The Pollination Project’s Application Workflow

tpp application workflow

How do we create systems that support applicants? Here’s the key components of our system.

  1. Offer Clear Guidelines. By being very clear about guidelines, providing easy to use yes/no checklists for applicants to vet their project against your guidelines, you leave far less room for interpretation. In fact, at the Pollination Project, we have a prescreen “quiz” on our website to ensure applicants meet our most basic requirements before they can apply. Nearly 50% of those who take the quiz do not pass (they also receive an answer sheet with explanation of why they didn’t meet our guidelines). Of the 50% who do pass, they receive a link to the application.
  2. Automate Processes & Give Timelines. Of course, one of the biggest administrative challenges of accepting applications is dealing with applicants. We handle about 3,000 applications a year and don’t even have a full time staff person allocated for this task. Most of the processing work is automated. When they complete the application, it is dropped directly into our grant review database. The applicant receives a link to our most current timeline so they know what to expect. Then they receive updates from our database as they progress through the rest of the review process.
  3. Provide Constructive Feedback. If they do not receive funding, our applicants might receive one or two personalized sentences about why, but at a minimum, they receive links to “common reasons we decline applications” and are encouraged to reapply if they still think their project is a fit. We’ve actually funded projects on their fourth or fifth try! Even though we don’t yet do this, it is possible that as a foundation reviews applications, they could use a very simple scoring system that synthesizes and automates your feedback and pops it into an email that is sent to the applicant when the decision is made.

While all of these processes may seem impersonal, we have found it is quite the opposite. By providing ongoing updates throughout the review process, and receiving encouraging and thoughtful emails from us, applicants have told us they feel cared for- they know we haven’t forgotten about them.

It takes some effort to put the systems in place, but if it is designed with a commitment to be open and transparent, it is remarkably easy to accomplish a workable and efficient way to accept and manage unsolicited applications.

Read more about creating applicant-centered processes at the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy Blog.