Grants Management Software Explained: What social impact pros need to know

In this episode, you'll learn about grants management software, what it is and how it can help your social impact programs. We chat with Clare Brewka, Manager of Global Community Engagement with Mitek, and explore when it's time to invest, how to get buy-in and what to look for when researching the software right for you.

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What we discussed:

Karl Yeh (00:00):

So I've got a very special guest today, her name is Clare Brewka, who she manages the global community initiatives for MiTek. Thank you very much, Clare, for joining us today.

Today we're talking about grants management software and so, Clare, let's take it right from the beginning.

What is grants management software and how can it help your social impact programs?

Clare Brewka (00:50):

So on a basic level, I'd say grants management software offers funders a technological solution to help manage grants, funding, accreditation of nonprofits, et cetera.

And I would say most grant management software today supports a few key things, including the assessment process for a grant, often by a review panel, and ultimately allowing funders to make decisions against a set of funding criteria.

So those are the basic tenants of what grant management software can do.

Karl Yeh (01:24):

So for any company or business that has either an established social impact program or one that's getting up and running, is it something that's required right away? Or is it something that you need once you have your grants program more established?

When do you need to invest in grants management software?

Clare Brewka (01:45):

So I would say it's definitely not required right away.

Grant management software is something that I wouldn't necessarily take lightly.

It does take some time to implement, but then also takes capacity to maintain.

And so if you're not necessarily clear about the tenants of your program, if you're not clear necessarily, again, about the metrics that you're using, those things can start to catch up with you and it's best, I think, to have a little bit more preparation in that.

So I'd say take it slow and steady and choose grant management software when you know you have the capacity and desire to really commit to social impact with a measurable lens.

Karl Yeh (02:33):

So when you say you a capacity, does that mean more than one?

So let's say your program is you're a solo practitioner in a business, do you need more than one?

Could you run grants manager and software by yourself?

How many people are required to run and implement the software?

Clare Brewka (02:48):

I believe that you don't need to necessarily have more than one person in order to run your grant management software and that's the beauty of software that helps a person manage grants.

Really, it actually can serve to build your capacity and if I think it's done right, meaning the software and the technology provides an individual with the right capacity and you have a professional that has passion and knowledge of what they're doing, that mix really will allow for, I think, a very lean program to function effectively.

Karl Yeh (03:29):

So how do you know it's time for your business to invest in this type of software?

How to know when it's time to invest in grants management software?

Clare Brewka (03:35):

It's a hard decision, Karl.

We took some time to make that and I would say there are probably a few key things to look for. One, growing pressure from stakeholders.

This could be company team members, it could be customers, et cetera, and really the pressures around driving positive change in your markets, in your communities.

And so if that pressure's there, it means that you have to have good processes, good structure, good infrastructure in order to make that change.

I'd say also if you want to scale your program locally or globally, that's probably a really good signal that suggests you might need some additional capacity to help you do that.

And then, honestly, it seems simple, but when your administrative tax related to a grants program, like reviewing and processing grant requests, for example, become overwhelming or disorganized, that can be a really significant flag that says, "We need to actually aggregate this information in one place.

We need to be able to have more efficient processes and streamline our system."

Karl Yeh (04:51):

Is there an amount that your program is working with in terms of the amount of grants or the number of companies or initiatives that you're working with, is there a bar that, "Hey, we really need the software now because there's no way, let's say a spreadsheet, can handle this."?

Or is it more based on, I would say, your capacity?

Clare Brewka (05:20):

I want to say it's a yes and, which I know is probably a dissatisfying answer to some individuals, but I think it is truly understanding your own capacity as a professional and knowing what your full scope of your job is.

If you are solely a grants professional and that is all that you do, I think potentially you could go one way or another, no matter how many grants you manage.

That being said, the depth of your program also influences that.

So if you have, let's say a hundred grantees, but you do maybe more of a traditional form of philanthropy where it's much more of a cut a check and that's a more of a transactional relationship, potentially you don't necessarily have to have a large lift, but you have a large number of grantees or cause partners.

 

Whereas if you have more relationship-based grant-making, if you have deeper relationships with these nonprofits or causes, it might actually require a larger lift for smaller amount of grantees or dollars going out.

So it's really a six of one and half a dozen of another.

But for us at MiTek, we actually had a relatively small amount of cause partners that we were working with, which for us allowed us to more ease and phase into this process.

It really enabled us to take the time we needed to onboard a select number of causes that we have had legacy relationships with.

And then in the phases that will be to come, then onboard new cause partners with a refresh understanding of our grant process.

Karl Yeh (07:04):

Now let's talk about getting buy-in.

How does somebody or how does your team get buy-in for grants management software? Maybe explain how you did it at MiTek.

How to get company buy-in to invest in the software?

