Grant compliance

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The Comprehensive guide to a compliant, fair, equitable, and non-bias grant program

Chapter 1: Ensuring a Transparent Process

Everything starts with a proof of process statement. This statement is publicly facing and outlines the entire grant application and selection process so applicants and the public can transparently see the process as well as set expectations. Of course, grant providers need to put their money where their mouth is and back up their workflow by adhering to this process. By using a platform like Reviewr, we can ensure that every element within the proof of process will correspond with dedicated features that make sure the process is adhered to.

Example proof of process:

  • Dates and deadlines
    • Application open date
    • Application close date
    • Data review and cleansing period
    • Phase 1 review
    • Phase 2 review
    • Final selection
    • Announcements
  • The Submission process
    • Details on the portal being used to collect applications
      • Note: this portal must be a dedicated, proven, grant management software with SOC2Type2 compliance. 
      • This sets the expectations and reputation of the grant provider. Imagine outlining a proof of process or running a grant that holds grant compliance through online web forms, downloadable documents, emails, spreadsheets, etc. Besides the administrative nightmare of managing this complexity, it almost certainly makes managing the program in a compliant, fair, and equitable manner impossible.
    • Showcase the questions that will be asked
      • Note which questions will impact the review and selection, why, and how.
      • Note which questions will be blinded to the review team.
      • Note which questions are considered private and confidential.
    • Showcase the reference request template
      • This allows applicants to see what references will be requested to submit.
    • Outline data security and privacy protocols
      • Reviewr has this covered on behalf of clients with full SOC2Type2 documentation, audits, etc.
  • The Review and Selection Process
    • Outline the platform that will be used for review and selection – similar to the grant application process imagine a compliant review process using spreadsheets, web forms, file sharing, emails, etc.
    • Details on how many phases of review will occur
    • Insight into how many evaluators will review each grant application
    • The submissions will be assigned to evaluators randomly
    • Each evaluator will leverage a scoring rubric for a quantitative evaluation
    • Outline the exact grant evaluation criteria that will be used
    • Private and confidential data will be blinded from the review team
    • Any information not relevant to the review and selection will be blinded by the review team
    • Reference answers will be taken into consideration, but not letters – only answers to the template questions for data consistency.
  • Post grantee process
    • Notify both grant recipients and non-recipients
    • Provide access back into the portal that powered the grant program
    • Grant access to both the scoresheets that were used for evaluation as well as any comments/feedback left for applicants
      • Transparency
      • Self-development
      • Showcases that the process was followed (Proof of Process)

Chapter 2: Safeguarding Applicant Information

It’s essential that grants are managed through dedicated and proven grant management software. Not only do these platforms save grant managers hundreds of hours in management energy, but they also include dedicated features to ensure an engaging experience for all parties involved as well as mechanisms for grant compliance. Grants are high-impact programs and should be treated as such. Grants programs should never utilize tools that were not developed to manage the sensitive nature of grants such as online form and survey tools, emails, spreadsheets, file-sharing sites, etc.

  • Data Encryption
    • All data, especially PII (Personal Identifiable Information) and student information should be encrypted both in transit and at rest.
  • Grant compliance with global standards
    • In an ever-changing, dynamic environment, grant compliance standards must be constantly reviewed. This includes things such as GDPR, FERPA, California Personal Information Act, etc. Softwares such as Reviewr that maintain the gold standard for data protection such as SOC2Type2 are always ahead of the curve and take the guessing game out of the equation – as well as the headache and time requirements that grant managers do not have.
  • Audits and Certification
    • Saying your program holds grant compliance and ensures data security and privacy is one thing – proving it is another. 
    • Ask your grant management software for their Soc2Type2 report (Gold Standard).
    • While many platforms may be compliant in their own right, they lose grant compliance when used in conjunction with other tools. For example – collecting grant applications through a tool like JotForm may be a secure and reliable method, but once those forms are exported and moved into other tools the grant compliance goes out the window.
    • This is why it’s critical to utilize a full grant lifecycle management software.

Chapter 3: Reference collection

Often an afterthought, yet critical to get right, is the collection of references. When an external variable such as references is added to the grant application and selection process we must ensure this too follows both proper protocol for data security, but also best practices.

