Should impact be at the forefront of designing grant processes or is it an afterthought?

1st October 2014

Grants in medical research: you’re likely receiving them, awarding them or chasing them. If you are in a position where you’re awarding them, then there is a likely chance that you chose to award them to projects that fit within a particular cause or focus area of interest. For many funders with open grant rounds, there is often times some direction as to what they will or will not fund, but in terms of impact, it is often one of the last item that forms part of a grant making strategy. The typical grant making process normally involves collecting and pooling resources, which are then applied towards the implementation of strategies, that then produce outputs, which over time may results in outcomes and if you are lucky, you can scour through acquittal reports to potentially discover an impact your funding has helped achieve.

With increasing pressures on the philanthropic and the for-purpose sectors to deliver and showcase results, this process not only makes it very difficult in doing so, but it also leads to impact being a coincidence and not necessarily a planned result.

Instead, by reversing the cycle and working the other way around, the desired impact remains the focal point. Rather than asking the sector to tell you want they wish to work on and what they will aim to achieve, you are clearly articulating the desired impact, specific outcomes and outputs and the strategies you will use to make this happen. Based on this, you may then revise your grant making strategy and choose to allocate resources to fund the impact appropriately. 

If as a donor you find that it is too difficult to achieve your desired impact on your own, then partnering with others with similar objectives is a great option. When setting your desired impact, outcomes and outputs, it would be wise to perform a proper sector consultation, as those working first-hand in the field may have some important contributions and suggestions to make. Once these have been set, you can then research those that are leading in the space, as well as other key funders supporting the area. Leverage may help you achieve your desired impact much sooner. Should you choose to then open a grant round, it will be clear what you aim to achieve and may reduce your time with unwanted/non-related applications. Alternatively, you could always source the projects directly either on your own or through partnerships. Either way, the impact will have been set from the beginning, and there will be measures in place to evaluate success.

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