Simplify Your Grant Management Process With Ansley Fender

 Ansley Fender
 
 

Grants can take up a lot of time and resources from your organization. If you don’t have a dedicated team or staff writer for grant management it can become difficult to keep track of applications, especially for a smaller nonprofit. 

Ansley Fender is the Founder and CEO of Atlas Solutions. Atlas’ software is the first industry-agnostic platform for end-to-end management of grant and contract funding. She discusses ways to simplify the grant management process using technology. 
 

Top Takeaways 


  1. When applying for grants look into the future of where your shortfall is going to be. Know how you can stick to your budget if your grant falls through, and make sure you are not putting all your eggs in one basket. 
  2. Budget your time wisely. You know what you are capable of handling so you need to weigh your time and resources with the requirements for each grant. Depending on how demanding it is, it may be better for you to focus that energy on other aspects of your organization. 
  3. Embrace data analytics. In order to understand how to allocate your time and resources, you need to know what is working best for your nonprofit. This means keeping track of your success, failures and history when it comes to grant applications. 
 

Our Favourite Quotes 


(07:28) The more funders are connected with their recipients, the more equitable the process is. And large organizations can't monopolize funding just because they have more cloud and so really finding who is the most efficient and effective at using this money. Is it really like the Goodwills and Habitat for Humanities of the world? Maybe. I don't know, because the smaller organizations are just not getting the funding that they need to be able to reach a bigger size and have a bigger impact.

(16:25) Even if they do, how do you have a giant spreadsheet for the hundreds of grants that you've gotten over the last 20 years? That's the problem. Even if you have that Godlike knowledge for one spreadsheet, you have to reproduce that in multiple spreadsheets, and then you have to have another one that pulls this information, which spreadsheets to do so you have to manually enter it. And, yeah, that's where the whole system breaks down.

Transcript

 
Sabrina
Today we're going to talk about grant management with Ansley Fender.

Hello, and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes Podcast. I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente, and as an innovator in nonprofit technology, our team at Driven is determined to help you unlock your true fundraising potential. We specialize in donor, volunteer and member management, and we'd love to help you out with your goals for 2022. Give us a visit at trustdriven.com to learn more.

A lot of work goes into managing your grants. Not only are you dealing with the application process, but there's a ton of information, expenses and timelines to keep track of, and it can get really overwhelming, especially if your team is working out of Excel sheets or if you don't have the staff or capacity dedicated to grant management. Ansley Fender is the founder and CEO of Atlas Solutions. Atlas's Software is the first industry agnostic platform for end-to-end management of grant and contract funding. Ansley joins us on the show to give her tips on grant management, and we are so excited to have her here today. So thank you, Ansley, for joining us.

Ansley
Yeah. Thanks so much for having me.

Sabrina
So can you start us off by sharing a bit about your story and what inspired you to start Atlas?

Ansley
Yeah. Absolutely. So I am a born and raised classical musician. So I spent a lot of time growing up and around nonprofit, especially arts nonprofit. And I was a dancer for a long time. So that was just my world and grew up doing fundraisers and different things like that. And so I went to College for music, and I got injured during my sophomore year of College. And so I was looking for another major, and I literally was like, I have two weeks to decide. So I don't know, let's just pick something where my arts credits will transfer. And so arts management is what I went with literally on a whim. And it's basically nonprofit management with an arts minor.

I was like, all right, I know some things about this. This sounds moderately interesting. And yeah, I loved it. But for many reasons, I didn't want to work inside a nonprofit. It's just they're just always so understaffed. And it's just like, go-go all the time. And I was like, that is a recipe for burnout for me. I know myself well enough to know that I cannot do this. And so I went to Grad School for public finance and actually had my first child in grad school accidentally and was staying home with her and was just literally just looking for something to do and started talking to some nonprofits in the town that I live in.

And they were like, yeah, we always need help with financial services. There's a severe lack of financial services. So I was like, all right, well, I guess I'll just be an accidental entrepreneur and started doing bookkeeping and financial consulting for nonprofits. And it just kind of exploded from there. And I started doing a lot of work with grant management, and that's where I started to realize how time consuming and difficult it is. And really, I just kind of got sick of how manual it was. It was like there's so much work going into just trying to do good. That's why does this feel like a hindrance to the mission. And so it kind of all came to a head with one particular client that missed a deadline that cost them, like, $50,000. And it was just like it's just a reimbursement. They already spent the money, and they just missed this deadline because they literally had 25 other grants to report on. And so they lost out on 50 grand, which is absurd. And so I basically decided I'm not finding anything that meets the need in the way that I want it met. So I guess I'll just build one.

