The Art of Designing an Online Application

Written by Reina Gallion

Last published at: May 8th, 2018

The application is among your most powerful tools in sorting out your worthy grantees from those you'd rather not fund. It's also a bit of a balancing act--you want it to be robust enough so that it provides the data you need to make the difficult decisions, but without becoming particularly burdensome or unwieldy for your applicants. Forget grant writing--application building is almost an art in and of itself.

But you don't need to reinvent the wheel. Whether you're just transitioning to an online system or simply looking to revamp an existing process, there are a ton of resources out there to help you meet your goals.


With over a thousand organizations building and accepting applications in our system, it’s safe to say we can be great resource for you as you construct your application. Whether it’s discussing whether the questions you're asking will result in good, clean data, or for example applications from similar organizations to yours, be sure to lean on our experienced Support and CSM team for inspiration or advice when it comes to building your application.

Check out the training goal "Resources for New Foundations & Foundations Revamping Content" in the Learning Lab. 

 Foundation Center's Philanthropy Classification System

More than ever, effective grantmaking relies on useful, intentional data collection. We want to know who our grant is serving, the impact made by our grantees, and what areas of our communities need the most focus. While your Foundant system is ultimately designed for accepting applications, making decisions, and following up with your grantees, don’t overlook the power of the data you’re collecting. You should be arming yourself with data that will allow you to understand the community and people you serve--and the place to start is with your application.

When building out your application, be sure to add questions that will allow you to categorize your efforts. Economics, gender, ethnicity, program areas--these are all indicators that can help you better understand your grantees and those they serve. For a better idea of how to capture that information in the cleanest, most uniform way, look no further than Foundation Center’s taxonomy resources. Whether you’re trying to measure the who, what, how, or where of a given grant or organization, Foundation Center has done the work for you.

Check out their Philanthropy Classification System to get some great ideas on how to categorize and capture the important information you need. Remember, you don’t need to measure everything. Decide what factors are important to you and add those questions to your application. You’ll be surprised how illuminating a few cycles of capturing this sort of data can be--and you can continue to tweak and improve as you go.

 Here’s the link: Taxonomy.

PEAK Grantmaking's Project Streamline

As mentioned earlier, a good application is a balance between ensuring you get the information you need to make good decisions and that your grantees aren’t burdened to the point that their mission--the entire point of what we all do--suffers. PEAK Grantmaking (formerly Grants Managers Network) understands that, and launched Project Streamline a few years ago to address that very balance.

Take a look at their toolkits and methods here and I’m sure you’ll at least find a few nuggets of wisdom you can apply to your own grantmaking and application.

Your Own Grantees

Lastly, when trying to get a feel for whether your application is as grantee-friendly as possible, look no further than the very people filling it out. Face to face conversations, trainings, and meet-ups can all be useful times to solicit feedback on the process and any road bumps they’re running into as they fill it out. Another trend that I've seen more and more of is to include a short survey at the end of your grant application where the grantee can help you identify areas of the application that they particularly struggled with.

 Hopefully these suggestions give you some inspiration as you revamp or create your online application! Feel free to reach out to your CSM or our support team if you need any assistance.