Removing barriers to capital for community-based child care providers

The Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) harnesses the power of the Submittable platform to create an easy-to-use, equitable, and accessible application process.

The Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) is a national community development financial institution (CDFI) with deep roots in the community development sector. LIIF's mission states that “everyone in the United States should benefit from living in a community of opportunity, equity and well-being.”

LIIF achieves and scales their mission by leaning into three strategic pillars: impact-led lending, affordable housing, and early care and education. With regard to the latter, LIIF nimbly deploys capital–in the form of lending and grants–for child care providers across the nation.

Really, what makes our program successful is having our grantees have a positive experience… we couldn't have done our work without Submittable.

Laura Jackman

Deputy Director for Early Care & Education

Standardization leads to greater access to capital 

The Low Income Investment Fund has been serving communities across the United States since 1984. Over that time, LIIF has invested more than $2.5 billion dollars into creating and sustaining access to programs and facilities that promote equity and long-term well being. Throughout the years, they’ve introduced new programs, new means of funding, and even policy work to address—and expand upon—their mission. 

In 2020, LIIF implemented Submittable to support their work in early care and education programs to preserve the affordability of child care in disproportionately vulnerable neighborhoods. With core markets in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New York City, and Atlanta, LIIF needed a tool that would modernize their grantmaking process and also enable more applicants to apply for available capital.

“Prior to using Submittable, we used paper applications,” says Laura Jackman, Deputy Director for Early Care & Education. “Many people were not comfortable filling out an online application. There were times we would go to people's homes and sit with them and help them fill out a paper application.”

When vetting potential technology tools to support their work, Jackman noted, “We wanted to make sure that we were thinking about [our applicants] at every point in the process and not just selecting [Submittable] because it makes the most sense to us or would be the easiest for us. The applicants are the experts on how to use that funding. We just need to make sure we can get it to them.” 

Moving to Submittable meant that LIIF could create a system that not only saved vital administrative time, but provided a secure, equitable, and accessible application process. With Submittable’s out-of-the-box capabilities, Laura and the LIIF team were able to quickly build multiple programs in Submittable to support a wide range of applicants and efficiently mobilize their capital.

A positive applicant experience builds trust 

For Jackman and the team at LIIF, success looked like a number of things–but a positive (and repeatable) applicant experience was non-negotiable. “Applicant experience is critical and it's our ultimate goal to make sure that they feel like they can come back and do it again if another opportunity arises,” says Jackman.

With over 12,000 applicants since 2020, LIIF needed to build a personalized and efficient application process that eliminated human error, reduced administrative burden, and minimized the time it took to apply. Submittable’s eligibility forms, smart-branching, and dedicated form fields were instrumental. 

Jackman and her team didn’t want applicants to feel like they were jumping through hoops. Their goal was to create “an experience that makes it clear that the intent is to get the money in their hands.” This approach strengthened relationships among LIIF and their awardees. “It's to our benefit to make this product work for us and for our applicants because it builds trust,” says Jackman, “but it also builds stability, continuity and familiarity with the product.”

Submittable has helped LIIF transform the applicant experience from start to finish. With the ability to make adjustments to their forms in real-time, reduce time-intensive review cycles, and collect payment information in a secure manner, LIIF has been able to fine-tune their processes over time to best serve the needs of their target communities.

Acting fast benefits communities

LIIF’s grant and funding opportunities often run concurrently, meaning the team has to support a high volume of applicants at one time. Submittable’s customizable capabilities and streamlined Funds Distribution tools have empowered the team to deliver funds quickly across multiple programs. This is essential as they respond to time-sensitive needs.

In 2022, LIIF leveraged Submittable to help manage the Road to Recovery Targeted Grant. This government funding provided relief to Washington D.C. area child care providers that had lost revenue as a result of policy changes in subsidy payments. Speed was crucial—child care facilities provide essential infrastructure for families, and their closure would reverberate throughout vulnerable neighborhoods and communities. 

By reengaging their existing applicant base, and posting an additional call for applicants, LIIF was able to quickly identify 68 awardees and distribute a total of $2,718,000. As a result, LIIF’s quick response enabled home and center-based child care programs across D.C. to reopen or maintain existing operations by covering payroll and operating expenses for hundreds of child care workers.

Submittable’s Additional Forms and out-of-the-box solutions played a key role in this relief fund effort. “Being able to just go right back into that grant program, put it in another additional form, get a few more pieces of information, and get hundreds of thousands of dollars into the hands of these providers was fantastic,” says Jackman. “The way we used to do things would have been literally sending them another paper application asking them to complete it, which is so cumbersome.”

Equity starts with application design 

As a CDFI responsible for managing multiple grants and hundreds of applicants, Jackman says that “without a doubt, using Submittable has made it possible for us to reach more applicants.” 

Jackman also noted that each program officer already saves “4-5 hours each week, with even more time saved during particularly busy grant periods,” giving them time to “focus more on why we hired them–to provide excellent technical assistance and support to child care providers.” 

By partnering with Submittable, the LIIF team has been able to develop a predictable applicant experience that encourages their target communities to apply for available funds–and then do it again. Jackman shares that their target communities “can read about our grants and find links to information on Submittable, so applicants can come to us prepared and we can provide even better technical assistance.” 

As an added benefit, by reducing technological barriers to available capital, LIIF “sees many return applicants,” indicating that their process is offering a more equitable opportunity to their funds. 

Community impact is built on partnerships

For LIIF, finding the right technology solution to support their good work resulted in an incredible partnership with Submittable. “It’s very clearly made for grant makers, in the same way that I want an applicant to feel like our application was made for them as a child care provider,” says Jackman.

Through their successes with Submittable’s robust out-of-the-box solutions, LIIF has opted to add features like Funds Distribution and Automated Review to enhance the performance of their internal operations and applicant experiences in 2023 and beyond. Mario Moreno, LIIF’s Director, Grants Management and Operations, shared that “a good company can build a good product, but a better company can develop better relationships if that exists within the company. And Submittable has that, [and] builds the things we need to do our work with very quick and very clear solutions.”

With an all-in-one grantmaking solution, LIIF has reduced the burden to accessing capital and enabled their applicants to put their best foot forward in every application or communication touchpoint. Jackman says: “Really, what makes our program successful is having our grantees have a positive experience…we couldn't have done our work without Submittable.”

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