And that's literally how Atlas started

Sabrina
That's super interesting. That's kind of how any really great idea starts. If you just find a need and you're like, I'm going to create a solution. It works, too, because you have both sides of understanding the process. And also, I guess growing up as a musician, you understood what it was from the other side.

Ansley
Yeah. And it's a multi trillion dollar industry. If I'm having the same problem, there are lots of other people having the same problem. And I mean, not even just like in the US where we are, it's everywhere. And it gets even worse if countries are giving to other countries or nonprofits in one country, it's a global problem. And why should it be so hard to help fill such an important need?

Sabrina
You touched on this a little bit in your introduction, but what are the biggest issues you've seen when it comes to how non profits have been managing their grants? I know that just capacity in itself is a huge issue. But is there anything specific that you've noticed?

Ansley
Yeah. So grant management costs an average of 20% of the funding, like, right out the door. 20% is just going straight to admin. And usually that's because it's such a manual process. So grant informations being kept in spreadsheets, individual cloud storage accounts, individual local drives, pen and paper, various other tools. And so you get these information silos that make it really difficult to pull this information when you need it, and you need it all the time for reporting, finding other grants, like, just understanding what's going on with your grant portfolio. You have to do it every single time.

Or and this was especially bad during COVID. You have a gatekeeper of this information. So if you're all of a sudden not in person or everything about how you've ever worked gets thrown into a tizzy, you don't know where to access this information anymore. Obviously, we don't live in COVID times all the time, hopefully. But things like turnover, maternity leave like those are common everyday things. And so that's really the problem. And I don't think it's an issue with grant funders or recipients at all. It's just that that's how they've always done it, because no one has really come up with a solution that's affordable and actually solves the problem. So they just go back to what's easiest, which is these information silos.

Sabrina
Yeah. And that's one of the greatest things about Atlas is that it's really closing that gap between funders and the grant applicants. Can you explain why this really is so important? I mean, you touched on it again with the incredible expense that Admin has, how can nonprofit benefit from centralizing their application process into just one place?

Ansley
Yeah. So the biggest thing is time saving. Funders have information that recipients need and vice versa. Why are you entering that information twice? So I guess this is more on the tracking and reporting side. So a little bit more like post award. But if I'm putting in the grant name amount budget as the funder, why does my recipient then need to enter that exact same information? Like with that one, I enter it, it gets pushed to the opposite side. And as a recipient, why do I need to manually submit a report if I'm categorizing my financial transactions and that's updating my budget for sexual, why can't I just push that to the funder side? And they can just look at it in real time, moving back towards the procurement side, the application side, the more funders are connected with their recipients, the more equitable the process is. And large organizations can't monopolize funding just because they have more cloud and so really finding who is the most efficient and effective at using this money. Is it really like the Goodwills and Habitat for Humanities of the world? Maybe. I don't know, because the smaller organizations are just not getting the funding that they need to be able to reach a bigger size and have a bigger impact.

I think just bringing both of those sides together really helps the funders understand who's actually out there on the recipient side. But it also puts them closer to the problem. It's really easy to sit in your chair and be like, oh, here's a very two-dimensional application. Of course, these people look better. Well, they had a professional grant writer. They've been around for 15 years. They have 50 full-time employees versus this other one, who a brand new grant manager, wrote their very first grant application. They're super efficient, but they're very small. They have one full time person. You cannot adequately compare those two on a piece of paper. So the closer you are to what they do. And seeing the impact, not just their answers to questions makes a huge difference in how money is allocated.

Sabrina
Yeah, you're right. There really is no comparison with a really big organization and one that is probably a few years in or just starting out. And it's not fair. It really isn't fair.

Ansley
It really isn't.

Sabrina
Yeah. Because you're not only expected to apply for this grant, maintain the grant report to the grant, but that person probably has another job. They're probably the marketing manager or the accounting manager, or maybe they're the CEO. So it is really hard if you don't have the right tools or even if you don't have the right knowledge or experience to apply to grants and get the funding, you need to then do your work and then apply to more grants. And it's just like, yeah, it's just a cycle.

