The Small Grant Program Of Ökotárs
The guiding principles of our grant giving programs are to be fast, flexible, transparent and user-friendly. Therefore grants are distributed through an open grantmaking system, where we try to adhere to these as much as possible at every step of the program delivery.
1. Call for proposals
The call for proposals is developed by the grant program manager and approved by the Board of Trustees. Conditions are refined each year based on the previous years’ experiences. Though the basic principles of our grant giving haven’t changed; they stood the test of time and are reflecting to the environmental values we believe in.
When determining the actual conditions of the call, especially the deadlines, we also take into account the situation of the grantees; calls and deadlines of other big funding sources, such as the Ministry of Environmental and the National Civic Fund are also being considered, in order to avoid parallels and possible overlaps. Proposal guidelines are also provided in order to help applicants in writing transparent, informative, matter-of-fact proposals with well structured budgets devoid of any superfluous or unnecessary texts.
The call for proposals is announced in several publications and websites specialised on these issues.
2. Short listing, completion of documents
Proposals are arriving one/two weeks after the deadline via post or more and more often by e-mail. Each proposal is registered and recorded in the database, which is structured to allow for following every occurrence about them easily (e.g.: bank transfers, mid-term reports, etc.).
After the registration, the program manager pre-screens the applications. Proposals not fitting the call or those not eligible to the grant program are sorted out. The program manager also contacts the applicants if any completion or the provision of missing documents is needed.
The proposals are copied and posted to the Grant Committee (though this is a more paper-consuming method, it would be obviously impossible to read 40–50 pieces of 3–5 pages documents on the monitor). After reading the proposals, the Grant Committee has 10 days to ask questions about the proposals. Questions are sent to the applicants (with a deadline) so the Grant Committee receives the answers before the Board meeting.
3. Pre- monitoring – personal contact
According to our special grantmaking style the program manager visits new applicants or in the case of new initiatives the “older” ones too. Thus, more detailed and truthful information about the applicant and its environment can be collected. In some cases for example when most proposals are coming from some far end of the country we also involve external monitors. Based on these field trips, reports are being prepared which provide helpful information for the Grant Committee. This procedure needs an additional 2–3 weeks.
4. The decision – evaluation of proposals
The Grant Committee consists of recognized and well-known experts of environmental and civic issues. They have up-to-date knowledge about most important environmental problems and they are fully aware of the needs and possibilities of NGOs working on the solutions. When selecting committee members geographical and professional diversity was also taken into account.
The Grant Committee meeting is being held 6–8 weeks after the proposal deadline. With the additional information gathered about the organization and the proposed programs the committee decides about the proposals. Rejected proposals are given a justification, too. If the budget is being cut in the case of a supported proposal, the grantee receives guidelines about how to use the grant.
Besides these, we also give additional practical suggestions and advice to any applicant by recommending experts, other NGOs dealing with similar issues, etc.
The list of grants is published on our website (www.okotars.hu), but applicants receive an official letter about the decision, too. With the supported organisations we sign a grant contract that includes all conditions, the detailed budget, deadlines of the reports, transfers, etc. Besides signing the contract the appropriate body – assembly or chair – of each organization is required to issue a declaration about accepting the terms and conditions of the contract in order to prevent later misunderstandings, debates. After the director of Ökotárs signs the contract, the first instalment can be transferred immediately.
Minutes are sent to Grant Committee members as well as the foundations accountant and are approved by the Board of Trustees.
5. Follow up and monitoring of the proposals
Supported proposals are followed up by the program manager, who keeps regular contact with the grantees not only by mail or phone but also personally when visiting the implemented programs. Before the reporting deadlines all grantees receive a reminder together with the reporting guidelines. Incoming reports are read and checked by the program manager, who also prepares the transfer of the next instalment, if needed.
As all occurrences are recorded in the database, we can see the development of each supported organization when checking their “grant history”. These information provides useful background for later decisions.
At the end of the year, the Grant Committee and the Board of Trustees receive summary and statistical analyses about the Grant Program. At each of its sessions, the Grant Committee also receives a summary of the main data of incoming reports.
Up to now, we conducted two larger surveys about the achievements of our grant system among our grantees in 1998 and in 2003. Both surveys were based on anonym questionnaires. The results proved that we meet the above mentioned principles, and our grantgiving methodology, based on 15 years of experience does serve the mission of the foundation.