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Creating Accessible Applications While Saving Money With A Digital Grant Process

Moving to Submittable saved weeks of time each grant cycle for ICED, all while helping their applicants with disabilities and aligning their 75-person review team

Montana’s Department of Commerce Indian Country Economic Development (ICED) Program supports fiscal growth for Native American businesses and tribal governments. When they wanted to be less distracted by spreadsheets and paperwork, Submittable helped ICED automate and streamline their entire grant application process. They found that they didn’t only save time and money, they were also able to make their application process more equitable and to focus on the greater impact of their program as a whole. 

With less time spent on managing touchpoints for applicants and reviewers, [using Submittable] we’re able to look at the global, holistic view of the program.

Heather Sobrepeña-George

Indian Country Programs Section Manager

Mired in managing multiple grants

ICED has three staff members administering three grants and awards of up to $664,000 per fiscal year. Due to the expansion of their grants program, by 2015 the team was spending hundreds of hours managing paper applications and an intricate review process. For one grant alone, they were converting more than 70 printed applications into a digital format and organizing them with manually generated spreadsheets. One staff member was managing a multi-stage review process that involved coordinating with over 75 individuals at the state and local levels.

A solution that’s more equitable (with minimal training required)

ICED urgently needed a grant management system that would be easy to use and could be shared across the agency and state programs. According to Heather Sobrepeña-George, Section Manager for Indian Country Programs, her team was impressed by Submittable’s “accessibility and ease of use for differently-abled users, as well as the responsiveness of Submittable staff to questions and technical-assistance needs.”

Although she did experience some initial resistance among her colleagues to an online system, Heather says that, “Once folks saw they could access applications in real time, make changes, remotely communicate decisions and questions, perform reviews, and have one central place to access applications, they became comfortable with the process. Plus,” she says, “we didn’t need weeks of training to deploy the tool.”

Focusing on the mission instead of spreadsheets

Heather estimates that ICED has gained close to three weeks of staff time and saved $4,300 per grant cycle by switching to Submittable. They have also seen a 20% increase in applications. She observes, “With less time spent on managing touchpoints for applicants and reviewers, we’re able to look at the global, holistic view of the program, and get feedback about what can be better.” Using Submittable, Heather and ICED can spend more time focusing on their mission: growing the private sector economy on reservations in Montana.

"The program has made such a big impact on our community," Sharon Small, executive director of People’s Partner for Community Development in Lame Deer, a grant recipient, said. "Over the past five years, we’ve probably assisted 35 new or established businesses."

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