If your nonprofit relies on government and foundational grants as a source of funding, you know pulling off a successful grant proposal isn’t easy.
One grant application by itself can take anywhere from 80 to 200 hours to complete, and even then there’s no guarantee of success. According to Blackbaud, a nonprofit software vendor, only 37 percent of all grant applications were approved last year.
That may explain why nonprofits are increasingly turning to dedicated grant management software to aid in their efforts. But how useful are these systems, really?
To find out, Software Advice surveyed 127 grant management software users. Our findings, presented below, can help potential buyers learn more about these systems and their potential impact before making a purchase.
- Document management (66 percent) and grant proposal creation (61 percent) are the most commonly used grant management software functions.
- Integrating with other systems (75 percent) and learning how to use the system (72 percent) are the most common challenges with grant management software.
- Despite these challenges, an overwhelming majority of users say their system has had a positive impact on a variety of grant management processes.
- One-third of users expect their software costs to increase in 2017, with 64 percent citing adding users and functionality as the reason.
Users Rely on Document Management to Streamline Proposal Process
Every grant proposal requires filling out numerous forms, typing out things such as a statement of need and submitting proof of financials. It comes as no surprise then that grant management software users most commonly rely on their systems to manage all of this paperwork.
According to our survey, the most used grant management software functions are document management (66 percent), grant proposal creation (61 percent) and grant proposal submission (60 percent).
Not only does this ensure that no documents get lost in the fray, but it also allows users to easily find an important document, make a few tweaks and attach it over and over again to new proposals without needing to start from scratch—an important timesaver for a sector that is often understaffed.
Grant management platforms also make creating proposals easier by allowing users to pull from libraries populated with oft-cited statistics, response templates, compelling videos, staff job descriptions and more.
Overall, it seems grant management software users are mainly relying on their system to streamline grant proposal creation and submission.
Integration, Learning to Use the System Are Most Common Challenges
It would be great if every new software could be implemented seamlessly, but the reality is that every user can expect to run into some challenges. This is especially true for nonprofit organizations that may not have dedicated IT on staff to troubleshoot.
When it comes to grant management software, users say integrating their platform with other systems (75 percent) and learning how to use the software (72 percent) are their top challenges.
There’s another reason integration is noteworthy: It’s the only challenge that respondents more often cited as “moderate” (37 percent) than “minor” (32 percent).
Why Integration Is a Top Challenge
Grant management software rarely operates in a bubble. Because these systems can track grant funds awarded, nonprofits often seek to integrate them with their accounting or finance platforms, making it easier to combine calculations and reporting with other funding sources.
These systems don’t always play nice though, which can result in missing data and glitches when integrated incorrectly.
You can avoid this challenge by doing one of two things:
- Know which systems you need to integrate (even proprietary ones) when talking with vendors and demoing grant management platforms.
- Invest in a more comprehensive nonprofit software suite that is able to meet all of your organization’s needs “out of the box.”
Why Learning the New System Is a Top Challenge
When it comes to learning issues, we’ve seen this come up in the past with nonprofit software. A steep learning curve was the most cited challenge when we surveyed fundraising management software users in 2015.
Proper training with a new system relies heavily on the software vendor being able to provide substantial support. When vetting vendors, consider what training resources they can provide, whether it be an online knowledge base, a dedicated training rep or simply a few instruction manuals.
You should also have more than a few members of your organization demo any potential systems to get a feel for how intuitive the software is with different user types.
Software Positively Impacts Quantity of Applications, Funding Awarded
We’ve arrived at the all-important question: Despite these challenges, does grant management software still ultimately help nonprofits with grants when compared with manual methods?
An overwhelming majority of respondents say grant management software has “somewhat” or “very” positively affected areas such as workflow efficiency, hitting deadlines and even the quality and quantity of their grant applications.
Perhaps most impressively though, 93 respondents say their software had a positive impact on the amount of grant funding their nonprofit has been awarded—the ultimate measuring stick of success with grant activities.
Five percent or less say their system had negatively impacted any of these areas, so prospective buyers should feel confident that, as long as they do their due diligence to find the right system, they’ll likely be satisfied with the results.
Most Nonprofits Expect 2017 Software Costs to Remain the Same
Though there’s speculation that federal spending will undergo drastic cuts in 2017, which will affect grant funding sources, nonprofits aren’t expecting to abandon their grant management systems.
63 percent expect their grant management software investment to remain the same, while 33 percent expect it to increase.
This is good news, and so is the finding that of the 33 percent who expect their investment to increase, 64 percent attribute the rise to adding users or functionality.
Last year, over $662 billion in grants were awarded by the U.S. government. If your nonprofit is eager to get a piece of this pie in 2017, our results show grant management software can certainly help.
We’ve learned that grant management software users are taking advantage of their system’s document management capabilities to stay organized and create proposals with ease. Though they’ve experienced challenges with the software—mainly surrounding integration and system training—the benefits have far outweighed the costs.
The end result is that those who have invested in grant management software aren’t abandoning their system anytime soon.
If you’re convinced grant management software would be a worthwhile investment for your nonprofit, head here to start comparing systems.
A majority of our survey respondents (51 percent) have between 21 and 250 employees. Fifty-five percent have an annual operating budget between $500,001 and $5 million.
Survey Respondents, by Annual Operating Budget