Making Government Funding Applications More Accessible: An Evaluation of Best Starts Technical Assistance

When Best Starts began offering funding opportunities, we knew that in order to achieve our goal of serving the most historically underfunded communities and the organizations that support them, we needed to make our funding processes more accessible than they have been in the past. That’s why we’ve provided technical assistance to community-based organizations wanting support in applying for Best Starts funds since June 2017.

We decided to take stock of how this process was going and worked with MPH student Leika Suzumura to conduct an evaluation. We wanted to know about the reach and impact of technical assistance and learn more about how it helped organizations and what we could improve. We looked at the data on what organizations received technical assistance and what organizations were awarded funding; we conducted a survey that 92 of you, our partners, responded to; and we held interviews with all technical assistance providers and with 8 community partners who received technical assistance.

Overall, we looked at the technical assistance provided for 25 Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that were released between June 2017 and January 2019. Here are a few quick numbers:

  • 229 organizations received 2,914 hours of technical assistance!
  • 62% of organizations who received technical assistance and applied for funds received at least one Best Starts award, compared to 53% of organizations that did not use technical assistance.
  • 40% of organizations that received technical assistance had never applied for King County funding before.

Making an impact

Overall, organizations appreciated the opportunity to receive technical assistance. 88% of those who took the survey were satisfied or very satisfied with the technical assistance they received. Many organizations said that through technical assistance, they learned skills they can use in the future, and that their confidence in applying for funding increased.

The most important services that technical assistance provided included determining fit between a program and funding opportunity; reviewing drafts; clarifying questions in RFPs; budgeting; and navigating “government speak.”

88% of those who took the survey were satisfied or very satisfied with the technical assistance they received. Many organizations said that through technical assistance, they learned skills they can use in the future, and that their confidence in applying for funding increased.

Technical assistance also helped to build or restore trust between King County and some community-based organizations. Many organizations expressed gratitude for the free technical assistance in an effort to reach small organizations. This intention to reach historically underfunded organizations helped some organizations rebuild trust in King County and its commitment to equity:

“The biggest fear is accessing the government system and how things work…  [The technical assistance provider] would encourage us to apply, always say we are doing the work, and the government funds, why not give it a try.” – First time applicant

“If it was not for BSK, I would not have felt comfortable going for larger funding. Large organizations don’t have leverage over you [in the Best Starts’ process], because here you have a system with the review process through an equity lens. The review process looks at organizations in a fair manner.” – First time applicant

All we can say is, thank you to our partners for putting the time and energy into the application process and allowing us the opportunity to learn about and support your work!

Making it better

We also heard lots of great suggestions from our community partners and technical assistance providers about how to make our funding processes better. A few of those suggestions include:

  • Make sure our questions for applicants are clear and consistent between RFP documents and Zoomgrants.
  • Help applicants understand that technical assistance is available and what exactly technical assistance providers can do.
  • Honor the timelines included in RFPs so that organizations can plan around them (and communicate transparently when this isn’t possible).
  • Provide referrals for additional capacity building if organizations are interested.
  • Make applications due towards the end of the work week to support a better workflow for applicants and technical assistance providers.
  • Allow more time for partnership development for RFPs that require partnerships.
  • Continue to improve the accessibility of application processes for diverse communities by exploring and incorporating culturally diverse ways of gathering application information.

You can read more in the full report here. We know this feedback will be useful to Best Starts as we move forward, and we have already started implementing some of the suggestions we heard. Our hope in sharing this report is that other organizations who are considering offering technical assistance in applying for funding also find it helpful.

Huge thanks to all of our partners that provided their feedback by participating in the survey and interviews, and to our technical assistance providers!

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