Forging an efficient path to social and economic justice

Instating a uniform application and review process for their grants and educational programs allows Capital Impact Partners to make more equitable decisions, faster—helping them reach further than ever before.

A nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Capital Impact Partners leads programs, engages in mission-driven financing, trains individuals, and creates meaningful partnerships—all to make communities across the country better and more equitable places. Over the past four years, they’ve been switching more and more of their application processes over to Submittable in order to save time, ensure accessibility, and ultimately increase their impact.

Having a repository of data and information about everyone who's had access to one of our programs in one place is really great. Being able to go back and access that information and use the reports in real time, is equally great. And nobody has to put it in a table.

Elizabeth Luther

Detroit Program Director, Capital Impact Partners

Building communities for the better 

Capital Impact is a mission-driven lender that works nationally to connect people and projects with opportunities in disinvested communities. Since 1982 the nonprofit has invested more than $2.5 billion in the areas of healthcare, job creation, affordable housing, education, healthy food, and elder care—all with the goal of increasing equity and inclusiveness, supporting generational wealth building, and creating a sense of community. 

In 2017, they were processing all of their grant and educational program applications without a uniform process—which involved a lot of emails, Word documents, and PDFs—until they themselves applied for a partnership that was using Submittable. Their experience with the software on the applying end of the equation got them thinking: What would happen if they had a consistent way and dedicated place to collect and review their increasing piles of paperwork? 

Since deciding to try Submittable, the organization saves hours upon hours of time on each cycle of every program, while simultaneously lowering the barrier to entry for improved accessibility to all members of the community. 

Internal and external reviewers working together 

One of the biggest ways that Capital Impact spent time and resources prior to Submittable was coordinating a large team of grant and program application reviewers that were a mix of internal stakeholders and external experts. The previous system consisted of collating application materials, sending them out to all reviewers along with instructions, and then collecting and processing the results largely by hand. 

Submittable allowed the team to give everyone equal and remote access to everything they needed, and to leave comments and scores within the platform. 

“Our grant and program review committees are pretty robust,” says Luther. “One of the components of the software that's really helpful is being able to have reviewers at different levels and bring in folks from outside the organization and have them be able to interact seamlessly with the application materials.” 

Submittable’s five permission levels allow Luther to give reviewers varying amounts of access based on the needs of the application process. 

Increasing equity from start to finish 

As an organization focused on championing social and economic justice, Capital Impact Partners puts equity first—it’s integral to everything they do. It follows that they wished to create a application collection and selection process that levels the playing field and squashes biases. 

First and foremost, they utilize the anonymous review feature in some applications so that reviewers aren’t, consciously or unconsciously judging applicants on demographic information or other revealing but insignificant data. 

But more importantly, Luther explains that simply having a uniform, well-thought-out process means that everything is more fair and more accessible across the board. 

“Just having a uniform application process as opposed to a less-defined process helps level the playing field,” she explains. “It essentially makes the expectations clearer and upfront, and the path to accessing that opportunity clearer.” 

Using the form building tool also means the team is more deliberate about what questions they ask and how they ask them. 

“For our organization, a really big benefit is using the tool to force ourselves to think through the questions upfront that we might not otherwise think through, that might affect the accessibility of the opportunity we're offering.” 

“With this year’s conversations about race at higher levels than we've seen nationally in a while, we've seen the opportunity to engage more partners and accelerate our programmatic work in that area,” Luther says. “Like our Equitable Development Initiative program to support real estate developers of color in Detroit and the Washington Metropolitan area. We're looking at expanding that program elsewhere and have been working to fund more capital tools to support the participants in that program.”  

Set up to take on COVID without an issue 

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, the organization was impacted just as most were around the world. With offices shuttered, all processes had to go remote. 

Luckily, their application management system was already humming along, 100% remote, and they could focus on pivoting other aspects of their business. 

“The fact that everyone in our organization had practice doing [online applications] pre-COVID-19 pandemic made it the one area where we didn't have a sharp learning curve,” says Luther. “Whereas with other areas of our work, we did have a shorter, sharper learning curve to really try to figure out how to collaborate remotely.” 

Capital Impact also used Submittable to quickly set up an emergency loan program created expressly in response to the coronavirus. 

“This was a loan program for healthcare facilities in California, specifically related to loss of revenue because of how the health care funding model has changed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Luther explains. “It was one way that we could provide a new product with a low barrier to entry that was meant to respond quickly to the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on some of our borrowers.” 

A trove of data to explore 

While Luther originally wasn’t thinking at all about data when she decided to utilize Submittable, she’s found it extremely useful now that she has it at her fingertips. 

“Having a repository of data and information about everyone who's had access to one of our programs in one place is really great,” Luther says. “Being able to go back and access that information and use the reports in real time, is equally great. And nobody has to put it in a table.”  

In addition to collecting practical information that can improve their programs, Capital Impact can also use data to take a big-picture look at how their grants, training programs, and other programs align with their mission. 

“It allows us to understand better and more quickly who we're reaching, what they aspire to achieve, and if it aligns with those things that we have to offer, so we can figure out how to work together,” she continues. 

Increasing impact into the future 

Among the upheaval, change, and challenges of 2020, Capital Impact Partners has forged a new alliance with CDC Small Business Finance to support more equitable economic empowerment and wealth creation strategies. With this new partnership comes the ability to expand existing programs and create novel opportunities—and Submittable will be there to help them power their new programming.

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