Innovations Pre-Granting: Improving the Quality of Applications through Matchmaking

Helping Complementary Applicants Find Each Other

This is the second of three posts in a series focusing on innovations pre-granting. Other series in the publication look at specific types of innovations during and after the awarding process. Our introduction to the publication explains the importance of open grantmaking innovations and why they matter for improving the legitimacy and effectiveness of grant-based public investments. Head back to the table of contents for an at-a-glance look at the whole publication.

Summary: Online matchmaking tools can help connect grant applicants with potential partners who have complementary expertise or who might otherwise strengthen their application by joining it.

Although relatively new, “matchmaking” has emerged as a method for potentially improving the quality of grant applications. With this approach, grantmaking institutions can use online tools to connect grant applicants with potential partners who might strengthen their applications or join forces in their eventual projects.

In the United States, a key example of matchmaking is a joint 2010 effort by the Department of Commerce and Department of Agriculture to award $7.2 billion stimulus dollars for broadband deployment grants. To improve the quality of grant proposals and promote collaboration between large companies and small community groups, they set up, an online tool to allow potential grant applicants to find partners with complementary expertise. Conceived as part of the Obama Administration’s Open Government Initiative, the tool enabled applicants and would-be partners to see not only which small and minority-owned companies might supply goods or services for their projects, but also which nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and state and municipal governments working to improve broadband access and digital literacy.

During the first weeks of use leading up to the next application deadline, “Over 1,500 organizations established profiles on the website, including hundreds of community anchor institutions like libraries and community colleges, hundreds more Internet service providers, dozens of small and minority-owned for-profit businesses, over 100 states or municipalities, as well as various technology vendors, public safety institutions, venture capital firms, and tribal entities.”

In Europe, the North Atlantic Tourism Association (NATA), which uses grants to support tourism and cultural-exchange projects in Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands, also offers applicants the opportunity to find each other via a matchmaking tool. As they describe it, “Our new partner database provides opportunities for people who have exciting tourism development ideas to link up. If you have a project that requires partnership in one or both of the other participating countries, this is the perfect way to find the right people who can help you make it happen.” In fact, it is a requirement for funding that projects involve at least two of three countries under NATA’s jurisdiction, making the tool of central importance for assembling a successful application.

In a variation on this matchmaking concept, projects like C40 convene the world’s forty largest megacities to exchange best practices and cooperate on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By creating an intermediary and convenor, the cities have been able to identify and invest in doing what works. This is another instance of a convening organization helping practitioners find and learn from each other.

Examples of matchmaking for grant applicants as such are, as of yet, somewhat few and far between. But that’s partly why we want to draw attention to these exciting first movers! One notable example started in 2004, when the VNA Foundation and Michael Reese Health Trust convened about 50 people from agencies that specifically provided health care for homeless community members. After about the third convening, the funders bowed out and the agencies continued to meet regularly. There was a direct outcome: several of the member agencies eventually banded together to form the West Side Collaborative, a group with a newly honed strategy to tackle the issues that formed the basis of the convenings, which the VNA Foundation later funded.

If you know of other public-sector, private-sector, or philanthropic grants that make use of applicant-to-applicant matchmaking, we want to hear about it. Feel free to share your examples with us either through in-line annotations or a reply at the bottom of this post.

Why Do It:

  • Applicant quality: Matchmaking can help improve applicant quality by allowing well-rounded teams or partnerships to form from complementary individuals/groups that might otherwise not have found each other.
  • Idea quality: Bringing together individuals and groups with complementary skills and experiences has the potential to yield better idea outcomes.
  • Capacity building: Matchmaking tools can also address equity and capacity-building concerns. Applicants with a strong need or compelling case to be awarded a particular grant may not always be best-placed to meet certain technical or other requirements. These tools can help connect them with potential partners to strengthen their applications.

Why Not Do It:

  • Confidentiality: Where confidentiality of applicants or their submission materials is an issue, this tool would perhaps be less appropriate.
  • Too many cooks: In situations where the grantmaking entity prefers working with individuals or smaller groups, it may be preferable to limit the size of “teams” in the applicant pool.

Click here for the next post in our series on innovations pre-granting, or head back to the table of contents for an at-a-glance look at the whole publication.