1. Design the scheme with a focus on achieving specific outcomes
Be clear about what it is you’re looking to achieve
Agreeing the desired outcomes is a key element at the start of defining the requirement for the grant’s use, to ensure that the application criteria are relevant and prevent the possibility of applicants being eligible for a grant without being able to demonstrate it has met its purpose.
Grant-makers will need to consider why the scheme is needed in the first place, how it will deliver value for money, what the motivation is for those applying for the grant, and how the scheme will be evaluated (more on this below).
Make sure those who need to know, do
A grant scheme can’t succeed in its outcomes if there are no recipients to provide the grant to. Once you’re sure you have a large enough pool of appropriate applicants to make the scheme worth running, you need to plan how you’ll publicise the grant to those intended recipients, budgeting for the associated marketing, media support and advertising that you’ll need. For those particularly hard to reach groups, some creativity might be needed to ensure the right people apply, perhaps asking schools, nurseries and children’s centres to share information about grants available for parents, for example.
2. Ensure the scheme is easy and cost-efficient to administer
If a grant scheme is designed well, in a way which makes it easy to administer, grant teams will, in turn, find it easier to oversee the progress of the scheme and ensure that the money is being used as intended. This is particularly the case with digital grant management solutions which offer automation to free the grant administration team from routine procedures so that they can focus on value-add tasks, such as monitoring and improving the scheme.
Ensuring that administrators have access to features such as customised dashboards and clear reporting means that they can more easily see how the scheme is performing and identify any issues. They’ll also be able to make more informed, data-based decisions. In addition, by making regular monitoring more accessible, it’s easier to adjust the scheme to meet citizens’ needs where necessary.
3. Offer a user-friendly application experience
Make sure the grant isn’t too difficult to apply for
Once an applicant has found a suitable grant, they’re faced with the often time-consuming and confusing process of making the application itself. That is, of course, providing they can access the application process in the first place. Online and digital application forms with clear instructions – and which are mobile friendly - are usually the best answer for increasing accessibility as these can guide the applicant through the process, offering information and answers to their questions in one place.
For this stage, to provide the best possible experience for applicants, you should be thinking carefully about the language you’re using – are the questions being asked in plain English and unambiguous or do they need rephrasing? Should you be considering offering translations into other languages? You should also be thinking about what information you need from other relevant parties and making it clear who you’ll need to contact, and what for. With the best will in the world, there will be instances where you need additional information or evidence, so make sure the application process allows for this, so that the applicant has the opportunity to provide further information as needed, even if this is at a later stage, so that they can interrupt the process, then pick up again where they left off.
It’s also important, of course, to consider alternative application routes for those (albeit rare) instances where citizens don’t have access to the internet, perhaps offering the option of telephone assistance, if appropriate.
One way of easing the stress for applicants is to offer pre-qualification eligibility checks. With advice on their chances of qualifying, the applicant will feel more confident about moving forward to the full application itself. As with the main application itself, these can easily be offered as part of a digital application process.
Provide reassurance post-application so teams can focus elsewhere
Once submitted, it will ease uncertainty if you can keep applicants updated about the application’s status, acknowledging first receipt of the application, giving an indication of how long it will take to process and so on. This will help to prevent your team having to respond to numerous enquiries from those applicants concerned about progress, freeing them to focus on ensuring grants are being given where they are most deserved and relevant to the scheme’s desired outcomes.
Once an application has been approved, it can be useful to offer a knowledge base for those successful applicants to draw on, to offer guidance on how to make the most of their grant – this could take the form of online information, printed handouts, regular ‘heartbeat’ emails to help keep the applicant focused, and perhaps even a helpline if the scale of the operational allows for this. It’s also crucial to ensure that the grant agreement, where appropriate, includes performance metrics and makes clear any requirement to submit regular returns for the purpose of monitoring.
And for those applicants who are unsuccessful, where you feel these are genuine applications which have the potential to meet the aims of the scheme, it’s a good idea to consider whether you can offer support so they can be successful the next time they apply.
4. Protect the scheme from fraud
Make sure the money reaches the right people and projects
The outcomes you’re looking to deliver can’t be achieved when the money falls into the wrong hands which is why sophisticated fraud detection and prevention processes and tools are crucial to counter fraud and abuse.
This is particularly important with regard to ad hoc grant schemes delivered in times of economic and social emergency which can be more vulnerable to error and the risk of fraud than those grant schemes which have had the luxury of time to be set up and consider those risks in detail from the outset. This is because of the pressure on scheme administrators to ensure urgently-needed money reaches citizens and organisations without delay.
To ensure grants reach the right hands, grant makers have to carry out stringent identity and due diligence checks. They also need thorough audit and access controls, alongside reporting and data analytics, to highlight patterns in claiming behaviour that could help them to identify potential fraud. But relying on manual processes to check this is time-consuming, which is why technology can play a valuable role.
Introduce the latest technology to protect your scheme
Digital solutions can utilise technology such as automation, open-source intelligence, artificial intelligence and machine learning to combat many of the issues of grant fraud, including internal fraud and activity such as ‘phoenixing’ (when company directors trade through a series of businesses which become insolvent in turn) which is particularly hard to spot manually.
Technology can also provide a stronger defence against new, digital fraudster methods such as providing fraudulent evidence online, taking over the accounts of genuine applicants, phishing techniques and cyber-attacks.
5. Establish robust monitoring and evaluation processes
Throughout the life of the scheme you’ll need to monitor performance, both at a macro level – looking overall at grant scheme performance - and at a micro level, monitoring how grants are achieving the intended aims.
Robust performance monitoring will enable you to see early whether targets and policy objectives are being met, and/or whether the scheme needs adjusting to meet these. By regularly reviewing activity, risk and expenditure, you can establish that value for money – and delivery objectives – are being achieved.
You should also have processes in place – where appropriate – to receive agreed regular returns from grant recipients, enabling you to see whether the funding is being used for its intended purpose, and whether it’s being managed in the right way.
Digital grant administration schemes can offer real-time insights into performance, including reporting specifically against outcomes, tracking these to measure the scheme’s success, even long after the dispersal of the funds. Such impact assessment can inform future grants planning, supporting not only the delivery outcomes for the current scheme, but help to ensure future schemes are in a stronger position for success.