Ansley
Yeah, for sure. It just gets worse and worse as you go. It's basically putting professional authors against high school sophomores who's to say one is better than the other at what they do. One writes better as a professional grant writer who's done this for 20 years than a brand new one. So yeah, I totally agree.

Sabrina
And grants are complex. They need time and effort to manage appropriately, like we've been saying. But how close should the grant writing and the finance team be throughout the process? A lot of my research has been people usually connect at the end or the middle to the end of the grant stage to say, okay, if you don't get this grant, you know, how are we going to make up this money, or do we have enough money to pay for this? But how can they communicate to ensure that they are sustainably approaching grants throughout the process?

Ansley
Yes. So I think there's a couple of different ways. The first one is really looking into the future at where your shortfall is going to be. If your budget is a million dollars and, you know, you can only raise a quarter of a million, you have a $750,000 shortfall. You need to know that a year in advance because grants take a long time to apply and hear back. So that's the first way is they should be constantly communicating on how are we sticking to our budget versus actual? If we have a new program we want to do, how are we going to get this money? That's super important. The next part isn't actually like applying for the grant. So it's great to go after a million dollar federal grant. But how successful have you been at that before? If this is your first time, don't put all your eggs in one basket. If you have a 20% conversion rate, don't put all your eggs in one basket. Large grants are really hard to get. So making sure that you're looking at things that you know, you can get versus things that might be a reach, but allocating your internal resources to make sure you can apply for things that are more likely to convert, but also understanding sort of because it's so time consuming.

What's that sort of mental cost benefit analysis? If I'm applying for a $5,000 grant, and it's going to take me a week to write the application, and I have to report on a monthly basis. You're going to lose money on that grant for sure. So just knowing all of those moving parts before you put pen to paper on the actual grant application is really important because you can be spinning your wheels and not even know it. And those little tiny grants that have those ridiculous reporting requirements, they need to learn that's not going to work. And the only way they know that is if people stop applying. So yeah, I mean, it's kind of voting with your time, but it's hard. There's a lot of interplay between grant writing and finance.

Sabrina
Yeah, we talked a lot about silos on the podcast and the more and more conversations I have, the more important, I'm realizing that you just need communication across the board across all departments because you never know who in your organization is going to be able to have the answer to what you're struggling with. And the other interesting thing is that people are complex. They're more than just their positions. And so somebody in your organization could be working in accounting. But maybe their previous job was as a grant writer, which is perfectly in tune with what you need help with. So yeah, I totally agree. I think that communication 100% is needed and planning ahead for every scenario. Like a Murphy's Law situation.

Ansley
Yeah, because if Murphy's Law hits anything, it's the nonprofit industry, for sure.

Sabrina
Oh, definitely. So there's also a lot to keep track of in terms of just information, the grants you're applying for, the deadlines, the contact information. How should organizations be organizing this info and grant history within their nonprofit?

Ansley
I mean, I'm biased, but with Atlas, of course, but no, I like to compare nonprofits to startups because nonprofit are like startups. They're constantly running out of money. They are usually not selling a product. Like in the case of the startup, they may not be selling a product yet, but they need external financing a lot of times. And that's exactly what nonprofit are getting through donations and grants. It's literally external financing. So from a startups perspective, they would never keep track of this information in a spreadsheet or on a piece of paper just because they're tech companies, they are wired to use technology. Nonprofits are typically not wired that way for a whole host of reasons. And that's not a slight to the industry. That's just how it typically is. And so they need to get off the spreadsheets. I love spreadsheets. They're my happy place, but you can't pull information from a lot of different places and distill it and run analytics. I mean, unless you are an Excel Wizard, which those people do exist and hats off to them. But unless you have that person internally, that is not the place for you to go.

So that is actually a question that we thought a lot about when we were coming up with the feature set for Atlas. And so one of the things that we have in the system is actually tracking where things are in sort of a sales pipeline, like a grant pipeline, sort of a reverse sales pipeline. And what are we thinking of applying for someday? What are we applying for now? Where is it in the application process? Have we just looked at it? Have we actually applied for it? Have we won it lost it and all that sort of feeds into conversion rates that we actually report within the system, too. So, you know. Okay, our conversion rate of federal grants, zero community foundations, 100%. So apply for the Community Foundation grants, even if they're for less money. And so all of this is sort of pushing the industry into sort of a data analytics territory, which is not somewhere they've ever been. And that's really what we're pushing with Atlas is how can we take information that we have that we've just never been able to access in a meaningful way because it's been in so many different places.