  • Avoid reference letters
    • Historically references were collected in a letter format but this is now an outdated and risky method.
    • Letters create a barrier for references.
      • Hard to write
      • Takes time and effort
      • Multi-step to create, write, and send back.
      • Not all references are created equal – some are better written than others, some had more time put into it, etc. Is this a fair representation of the grant applicant?
      • Hard to blind PII in a letter.
  • Leverage reference templates
    • Outline 3-5 questions that each reference should answer.
    • Lowers the time and effort barrier for references.
    • Creates data consistency amongst all applicants.
    • Creates consistency in the review process with defined data sets.
  • Use Reviewrs automated reference collection process
    • Grant applicant will enter the name and email of the reference
    • Triggers an email notification to reference
    • Reference clicks on a link that brings them to a reference template
    • Reference simply fills out the template with the ability to save, log out, and work at their own pace.
    • Visibility to both grant program managers as well as to applicants on the progress of references.
    • Actual reference content can be blinded from the applicant.
    • Upon submission, the reference template is automatically attached to the applicant profile.
    • Reference data can be blinded more easily by the review team.

Chapter 4: Impartial Review Distribution

All human variables that may lend themselves to bias must be removed from the grant management equation. This includes how grant applications are assigned to review committees. While many grant programs are committee based with all members reviewing all grants, may opt to deploy a process where not all committee members review all submissions.

  • Depending on volume, sometimes it can be overwhelming to ask review team members to evaluate all grant applications. 
  • If evaluators are overwhelmed, their review and selection process is often degraded, leading to potentially inaccurate and unfair reviews and selections.
  • Instead, start with a survey of the review team to define how many applicants they can provide 100% of their energy towards. This becomes the target.
  • However, grant review members being assigned only a subset of the total application pool adds a risk element to who is reviewing who.
  • Leverage Reviewr automation where an exact number can be entered (Assign each evaluator 9 submissions, assign each evaluator no less than 5 but no more than 7, I want every applicant reviewed 7 times, etc).
  • Reviewr will then automatically, and randomly, distribute submissions to reviewers based on the input. By removing the human element of deciding which applicants are reviewed by which staff members, we can ensure grant compliance.

Chapter 5: Promoting Objective Reviews

The only way to ensure truly objective reviews is to blind private information from the review team to promote merit-based grant review and selection.

  • Blind PII from the evaluation team
    • Not only is it important to remove personal identifiers from the review team to avoid a biased, non-equitable, review but it is also a data security risk sharing PII with external users.
  • Blind “non-critical” information
    • Often times grant applications include essential bookkeeping and data but it’s not essential for the actual review in the selection process – meaning the data collected will not be used in making grant selection decisions. In this use case, the data should be blinded from reviewers so as to also provide an engaging and non-overwhelming experience for them.
  • Dedicated grant management software
    • While it is impossible to completely eliminate the possibility for review team members to export, screenshot, or save information – using a dedicated grant management system such as Reviewr does make it significantly more challenging to ensure that data collected in Reviewr stays in Reviewr.

Chapter 6: Quantitative Selections

The last piece to a compliant, fair, non-biased, and equitable grant management process is leveraging scoring rubrics for a quantitative selection. By using scoresheets we can avoid comparison bias amongst applicants and let the merits of their entry and scoresheet tell the story.

  • Scorecards should match the grant application and grant provider’s guiding vision and principles.
  • The Proof of Process lays out why specific grant questions are being asked – the scoresheet needs to mirror those.
    • Example, volunteer experience GPA, family needs, etc.
  • This allows the review team to side by side review the grant application and references with a scoresheet that follows along. The review team simply plugs in their answers as they read the application.
  • Consider weighted scoring
    • While the scoresheet should mirror the questions answered in the application, some grant application questions are in more alignment with the grant provider’s mission than others – these should be weighted to reflect. 
      • For example: If a plumbing trade association is offering a grant but that trade association specializes in pipefitting – then those students who are pursuing that career would get weighted higher for answering that question.
      • Other examples include weighting volunteer activity over grades, grades over intangibles, or essay writing.
  • Use a grant management system such as Reviewr to auto-result tabulation and leaderboards.
    • It’s critical to remove potential human error when tabulating grant results on a quantitative basis. Leverage Reviewr automation which calculates the quantitative results based on the scorecard input by the review teams. This will then outline non-bias, and fair, rankings.

Chapter 7: Tie it all together

The keyword in “Proof of Process” is “Proof”. This means when the grant program is complete, provide transparent results that “prove” the process was followed.

  • Notify both grantees and those not selected.
  • Grant access back into the grant management system.
  • Allow applicants to anonymously review the scoresheets that were submitted about them.
  • Empower review teams to leave constructive feedback for applicants. Share this back with the applicants for self-development and growth.
    • Imagine a great candidate who didn’t receive your grant, but based on the feedback of the review team, was able to make changes to a future grant application and pursue their dreams with funding elsewhere.
  • Provide value to everyone. Not just those receiving the grant funding.
  • Collect essential data from grant recipients
    • Future Reviewr guides will be written on this topic… but:
    • Ensure programs hold grant compliance where acceptance letters, fund disbursement forms, etc are all powered through the same grant management system that was used to collect, manage, and review the initial grant applications.

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