SmartyGrants and the COVID-19 emergency

Posted on 21 Sep 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Australia, grantmakers were quick to respond.

The country's first case of COVID-19 was recorded on January 25, the borders were closed to non-residents on March 20, and social distancing rules and closure of non-essential services began on March 21.

Grantmakers quickly put some funding programs on hold, particularly those relating to events, community work and capital works. Other funding programs were expanded, some changed focus, and many new programs were opened urgently. See our COVID-19 Grantmaking Survey report for more detail on how SmartyGrants users have been responding to the crisis.

Many COVID-19 programs run through SmartyGrants have targeted small business; others are aimed at home improvement or a particular area of industry (e.g. support for the arts and creative industries). Not-for-profit organisations continue to be the target of many programs.

Key takeaways

  • SmartyGrants responded seamlessly to the COVID-19 crisis, with no interruption to services despite:
    • A tripling in web traffic
    • A surge in urgent and high-volume grant rounds
    • An increase in demand for training
    • An increase in demand for customer service (from both grantmakers and grantees)
    • A sudden requirement for all staff to work remotely
  • A massive spike in the number of applications received did not result in a corresponding spike in service requests, indicating most additional users did not require help
  • Good online processes put in place before a crisis can ensure a swift, seamless grantmaking response

How SmartyGrants responded to COVID-19

SmartyGrants web traffic tripled during the peak of COVID-19 demand.

Application volumes peaked towards the end of May, generating our highest level of traffic since our launch in 2009, with 7000 impressions per minute during one particularly busy day in May.

SmartyGrants traffic April 26 to May 22, 2020

Volume of applications received: All rounds, May 19 to May 22, 2020

Case study 1: High-volume grants round

The following graph shows the application volumes generated by one large grant round that opened and closed within a few days in mid-May, delivering many tens of millions of dollars in a large number of small grants.

The round saw almost 12,000 applications submitted over five days. At the peak of the round, SmartyGrants was processing more than 600 applications per hour.

Applications per day May 19 to May 22, 2020

Case study 2: Rapid-response grants round

A state government agency was given a one-time funding boost to provide around $100 million in grants to support businesses hard hit by the COVID-19 shutdown.

The agency’s clear, uncluttered processes and strategic use of SmartyGrants features and functionality made for a swift and seamless distribution of funds, without compromising governance and probity.

The agency reported in late March: “Since yesterday midday when our grant program was launched we have received over 1800 applications, and so far we have approved about 1200, of which between 600 to 800 will be paid by the end of today.”

Coping with a surge in demand for training

Despite having to adapt quickly to remote working and move all workshops online, the SmartyGrants training team did not miss a beat, actually increasing the number of people trained from March to May 2020, when compared with the same period the previous year.

The speed with which many grantmakers mounted new programs resulted in an influx of new SmartyGrants users who had to quickly learn how to manage their grant programs online.

In addition to the figures shown above, the SmartyGrants team delivered 11 custom training sessions during March-May 2020, as well as three free public webinars.

Increased demand for SmartyGrants service

COVID-19-related grant programs surged in April 2020, resulting in a massive spike in the number of applications received. The system handled six times more applications in April 2020 than in April 2019.

Service and support inquiries (from applicants and grantmaker system users) also increased, but not at anywhere near the rate you might expect (incoming inquiries doubled). This indicates most additional users were able to use the system without needing help, or could self-serve help as they needed it.