We recently updated our old, tired grants software to a new, shiny cloud-based management system. The process for choosing which new system to trust with nearly 20 years of grants files wasn’t easy and the implementation was cumbersome, but we learned a lot along the way.
We compiled five tips that might be helpful to other foundation staffers who find themselves at a similar crossroads.
- Know what you want out of a new system
Before jumping into anything, step back and ask, what do we want to get out of this new system? What’s important to us when managing our grants? What do we wish our current system did? Sit down with your teammates and brainstorm what you’re looking for. Outline the technical and functional requirements you want to see from a new system. During our selection process, we considered the ease with which we could search for grants using tags like year awarded or strategic goal, the user-friendliness of a grantee portal, and the ability for our entire staff to access to the database.
Talk to your counterparts at other foundations and ask what system they use and its pros and cons. See what’s out there — review Idealware’s consumer guide to grants management systems to see what products are available and which companies you might consider reaching out to for more information.
- Be prepared to do a deep clean (of your data)
A new database is only as good as the data that it contains. For many foundations, decades of data must be migrated over to a new system. If you are like us, nearly 20 years of grantmaking means that many different hands touched the old database and data entry – for example, naming conventions – wasn’t always consistent.
Before you migrate data into your new system, do a full data clean up. Once the data migrates, it is much more difficult to clean data in bulk batches. Prepare your team ahead of time and set the expectation that the clean up will be a team effort.
If you have documents you’d also like to include in the new database that are not housed with the rest of your grants data, create a detailed spreadsheet listing each document you hope to transfer so you can easily validate if the migration was successful.
- Ask what happens after
Okay so now you’ve chosen a new system and completed migration, now what? Each grants management system comes with varying levels of technical support. Be sure your expectations for training and support match what the company offers. After paying for a new system, the last thing you want is to be charged additional fees every time you encounter a glitch. Will the support team teach you how to build your site and give you the chance to practice in the test phase? Will you have a dedicated contact for the life of the contract? Who can you go to for minor questions? Where do you turn when your workflow isn’t working as expected? It is beneficial to know the answers to questions like these before you sign a contract.
- Keep your grantees in the loop and prepare them for the change
Whether your foundation has used an online grantee portal before or will be using one for the first time, it is essential to prepare your grantees for the change. To make sure our grantees were ready, we hosted a webinar to explain the new portal and the steps needed to apply for a grant or submit a progress report. We created quick reference guides for each task an applicant or grantee might complete in the portal and upload step-by-step videos to provide further support for navigating the new system.
Add all resources you create to your foundation’s website and blast an email to current and past grantees with links to these resources. Most importantly, be ready to provide support and field questions as applicants and grantees use the portal for the first time.
- Nothing is final!
Your new database is just that…YOURS! Most systems allow you to change application questions, alter fields, and edit your workflow even after implementation. Testing the system before you go live is not the same as using it on a daily basis. You’ll continuously need to tweak things for the first few months as your team and grantees become accustomed. Don’t be scared to change something. Many systems offer a pre-production site that mirrors your database and provides you a space to try new things before you implement changes in your system. Customize to the extent needed to ensure your grants management system is meeting the needs of your foundation.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact our program team! firstname.lastname@example.org