Foundation Friday: Why not everyone?

There’s a list of philanthropies that accept the Washington Grantmakers’ Common Application Form.  Notable by their absence: the big national philanthropies including Ford, Gates and MacArthur. 

Maybe that’s because the National Network of Grantmakers has its own Common Application, as does the Donors Forum of Chicago, as do more than a dozen other regional grantmakers’ groups listed by the Foundation Center, not to mention the boldly unlimited Common Grant Application created by some .com.  But doesn’t a multiplicity of forms sort of defeat the purpose?

In any case, though the Donors Forum list includes the MacArthur Foundation, there’s no evidence on the Foundation’s own site that it accepts the local common form or any other; indeed, it requires a pre-application inquiry, for which it specifies there is no form.  Likewise, neither the Gates Foundation nor the Ford Foundation show anywhere on their Websites that they accept any of the common forms.

Query why all these grantmakers concerned with the efficiency of grantees don’t make such efficiency possible by (a) getting together on a single form and (b) making the existence of the form (and their acceptance of it) widely known by announcing it on their Websites with the same prominence they give policies about checking grantees for links to terrorism.  As they obviously understood when they created all these application forms, enabling grantees to fill out a single grant application would allow them to spend more time serving their clients.

In the words of the gospel song, "Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel?  Why not every man?"

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3 Responses to “Foundation Friday: Why not everyone?”

  1. Holden Says:

    I agree with the sentiment, but I’m not sure a common grant app is actually a good idea. Based on my own experience – we wanted to use a common app, but looking at one, we realized it wasn’t going to answer our questions – and that was going to cost more time (for us and the nonprofits) overall. I spoke with a couple major foundations that use the common app, and was told that it’s considered a “first step” to a ton of back-and-forth. We expect back-and-forth too, but it seemed smarter to try to be as clear and explicit as possible up front, to create as little need for later clarification as possible.

    The fact is that different foundations are looking for different things. That’s probably why there are so many common apps, and in the end why this is a well-meaning idea that may not actually save anyone time.

  2. Nonprofiteer Says:

    Glad to have this insight from within the belly. If it doesn’t save time, then I certainly hold no brief for a common application form. The equivalent (common application for entry to academic programs) worked out well for admissions officers when I was one but the analogy between philanthropy and admissions is admittedly imperfect.

  3. Sean Stannard-Stockton Says:

    I’ve always thought the common grant application was a good idea. But then I’m not a grantmaker, so I don’t have the inside knowledge. Holden’s point is well taken. As an investment manager, I know the importance of an “investment policy statement”, a written document that spells out how a client wants their account managed. I would never use a “Common Investment Policy Statement”, the questions I have for my clients can’t be captured in a generic questionnaire, partly because I have my own ideas about what is important and partly because each client is different and your early questions drive different follow up questions for each individual.

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