Each year, trillions of dollars in grants is distributed across the world. Yet for years, grantmakers have been forced to put up with poor systems for managing this massive industry.
Grantmakers have wasted millions upon millions of precious (and mostly public) funds building customised grants management systems that were designed by people with little knowledge of the craft of grantmaking and that were out of date the moment they were completed. Often, the systems sought to emulate processes that had grown organically (and often eccentrically) over many years, leading to the creation of online systems that would make Frankstein's Monster blush.
Grantmakers squandered millions more on poorly designed programs that did not deliver the hoped-for social improvements.
At the same time, Our Community – an Australian social enterprise that had worked primarily with not-for-profit groups since its inception in 2000 – had uncovered a seething undercurrent of "grants rage" among grantseekers of all types and sizes. Grantees lamented the tragic state of the technology systems they were subjected to, tore their hair out about mad processes that forced them to report on things that were never acted upon, lamented the lost opportunities for the exchange of knowledge. Grantseekers from all corners of the globe reported identical issues.
Most of the complaints were made privately - grantees' dependence on the cash that was given out left them reluctant to express or act on their concerns. Auditors were not so shy. Our Community's grantmaking publication tracked report after report criticising poor processes, weak audit trails and grantmakers who did not know what effect they were having, if any.
Our Community's Funding Centre database and newsletter was tracking around 4000 live grants - almost every grants program and every grantmaker in Australia: local, state and federal government, philanthropic and corporate. At the same time, Our Community's grantmaking education arm had been observing and charting local and international trends, innovations and best practices in grantmaking, and gone face-to-face with hundreds of grantmakers through its conferences and networking programs. Through those activities, we identified a second vein of grants rage - grantmakers too were frustrated about the expensive, clunky, outdated systems they'd been lumbered with.
In 2009, we assembled a special team, operating within the walls and the social agenda of Our Community, to develop a technology solution that would address many of these philosophical and practical problems. SmartyGrants was born.
SmartyGrants is a hosted grants management application that allows grantmakers to receive and manage applications - but it is much more than just a tech solution. SmartyGrants drives sector-wide reform by building best practice into an intuitive and affordable product that grantmakers want to use because it makes their lives easier and their outcomes better.
Grantmakers can use the service for as long as they like (agreements are only 12 months in duration and data is fully portable so customers can leave at any time) and get the benefits of constant upgrades and innovations.
The good practice tips and tools and networking and training opportunities that are delivered through this website help to reinforce the reform agenda.
Our story is far from complete. We have an ambitious agenda to keep driving change.