THE POWER OF THE PANEL
Just like standards for grant applications, panel processes can vary widely from organization to organization. Although customization for your specific needs can be great, oftentimes processes just get complicated over the years. One staff member adds a criteria question here, a panelist requests another, and another. . .and before you know it, you have a 12-question scoring rubric that is time-consuming for your volunteer panelists. Moreover, has this complexity really added value to your process?
Like your application process, it’s always good to do an annual review of your panel process with the goal of keeping the process as simple as possible for panelists while ensuring accountability in making responsible funding decisions. Below are our top four suggestions for streamlining your panel process:
- Decrease the number criteria. Realistically, you should have somewhere between one to three criteria. Having a significant number of criteria can make the review process time-consuming for panelists.
- Align criteria with your funding goals. If your mission is “To provide creative opportunities for children,” then your criteria could be something along the lines of: “Does this project provide creative opportunities for youth?”.
- Simplify your scoring metrics. Skip decimals and cap scores at no more than 100 for each criteria, less would be even simpler! These are just guidelines after all, but overly complicated scoring processes can be onerous for panelists and derail your process. We have seen a panel with scoring algorithms so complicated that only one panelist could complete them. When that panelist was no longer part of the group, the whole process had to be recreated. It’s okay to weight questions based on your funding priorities, but keep the process simple and transparent so that all parties involved (panelists and applicants) can easily see how decisions were made.
- Utilize your panelists’ time wisely. Do you need to have 30-minute-long, in-person interviews with each applicant? Probably not. Could you have all of the panelists review applications and submit scores prior to a single meeting? Certainly. What’s becoming even more common these days are panel processes that are conducted entirely in the cloud, with no in-person meetings. Panelists are often volunteers, so it’s important to always be mindful about how much time your panel process takes—especially when you need to keep an active pool of panelists for reviewing future grants.
There you have it. It’s time to take a look at your panel process and find ways to make it more efficient. If you have other tips about what works well for your panels, please share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.