Opening your grants to groups through accessibility

Opening your grants up to a wide range of organisations will give you the best chance at securing the innovative solutions needed to address community ills. Accessibility is about enabling small, not-for-profit, disadvantaged groups to access your grants, as well as ensuring that you don't fund the same groups every year to address the same issues.

What's the problem?

  • There is a false perception that tried and true methods are always the most reliable and the best. We know when tried and true methods aren't working because problems persist and solutions aren't emerging.
  • Political influence - from community sector board members and senior staff, for example - is probably the primary reason why grants are handed out to the same organisations every year.
  • To find out how accessible your grants program is, you need to conduct an audit of at least the last three years of grants, looking at:
    • the spread of recipients (their size, structure, etc.);
    • how many organisations have been awarded grants; and
    • how many new approaches to problems have been included.
  • An audit will almost certainly show that the bigger the community organisation, the more likely it is to be allotted a larger proportion of government grants. Bigger organisations are not necessarily better able to come up with the solution you need to implement the policy behind your grants program.
  • Groups from small communities and communities new to Australia face particularly significant barriers to accessing grants. Yet small and emerging community organisations often service small and emerging communities. They provide intensive support services, especially when people are in crisis, and can advocate on behalf of community members, act as informal interpreters and act as a bridge between larger not-for-profit organisations and the community.

How can we make our grants program more accessible?

  1. Provide a range of different-sized grants. A grants program that provides big and small grants will cater to the needs of groups that are capable of managing large amounts of money and those that would struggle with a figure in the thousands.
  2. Consider setting a ceiling on the size of organisations eligible for small grants, to ensure that smaller groups don't miss out.
  3. When you fund larger not-for-profit groups that support small and emerging communities, keep in mind the impact that your grant will have on smaller groups in the community.
  4. Provide intensive support for implementing projects (you can view the funding process as capacity building and as an investment).
  5. Keep in mind that one size does not fit all. Applying for and managing the grant should not take up more resources than using the grant.
  6. Consider accepting applications by interview rather than in writing.
  7. Ensure that your processes are transparent, which requires being open and honest about decisions being made, the people making them, and why.
  8. Take a consultative approach, involving local people in your process (but be transparent about who is involved, how they achieved their position and what influence they have). Consultation must be accompanied by a conflict of interest policy that is rigidly, rigorously enforced.
  9. Provide comprehensive, unambiguous guidelines so community groups know what they are eligible for. Disclose the average grant amount and the minimum and maximum amounts available to individual grantseekers.
  10. Check that your URL is easy to remember and that information about your grants program is easy to find on your website.
  11. Anticipate the questions grantseekers might have, and include them in a "frequently asked questions" page.
  12. Have realistic timelines: community organisations have to squeeze grant applications in between a multitude of other obligations. Open-ended programs are ideal. But equally, be mindful of the need to act quickly in assessing and awarding grants, in order to capitalise on momentum.
  13. Ask for feedback on your guidelines and processes.
  14. Strive to achieve a more equitable arrangement than "giver" and "receiver" See grantseekers as customers rather than applicants.
  15. Road test application forms and eliminate repetitiveness, ambiguity, complexity, inappropriate style (jargon, legalese, etc.) and out-of-date information.
  16. Provide application forms in the dominant languages of the community your grants support, and consider accepting applications in languages other than English.
  17. Ensure your forms are accessible to people with vision impairment.
  18. Provide grantseekers with an effective point of contact. Phone numbers and email addresses should be disclosed openly, answered speedily and serviced by competent, knowledgeable staff.
  19. Give feedback offering suggestions for improvement. This can help satisfy any capacity-building objectives you have.
  20. Be aware of what other funding programs exist and pass that information on to community groups with worthy projects that are not eligible for your program.