important” and just “Nice to Have”. These requirements were based on interviews with existing and potential grantees, grants management staff at both organizations and drawn from the best practice we reviewed from Peak Grantmaking and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations.

This prioritization allowed us to define our “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP)—a concept taken from the corporate software development sector.  An MVP is a very stripped down first release which serves as a starting place to iterate from—truly, the minimum product it makes sense to put out into the world. In our case, the MVP requirements were a set of core features to manage information on organizations and constituents, grant monitoring, and a grantee portal, leaving off some of the more aspirational pieces of our vision.

2. Pulling Together an Initial Short List

With these MVP requirements in hand, we then considered what type of software tool we were looking for. Was it a general Constituent Relationship Management system (such as Salesforce or Dynamics)? The Accelerator was already using Salesforce for another purpose, so that was appealing. Or did the set of requirements look more like a Grants Management System, or some other kind of tool?

We quickly decided that our requirements were much more akin to a Grants Management System than a general CRM or other kind of tool. The need for an online grantee portal, as well as transparency in the grant and payment cycle made this decision an easy one.

We used the Idealware Consumers Guide to Grants Management System to pull together a short list of systems that seemed to meet our requirements. We initially focused on systems that allowed a lot of flexibility, with the thought that this would be necessary to meet some of our more unusual requirements (such as detailed, multi-step reviews of grantee reports), but after demoing some systems, we realized that our needs were in fact less unusual than we had thought, and went back to add in some lower-priced systems. The systems that we demoed were:

Keep in mind, of course, that this isn’t a list of systems we think are “best” in any general way, but rather a list of those that had potential for our quite specific requirements.

3. Defining Key Tradeoffs

As we demoed systems, it became clear that most of the systems supported the majority of our requirements. Rather than score each system against each requirement, which seemed overly detailed, we focused in on some key tradeoffs that emerged. The key differentiators between systems came down to, for us:

  • Someone with limited permissions can easily review and approve a report (as opposed to a grant proposal)
  • Staff can log calls and interactions with grantee contacts, and have that tracked against grants and organizations in a Constituent Relationship Management type model
  • We can get started with an investment under $15K for implementation and the first year, but then have the ability to support multi-million-dollar programs with substantial complexity in the future
  • Grantees and staff will find the interface easy to use
  • We or the vendor can customize the platform to meet relatively complex unknown future needs
  • We can get started relatively quickly, without a huge implementation effort

4. Selecting a Partner

Who did we choose after weighing these tradeoffs?  GivingData.

We’re excited to be moving forward with GivingData. They’re a comparatively new product, but the company has a long track record in the sector and several large clients. For us, the product is a great combination of:

  • An established set of features that will require minimal custom implementation—including support for all our online portal, grants and payments, and report approval workflow needs
  • Substantial support in the near future for features such as logging interactions with grantee contacts and collaboration about reports via the online portal
  • A well designed and friendly interface for grantees and staff
  • A willingness to build custom features as needed in the future
  • A collaborative development approach that considers prioritizing features that all their customers can benefit from

We look forward to collaborating with GivingData on our collaborative grants management system!