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Improving Our Competitive Grantmaking at DEED

4/30/2019 10:00:00 AM

The mission of DEED is to grow the economy of Minnesota for everyone. One of the most important ways we pursue that mission is through partnerships. Minnesota is home to many nonprofit and civic organizations who are building innovative solutions to help Minnesotans from all backgrounds find meaningful employment across the state. By working with excellent partners, we can do so much more for Minnesota’s job-seekers and businesses.

One of the ways we work with partners is through competitive grants, which create competition between organizations for state dollars to meet DEED’s mission. Over time, some of our community partners have told us that DEED could do a better job when it comes to soliciting and awarding these grants.

Taking that feedback into consideration, today we’re announcing some new principles and priorities to improve our customer service for these competitive grant processes by making them more transparent, fast, and fair.

What Exactly is a Competitive Grant?

DEED has both long-term and one-time funding appropriations that authorize us to award grants in communities throughout the state. DEED publicizes these opportunities, organizations respond through a Request for Proposals (RFP) process, and then DEED evaluates the proposals and awards the grant. These dollars help fund services such as workforce training programs, entrepreneurship programs, small business assistance, childcare services and more.

The authority for DEED to award these grants must specifically come from state law, and DEED is required to follow the rules and statutes outlined by Minnesota’s Office of Grants Management when awarding these funds to organizations.

Competitive grants that are included in this improvement process include:

  1. Business Development Competitive Grant Program
  2. Capacity Building Grant Program
  3. Community Child Care Expansion Grant Program
  4. Pathways to Prosperity (P2P)
  5. Southeast Asian Economic Relief Competitive Grant Program (SE Asian)
  6. Support Services Competitive Grant Program
  7. Women in High-Wage, High-Demand, Nontraditional Jobs Grant Program (WESA)
  8. Somali Youth
  9. Getting to Work
  10. Higher Education Career Advisor Project (HECAP)

Our timeline may change for any new programs that are named in legislation for SFY20 and SFY21 from the competitive grants listed above.

Increasing Transparency in Our Grantmaking

At a basic level, being a good partner means making our programs and opportunities available to more people. It also means following up to let grant applicants know how their proposal was scored and what can be improved for the next time. To address these concerns, DEED is committed to increase grantmaking transparency by doing the following:

  • Post grant opportunities for a minimum of 30 days to allow for more potential grantees to have adequate time to prepare thoughtful and thorough proposals.
  • Organize regular planning meetings throughout the state and online for potential grant applicants to attend and ask questions. Details about these meetings are available now online.
  • Share grant opportunities in the State Register, on social media, and in culturally-specific or community newspapers and community meetings.
  • Revamp the community review process to make it easier for philanthropic foundations, state agencies, and individual community members to participate. Reviewers will evaluate the community impact, racial equity and relevancy for the targeted population identified within each grant. Reviewer expectations will be clearly set; and the feedback will be incorporated into the overall evaluation.
  • Use a numeric scoring system, which will be clearly identified in the Request for Proposal (RFP) and will include weighted criteria for verifiable and measurable diversity, equity, and inclusion in outcomes or performance.
  • Both successful and unsuccessful grant applicants will receive their score with a letter communicating their funding decisions.

Improving Speed

In an effort to improve speed and efficiency in our grantmaking, we commit to making these improvements:

  • Include our boilerplate grant agreement language and risk assessment requirements in our RFPs. This will allow potential grantees to see what is required of them when they are awarded a state grant. This will ensure a swifter contract execution and better expectation setting throughout the grant process.
  • Assign each grantee to one grant manager who will act as a concierge for each grantee and be the single point of contact throughout the life of their grant.
  • Clearly communicate next steps along with award decisions so grantees can assist DEED in meeting these timeline goals.
  • Actively undergo a process that will speed up grant decisions and announcements. The amount of time it takes DEED to make a funding decision is one of the most common grantee concerns. We will work to formalize a process that addresses this.

With these improvements in place, we anticipate our competitive grant schedule to follow this basic timeline:

  • April – grant process changes are announced
  • May – hold community outreach opportunities throughout the state and finalize RFPs
  • June – post competitive RFPs
  • July – score and review RFPs
  • August/September – announce award decisions

Improve Grant Management

Getting a grant agreement finalized is only the beginning of our work. In many cases, grantees will need to submit revised or finalized work plans and budgets; as well as information required for organizational financial review. In order to improve customer service and fairness around the management of a grant, DEED will make the following changes:

  • Create a single channel to improve communication for grantee questions and requests. DEED will strive to respond to all requests within 48 hours, unless we are prohibited by law from responding during a specific time during the RFP process.
  • Grant managers will provide training and technical assistance, review performance and financial reports, and conduct regular check-in meetings in partnership with grantees to avoid burdensome oversight.
  • The Employment and Training Programs Division Director will conduct a bi-monthly meeting with all awarded grantees’ executive directors to share best practices and gather feedback on status of grants to better support grantees through the grant cycle.

These are just some of the changes to our competitive grant process. We'll keep you posted here in this blog on other improvements we’re considering on grant processing and performance measurement.

We look forward to getting your feedback as we continue to strive to improve our partnerships and competitive grant process at DEED.

Steve Grove, Commissioner of DEED

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