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Louisville Institute Grant Application System

Developing the next generation of the Louisville Institute's Grant Application system, so they can grow the future of religious research and pastoral leaders.

Louisville Institute Grant Application System

About the Louisville Institute

Established in 1990, the Louisville Institute is a research and grant-making organization based in Louisville, Kentucky, focused on the study and enhancement of religious practices in North America. For the last 30 years, they have supported academic and pastoral leaders through millions of dollars of grants and fellowships aimed at fostering scholarly and practical insights into Christian faith and life.

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Their grant and fellowship application process is rigorous and draws hundreds of applicants and engages dozens of reviewers and committee members each year.

An easy-to-use, accessible digital system to manage this high-touch process is a necessity for the small team at Louisville Institute.

A long-time partner of VIA Studio, we designed and developed the Louisville Institute brand, website and their existing Grant Application system nearly a decade ago - maintaining it ever since in a robust partnership. In that time, Louisville Institute has grown in its influence, reach and the programs it offers.

Time, technology, user expectations and LI's vision for the future are changing - so it was time for a new, improved Louisville Institute Grant Application system.

But where to start? And how to make the best choice for the Louisville Institute and it's past and future grantees and fellows?

That's where the Louisville Institute's partnership with VIA shined. Join us on our journey to a new future:

Making the Best Choice When Investing in a Grant Application System

The Grant Application system is critical to Louisville Institute’s operations, and rebuilding it would be a considerable investment. Finding the best solution was key.

Here’s a quick overview of our specification process:

  • Gathering requirements from internal stakeholders
  • Interviewing similar, external organizations about their systems to explore best practices
  • Creating an in-depth process map to fully understand situational requirements and expose areas of efficiency
  • Provide a situational and cost analysis for each realistic option for consideration

Blending our knowledge of user experience and technology with key real-world insights from LI, we streamlined existing processes and exposed new features to save time and delight users.

To deeply understand the requirements of the Grant Application process, and understand where efficiencies could be had, we developed in-depth process maps.

Externally, we interviewed multiple Louisville Institute contemporaries, including Duke and Indiana Wesleyan Universities about their grant systems and processes. We found many different technical platforms and technologies, from low-code solutions like Airtable to large, sophisticated systems like Salesforce. The common denominator among them all is they need a system that matches the processes, skills and preferences of their audiences.

Our team of strategists, technical project managers and developers narrowed the possible solutions to two: a low-code Airtable solution, or a custom Laravel Nova solution.

We provided an in-depth analysis, comparison and ROI projections for these solutions. Both solutions were equally capable, but with their own pros, cons, features, benefits, risks and other considerations for Louisville Institute to weigh. Cost schedules for initial development, licensing and ongoing maintenance were provided.

In the end, Louisville Institute was able to make a clear, confident selection: a custom Laravel Nova solution that they could own outright and adapt in the future.

Bridging Legacy Data with New Technology: Laravel Nova

With an existing, solid database model containing 30 years of applications and grants, we didn’t need to recreate the wheel and we needed to retain that critical data - but we did need to improve the user experience for administrators and applicants.

To help us move quickly and maintain the existing database, we chose Laravel Nova as our code framework. Out of the box, Nova can be tied with database models with very limited code, allowing for the creation, editing, and deletion of records with limited overhead on our part.

This allowed us to focus less on data migration and record handling, and more on the user experience.

This approach is ideal for almost any existing data source, as it separates the data from the code and provides a solid, flexible foundation for customizing your system to your processes and user experience needs.

With the application being in a bare, but usable state, the data could be migrated in and then custom functionality could be built and the application extended.

Making Content Migration Easy

Updating a critical system like this doesn’t happen in a vacuum - your work and grant seasons keep moving. For this project, and any similar project, we develop content migration plans and systems to make this easy, safe and repeatable. We created a “push-button” system that could connect to the old system and pull in all the data, migrating it to the new system any time we needed to do so: during development, or when it was time to launch.

This allows us to maintain the old system, test with real data on the new system and prevent the need for downtime to “freeze” while we launch.

Key Features for Your New Grant Application System

Between Louisville Institute’s decade of use of the previous system, and our own experience building similar systems we had a long wishlist of improvements. Here are a few that the new system implemented that we think are major improvements or features:

Amazing, Quick Searching and Filtering

The previous system had basic searching and filtering, but with the Nova approach, we were able to take it to the next level. Out of the box, Nova provides easy to implement filters and searches that utilizes no reload results. Using this, we were able to make any field filterable with very little overhead, same with searches. And the new system is FAST!

Filtering in the LI AppAnimation of quick searching in the LI application

Email Templates and Previews

Louisville Institute’s grants and fellowships have varied requirements and notifications, many of which need to be customized to the applicant or situation. In fact there are more than 25 different email notifications - a lot to handle! But with our email template system, each email is able to be edited, custom mail merge tags included, and even previewed and tested/validated from within the application itself.

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Maintaining “Legacy” Information

Not all data from the old system was used in the new one, but we did want to include it so nothing felt lost. In many parts of the application, there will be a reference to "Legacy Data" where we include this data just for reference.

Quick Actions

The “actions” framework that Laravel Nova provides allows for quick functions at your fingertips. A few examples are inviting users to events, sending emails to users, and exporting proposals and users to CSVs by selecting a few and hitting export.

animation of a quick action in the LI grant application system

Background Exports

Speaking of exports, the previous system was built on top of Wordpress - a fine choice at the time for Louisville Institute - but as they grew, so did their needs and the size of their dataset. A major limitation of Wordpress and other such systems is that massive queries like exports or searches are very inefficient, slow or prone to failure. With a Nova-based system, administrators can request large exports of data (for example to CSV files) and those exports happen in the background as you work. A simple notification appears when done.

Animation of LI export process in grant application system

Making Sure It's Ready for Prime Time

Thorough and careful quality assurance (QA) testing and user acceptance testing is key for systems that have to hit timelines and function perfectly.

There are three main quality assurance steps we follow for all projects:

  • automated code tests
  • rigorous internal testing with a dedicate QA engineer
  • user acceptance testing with you, the end user

By focusing on QA throughout the process, we prevent costly errors and gain critical insights into making the system as good as possible before launch.


With great excitement and pride for VIA and Louisville Institute - and no major hiccups - the Louisville institute Grant Application launched in June 2024 for the 2024/2025 Grant and Fellowship Season.

This year, Louisville Institute will field hundreds of applications and fund hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and fellowships for religious researchers and a professionals in North America

If you are a religious researcher or professional, you can apply for a grant or fellowship yourself at louisville-institute.org

Keri Liechty

I am thrilled with our new database and grant application portal - and our continued partnership with VIA. A project of this size is a significant financial and time investment, but one that has set up the Louisville Institute to successfully support our applicants for many years to come.

- Keri Liechty, Assistant Director of Marketing, Louisville Institute