Clare Brewka (07:17):

Well, like any other project, I mean, I think buy-in is extremely important.

Identifying your stakeholders, defining what their level of anticipated investment is going to be is pivotal.

  • Are you working with board members of a corporate foundation?
  • Senior executives?
  • Do you have a corporate communications team that needs to be involved?

Who are your main stakeholders who are going to be integral parts of not only the implementation process but the onboarding process of these nonprofits?

I would say also making sure you set a timeline for implementation, understanding what other demands you have for the year.

These are all really pivotal elements to understanding how you present this opportunity and ultimately get buy-in.

So understanding when I said the opportunity, it's really understanding the value [inaudible 00:08:10] as well to stakeholders.

Not just getting feedback, but incorporating that feedback from these stakeholders as you go through this implementation process around a grant management system.

 

At MiTek, what we ended up doing in order to get buy-in and investment from stakeholders was reviewing our current processes around our grant program.

And, again, we're a newer program, so our processes were kind of loose, but we needed to define them a little bit more and so we really identified gaps within that process and also within our team's capacity.

And then we not only focused on the clarity of that need, but also on the inclusion of those stakeholders in the process.

So for example, after our team identified the need for the additional capacity through a grant management system, we spent a few months actually drafting an RFP for a grants management solution.

And it might seem a little intensive, but again, I wanted to make sure we were super thorough with our process.

And so we specifically asked our legal team, our communications team, our finance team, our IT teams, representatives from each one of those functions to provide feedback within their areas of expertise, setting up opportunities for them to speak with all of the potential vendors, including Benevity, and receiving product demos, et cetera, from all of our top choices.

So as detailed as this process was, it allowed us to truly develop a better understanding of both our technological needs, but then also the capabilities of these software solutions.

So that for me was one of the pivotal elements of getting buy-in from stakeholders, was not having to see a siloed process, but truly being inclusive and getting their feedback, incorporating it in, and moving forward with that knowledge.

Karl Yeh (10:15):

There's always one topic that keeps coming up whenever I talk about getting the buy-in for programs and that's the concept of demonstrating return on investment.

So is there a big component of when you're developing your strategy to show, I guess, to leadership that this program or this software will actually provide some sort of return on investment in terms from a business perspective?

Or is that something that is a little bit beyond scope?

Showing the ROI from grants management software

Clare Brewka (10:49):

I think that's a really pivotal part of any sort of buy-in process, is that concept of ROI.

When you're first starting out, especially at the stage that we were at, it's not like we had a baseline of knowledge of our impact and then could anticipate the changes that were inevitably going to be made by incorporating a grant management system externally.

Internally was really our focus, and so the return on investment for us had a strong internal lens first, and then the knowledge that as we continue to grow and mature as a company, or excuse me as a function, that the impact on our communities was where that deep return on investment was going to be seen, is that we're actually able to empower applicants and grantees to submit their own applications.

We have more integrated tools to enable us to budget more effectively and keep track of our expenditures and where they're going and why they're going there, making better decisions, incorporating more people into that, and then also measuring our results, ultimately.

But as I mentioned, we were not as focused on the measurement of impact results at the time because of where we were in the maturation process of our grant program.

 

Karl Yeh (12:10):

So when you're researching different... When you're talking about your RFP, what do you look for when you're researching grants management software?

What are some of your criteria for successful software?

What to look for when researching grants management software? 

 

Clare Brewka (12:22):

Yeah, there can be many.

Those RFPs were long. So I appreciated every single company that filled those out and took the time to really provide thoughtful responses. I'd say there are a handful of things that we really called out that were important to us.

First and foremost, which feels like it doesn't even have to be said but I'm going to say it, is background and experience in providing grant management solutions for corporate funders in particular.

We ran into a handful of vendors that were specialized in family foundations or private foundations and there's a different need set when it comes to a corporate foundation and a corporate giving program like we are.

And I'd say a knowledge of best practices goes along with that, understanding regulatory standards, innovative solutions in the space, international grant-making knowledge and expertise that, again, moves into that donation capabilities of cause vetting, due diligence, grant disbursement on an international scale.

That was extremely important to us.

The capability, as well, to deliver technology that's customizable.

I think that for every company you have to consider what your personal needs are and so for us to get a cookie-cutter grant system was not going to work.

We knew that based upon our level of maturation and our desire to create specific kinds of impact in our communities where we live, work and play, we were going to need to be able to have some flexibility and individualization with this particular platform, so I'd say those things were pretty high.

Language capabilities.

We're a global company, we need to be able to meet that need. That also speaks to our lens of equity that we incorporate into our grant process.

And so that was, I would say, a high priority for us. Price, of course. I mean, I would be remiss to not mention that.

We are after all a company that likes to make sure that we steward our resources appropriately, and so making sure that we have an effective pricing model that we're working with is also pretty important.

