by Marco Demarie
Grant-making foundations like the Compagnia perform three basic functions:
- they generate income that they invest in statutory activities;
- they select proposals from private applicants or civil society and provide guidance and assistance;
- they award grants to support selected initiatives.
Deciding how to invest their funds and ensuring the effectiveness of the grants awarded is also part of their mission. In general, applications far exceed the amount of available funds and foundations are called to adopt standard practices that are objective and transparent to select the most suitable projects.
All proposals submitted to the Compagnia di San Paolo are subject to three levels of analysis and evaluation.
After assessing an application’s eligibility and ensuring that all formal requirements have been met, the proposal is analyzed at various levels so that a project dossier can be drawn up for the Management Committee, the authority in charge of grant-making decisions. Practices vary depending on project types and selection procedures, that are illustrated in the call’s notice.
In its implementation phase, each project is carefully monitored by the Compagnia both from an administrative point of view and in terms of its actual progress. Participating in project implementation is a fruitful experience, but also a time-consuming one that requires the presence of what is known as a critical friend - it is a demanding task also in terms of relational skills. Much more familiar to the Compagnia is the role of project promoter, animator or director, in which case it is essential to remain critical while ensuring full project implementation.
Lastly, the evaluation phase starts when the project ends and the grant beneficiary draws up a report according to criteria that are set out by the Compagnia. This process is becoming less and less formal and the Compagnia’s staff is more actively engaged and it is called to “ask the right questions” and to assess the answers they are given, in an exercise of process analysis. The focus has now shifted more to the actual effects of the action or project, based on visible aspects. Steps have been taken also towards counterfactual analysis, however, these are expensive procedures and their nature is often unsuitable to the majority of projects in which a foundation like the Compagnia is involved through grant-making. At this stage, the latter is therefore viewed as an experimental practice that has fueled an interesting discussion within the Compagnia itself on what is meant by “impact”. The issue remains on the table and it is common to other foundations in Italy and abroad.
Selection, monitoring and evaluation represent a “circuit of quality” that is beneficial both to the community and to all participating operators as a rewarding instrument. Moreover they ensure that the Compagnia’s capacity as an effective grant-making institution is constantly improving. The integration of the three phases takes on a symbolic value starting on January 1st, 2012 when the online application procedure will be made available after two years of preliminary work. It is a step that will improve the Compagnia’s operational and communication capacity and that will also contribute to improving selection and monitoring procedures.