by Noel Chambers
Effective giving strategies need to reflect upon both the mission of the donor and the donor’s need to facilitate sustainable giving. Without both, giving will be less than effective and may not provide the continuity of funding to make an impact. This is particularly relevant when continued stakeholder support and or fundraising is required to enable the donations to occur.
Measurement and reporting is also a key component for sustainable giving. The importance of reporting however can sometimes be seen as an unnecessary burden by researchers and their institutions who may not fully appreciate downstream effects. This can be exacerbated by donors themselves who may wish to measure far more than what is important or develop standard metrics that are misaligned with their giving strategies.
Many organizations utilize traditional grant rounds, scientific review and reporting to manage their giving and due diligence processes. Whilst these may be appropriate mechanisms to manage the support of some activities in health and medical research. Is it the best structure for you? Have you considered alternative mechanisms or developing a portfolio approach for effective giving?
Grant rounds are normally applications submitted annually by researchers to compete for a pool of funding. They are usually for investigator initiated research projects focused on investigations within their field of expertise and where they can demonstrate research excellence. Whilst it is expected that research excellence is a prerequisite for a successful application. How many applications consider more carefully the pathway to delivering a community benefit and the ability of the researcher and administering institution to deliver this outcome?
Are grant rounds best practice for your strategic giving:
Do they deliver financial support to research projects when it is needed most?
Do they provide continuity for longer projects striving to make an impact?
Does your approach foster collaboration and bring together the expertise that will enable the benefit to be realized?
What is the administrative burden on your organization?
What is the quality of your due-diligence?
Is your giving, impact and reporting meeting key stakeholders expectations?
In September 2011, Gina Anderson wrote an article quoting Steve Jobs and discussed the importance of evaluation and measurement for today’s entrepreneurial philanthropists and business people.
“… most of the time, the people who come to you with ideas don’t provide the best ideas. You go seek the best ideas out, and that takes a lot of time.”
Within the quote attributed to Steve Jobs there was a reference related to the identification of where resources may best be applied. It raises a question worth considering. Should your organization consider applying part of your giving portfolio to support research and collaborations investigating solutions for specific problems identified by clinical practitioners and your community? This would require a change in grant administration, bringing the due diligence process forward to the beginning of the process and the need to establish a review panel that can evaluate the problem, identify the skills needed and advise on where research excellence exists.
The quality of traditional peer review has often been questioned among researchers and grant makers. Whilst the aim of peer review is to ensure research excellence, is it always the best method to rank projects and allocate funds?
Professor Graves from the Queensland University of Technology published an article in the British Medical Journal investigating more than 2700 NHMRC grant applications from 2009. The article discusses randomness and associated cost implications in the peer review process and highlights the difficulty in identifying the best fundable projects. Given the resources and knowledge of the NHMRC and the difficulties expressed in this paper there is value in smaller organizations critically reviewing their due diligence processes including scientific review associated with the administration of grants.
Some donors are taking an increasing interest in engaged giving practices, establishing collaborating teams and recognizing that more than one skill set and organization is needed to deliver an outcome. In many cases, researchers may be the best people to attain evidence and analyze data but they are not the right people to lead the translation of the research findings into community or clinical practice.
There may also be a place for introducing resource effective gating strategies such as those employed by industry and the venture capital sector. These however require skills sets that most philanthropic donors don’t currently possess and with the lack of operational and administrative funding available are unlikely to be able to implement.
No matter how decisions are reached. Grant makers need to consider what the research may provide, often it is data and knowledge. How this can best be applied may not be the job of the researcher.