Karl Yeh (14:57):

Now you were talking about specialization. Obviously, for different companies their granting program would be specialized.

So let's say for example, the way that one company would research from a local level, that would probably be different than a company like MiTek who's more on a global scale, right?

There would be a difference in research in terms of a smaller company, more localized, versus a global company, right?

Global vs local capabilities

Clare Brewka (15:30):

Absolutely. Yes.

When it comes to global giving, the amount of risk increases.

And that's something that particularly for a corporate giving program where the dollars are coming directly from our company and not from even an external entity like a foundation or 501c3.

That's important for us to make sure that we stay completely above board and are giving to organizations that have good reputation and are practicing their work in line with the standards of what I would say the IRS would uphold.

So we really invested a lot of our stock when looking at our RFPs, for example, and the answers that came from these vendors into how well versed they were in helping a company navigate the nuances of international giving.

Can they not only provide recommendations, which is so valuable to have that kind of mind share, but then also be able to actually follow through with the vetting process and due diligence in a way that instills deep confidence?

Where if I say, "I would love to fund a certain cause in South Africa," for example, our headquarters is in Missouri, right?

We don't necessarily have boots on the ground in Johannesburg where we'd like to offer a grant to a cause, so how do we actually best understand the organization that we're about to partner with?

That's extremely important for us to be able to confidently maintain our reputation and brand across all of our global markets.

So I'd say that would be a really important consideration set for any global company.

If you're local, I think it is also important to have that as part of your grant program as well, but I think it's a little bit easier to figure out if an organization is in good standing with the IRS if you are saying local and based in the United States, that is.

So there are different layers of knowledge that you can get from organizations and we're just really grateful to have Benevity and all of the resources that are provided through the Benevity Grants' platform at our fingertips.

Karl Yeh (18:26):

So prior to adopting grants management software, how did you run your program at MiTek?

Grants Management at MiTek

Clare Brewka (18:33):

MiTek has always been a generous company.

We've given up our time, our talent, and particularly in this case, our treasure to organizations in the places where MiTek team members live, work, and play.

Despite that big heart of our company, we were solely relying upon more, I would say antiquated, or if not antiquated, error-prone systems like using Excel sheets.

Which I'm not knocking Excel sheets, but they do ask a bigger lift of someone.

We also were using personal emails that served as application, review, and confirmation of a grant to a cause.

These mechanisms, they technically worked.

They were not the most efficient nor reliable, though.

So that was the approach that we took to connecting with the nonprofit community and helping to support causes.

So now that we have implemented Benevity Grants, we recognized as well that we also needed a grant rubric to help us even with that process as well.

So we haven't been able to incorporate that yet because it's new, we're really excited, into the actual application itself. But we do have an internal grant rubric now that acts as a good pairing with the Benevity Grant system that allows our team to use a framework for evaluating the level of strategic alignment that a potential partnership or grant with a cause can provide.

And so those kinds of consistent and sustainable funding decisions across our global footprint are being enabled more and more because we have these types of systems that are just ready to go and can just, again, increase our capacity of such a lean team.

Karl Yeh (20:46):

So can you tell me more about how did you personally get into the world of corporate granting?

Clare’s journey to corporate granting

 

Clare Brewka (20:51):

I started all of my background in social work.

I received my master's degree in international community development and intended to work actually as a clinical social worker with immigrants, refugees, new Americans.

And through a series of research projects, internships, et cetera, I realized that I had an interest in the relationship between causes and the funding community, specifically the power dynamics and influence of diversity equity inclusion within the framework of traditional philanthropy and how that changes when you start to think about new innovative ways to do grant-making.

So I began working for an organization that [inaudible 00:21:39] my master's program that enables funders to learn, connect, and act with impact.

And that was just my entrance into better understanding those types of relationships and ultimately finding MiTek.

Karl Yeh (21:51):

So do you have anything else to add in terms of just our introduction to grants management software?

Clare Brewka (21:58):

When you're thinking about including grant management software in your program, truly take the time to assess what your needs are.

It seems like an obvious answer and yet when you start the process of researching what's out there, you see a lot of possibility.

And recognizing the things that actually are most meaningful to you, the characteristics of a program or platform that align with your values either personally or as a company is, I think, extremely important.

One of the things that we really appreciated about Benevity and the Benevity Grants platform is the fact that the company itself actually seemed to be chartering innovative approaches to grant-making and grants itself, and serving as an idea generator and a collaborator with the funding community.

And we really appreciated that as a company that invests in new innovative solutions for the building construction industry.

 We want to partner with organizations in every context that align with our values, so this seemed like a wonderful partnership

Karl Yeh (23:33):

Watch part two of our discussion on grants management software as we talk about implementation for your business.

Thanks for watching and we'll catch you on our next episode.

Connect with Clare Brewka