So, yeah, that's the biggest thing. It's just putting it in a place that you can run data analytics and look at it in tons of different ways in three dimensional, like, take a ball and turn it around, see different sides of the problem, which they've never been able to do before.

Sabrina
Yeah, having that 360 view is critical. Again, we may be biased because at Driven. We also deal with software, data analytics. But, yeah, when I was going through the software, I was like, how could you do this on an Excel sheet? It's really hard. And unless, like you said, you have this incredible Godlike knowledge of Excel, which I've yet to meet a person who does I have.

Ansley
Even if they do, how do you have a giant spreadsheet for the hundreds of grants that you've gotten over the last 20 years? That's the problem. Even if you have that Godlike knowledge for one spreadsheet, you have to reproduce that in multiple spreadsheets, and then you have to have another one that pulls this information, which spreadsheets to do so you have to manually enter it. And, yeah, that's where the whole system breaks down.

Sabrina
Oh, totally. You need a system that will simplify it for you because it goes back to that whole saving time, 20% of the funds. How much of your time is being put into this as well? Are you going to be going through all these spreadsheets and finding the information you need? It's not only frustrating, but you could be using that in such a better way. So before we go today, if you had one final word of advice for nonprofit on how to approach grants in 2022, what would it be?

Ansley
I think it would be to take a serious look at how COVID has changed things. I don't think we're going to go back. I know for us, state side federal funding has exploded for getting people to as close to a preCOVID state as possible. And so being able to give your value proposition to a postcoded world is very important. And part of that is that economic development is exploding. It's about to have a heyday because so many local governments realize we are not prepared at all for any sort of domestic issue, much less a global issue that affects everyone. So how do you fit into that? How can you tell your community that you are invaluable if you didn't exist, COVID would have been harder or going forward. Your community would be worse off without you. And so I think that's a really important play. The other part of that is because economic development has gotten so big, organizations have started pairing up and saying, hey, so individually, we may not be able to make a massive difference, but together we're it. So if there's another organization you can piggyback off of or a local government entity that you can piggyback off of to tell a larger province or the country as a whole, you need us.

That can really be your ticket to earning that cloud that would take years to get. So think like a start up, like figure out how you can fit whatever it is you do into the bigger picture, or are there small pivots that you can make that will help your longevity? Because nonprofit are going to go out of business if they cannot find a way to create a path for themselves.

Sabrina
Covid really has changed. And again, every conversation seems to be around. How can we move forward? But also, what are the ways that we should not go back to? Because things weren't working. And this made it clear that things weren't working. And I feel like there's some people are still trying to go back to normal as it was two, three, four years ago, and it's not going to happen.

Ansley
Yeah, for sure. I agree. And I mean, I agree that some things shouldn't go back. I like working from home, and I think nonprofits need to adapt to that as well in whatever way they can. I mean, obviously services are very much in person for some of them, but do they have to be? So I think questioning everything is really important.

Sabrina
Amazing. Well, thank you so much again for joining me. So the audience knows what is the best way to get in touch with you.

Ansley
Yeah. So you can just search on our URL is get atlasolutions.com. We're going to be doing our full public launch early next year, so definitely reach out if you have questions before that, or if you want to beta test it. If you want to find out about the feature set, comments on it. We're definitely taking lots of customer feedback, whatever we can get to just build the best product we can well thank you again.

Sabrina
Thank you, Ansely for joining me on the show. For those listening, I have linked all of Ansely's resources in the Description box on how to connect with her on LinkedIn as well as her company's website at Atlas Solutions, there you can learn more about their software and understand how to streamline your grant management process. And if you're interested in staying updated on everything, fundraising Superheroes and learning more about us at Driven, you can give us a visit at Trustdriven.com. We would love to have you join the German family and sign up for a monthly newsletter and you can do so on the website. Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time on the Fundraising Superheroes podcast.


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By Trust Driven on

Podcast Jan 14, 2022, 12:00 AM

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