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    Makin' Copies - Blazing a Paperless Trail Through the Land of Grants Management

    Today's post comes to us courtesy of Patagonia penman and seasoned wildlife crusader, Jim Little. Take it away, Jim . . .

    Lisa Myers used to stand at the photocopy machine for hours, making copies--lots and lots of copies. A colleague would watch her shuffling papers, methodically pushing the button over and over, and ask her how many trees she’d killed that day. In the course of a year, Lisa figures she’d print some 4,250 pages double sided. That’s about this much.


    [Lisa at copy machine with 9 reams of paper. Photo: Jim Little]

    “It’s a lot of paper,” she said. “It was counterintuitive to the work we were doing.”

    Lisa is Patagonia’s environmental programs associate, one of six people who work in our “enviro department.” Part of her job is to assess and process the slew of environmental grant applications we receive each year for funding through our environmental grants program.

    Nonprofit environmental groups needing money for all sorts of worthwhile projects write and submit the applications. Their proposals used to arrive by mail truck, some by FedEx, landing on Lisa’s desk in mail buckets. She’d open them, look them over, and if they appeared to meet the company’s criteria for funding, enter the information into her database and make copies of the applications.

    The copies went into four binders, which were read by Patagonia’s grants council. It consists of seven employees, who volunteer to assess proposals and decide which ones merit a grant. In an effort to reduce the amount of paper used, council members shared the binders. It helped, but it was still a lot of paper.

    That was then: The dark days before Cybergrants.

    Nowadays, organizations wishing to apply for grants are invited to visit our Web site. There they find our grant guidelines, which clearly describe the kinds of environmental work we like to support. Applicants can then take a quiz that helps to determine whether or not they might qualify for Patagonia grant money.

    Likely candidates fill out a proposal and upload a budget, proof of nonprofit status, etc. The process is all electronic. No trees are killed, no water used, far fewer dinosaurs burned.

    Lisa says she used to get upwards of a thousand applications a year, but now receives closer to 400, thanks to the thoroughness of the Cybergrants screening process. When a group submits a proposal online, she receives an email notification, reads the proposal on onscreen, and if it looks like a fit, combines it with other possible candidates in a PDF “ebinder,” which she forwards to members of the grants council.

    No copies

    [Lisa with e-binder computer screen. Photo: Jim Little]

    Five of the council’s seven members now read the proposals on their computers. But the shift from paper to a computer screen is not for everyone.

    “Some people find it really difficult reading several hundred pages on-screen,” says Lisa. “We are encouraging them to make the switch, but we have to be flexible. Those who have, enjoy the ability to easily research the groups online as they evaluate their proposals.”

    So, with the exception of two printed copies, the only paper now used is for the grant-payment checks and the “we’re sorry to inform you” letters for groups who don’t qualify for money. The twice-yearly updates we ask for from grants recipients also come to Lisa electronically.

    In addition to all that paper, Cybergrants has saved Lisa and her department considerable energy. She figures more than a thousand hours last year in labor, valued at more than $30,000.

    For more on Patagonia’s paper use and procurement policy, go here, or download this PDF.

    In the spirit of this post, it’s perhaps best read onscreen.

    * Patagonia uses 100% postconsumer fiber copy paper, so no trees are actually felled. But recycled paper is not without its energy and water costs.


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