During a meeting with a small NYC group that funds social justice organizations, we hit upon a need for software that can help manage the proposal review process. While there are gazillions of programs to help nonprofits manage their proposals and grants, there are much fewer that can help a foundation manage the proposal acceptance process.

Well, I take that back. There are probably thousands of programs that can do this, just precious few that are publicly available (proprietary or open source).

I started with google. What a mess. What search terms to use? Mostly garbage, but I did find the Grant Proposal Management System. Wow! That's perfect. It meets all the needs we have and it's fully open source. What a find. Except... there's nothing to download and the SourceForge project page is empty. I'm still waiting to hear back from the email I sent two days ago.

Moving on, I did the obvious: ask people smarter than me. I posted a query to the Nonprofit Open Source Innitiative email list. This is a great list and I would encourage everyone interested in the topic to subscribe.

The responses were very interesting - including ideas that never occurred to me. Here's a rundown with the current status of every idea:

  • Foundations that are doing something similar

  • Kurt remembered hearing about the Greater Kansas City Community Fund doing something similar. I little research turned up DonorEdge which is a great idea and has some overlap with what we're looking for, but is not quite the same thing.

  • Katrin mentioned that the Meyer Memorial Trust in Portland was investigating this topic. Sure enough Marie got back to me saying that they are in the process of developing a full on open source application "that includes online proposal application all the way through reporting on outcomes, internal processing and reports, etc. It also includes all the back end for managing the database." She also pointed out that it is not yet ready (hence no link, etc.). Once it is ready, they will announce it far and wide.
  • Rich suggested I contact Philantech, saying he learned at the last NTEN conference that they were developing something similar. I have heard back from Dahna confirming this software project. According to Dahna "PhilanTrack is built with open source tools, though we are not currently open sourcing it, but rather offering it as a customizable hosted solution." Check their web site or email info [at] philantech [dot] org for more information.

  • Something totally different: a lot of people suggested really good ideas that never occurred to me, including:
    • Request Tracker (RT) - RT is a piece of software used for tracking user requests, such as help tickets. As Mark pointed out, the work flow logic is very similar to reviewing proposals and RT is a stable program that could probably be configured to present different text.
    • In that vein Jon suggested salesforce.com - given all the contact management abilities of the program.
    • Jon also suggested Plone because it has a lot of built-in work flow features
    • Michael suggest using Open Journal Software - which is used for peer reviewing journal submissions.
    • Rolf joined in with a particular solution that he is implementing using Mantis. Mantis is similar to RT. He is actively working with a foundation and the core Mantis developers to abstract it enough so that it can be used with only configuration and template changes. This is very exciting.