Grantee-Centric Philanthropy

We believe in dignity and self-reliance for the beneficiaries of the organizations we support, and also for our grantees. 

When examined, most philanthropic practice is actually funder-centric in its priorities and effects. Grantees spend time, energy, and resources catering to their funders and potential funders almost every working day. We waste an enormous amount of our, and most importantly, our grantees time in being so funder-centric when it comes to our interactions. 

As funders we benefit from increased effectiveness of our grantees--it's through their outcomes and metrics that we build our reputation and success. The organizations we fund are working on inherently complex and entrenched problems. Not being able to put their full attention, or even the majority of their attention towards addressing the complexity of the problems they seek to address, inevitably takes a toll on outcomes. The outcomes we, as funders, are in effect ‘buying’. If we want to maximize the impact our funding produces, we have to be cognizant of the effect our process and approach has on organizations.

We've created 5 Core Practices of Grantee-Centric Philanthropy for funders to consider implementing. We invite you to read our suggestions below and discuss the applicability of these practices with your own team.

We also recognize that fund-raising organizations can play a role in enabling funder-centric behavior. Working with several seasoned fund-raisers we are working on a companion piece featuring core practices fund-raisers can exercise in order to encourage more grantee-centric interactions with funders. 

5 Core Practices

Grantee-centric practices create funder interactions that strengthen a grantee’s ability to achieve their outcomes, and address the power imbalance of typical funding relationships. The grantee-centric funder shows understanding and empathy for social entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders. Simply put, it’s philanthropy with humility.

There are numerous things you can do to be grantee-centric. We’ve boiled them down to 5 core practices that encompass what we believe are the most important aspects of being grantee-centric:

1. BUILD INTERNAL CULTURE

  • Hire experience: Build a team with real fund-raising and operating experience, having delivered outcomes, reports, and milestones TO funders. Select those who know the game, but also know where rules can be altered.
  • Build empathy: Model empathy. Ask questions like: How can we prioritize our grantee’s time? Will this request require a grantee to go out of their way? Is what we gain from this question worth what it will take to answer it?
  • Keep communicating: Charge your team to discuss expectations with grantees--of both sides--from the outset of a grant. Encourage your team to prioritize transparent communication when a challenge or delay comes up.

2. DO THE HOMEWORK

  • Actively source: Beat the pavement. Build relationships with funders who can make recommendations to you. Attend events aligned with your priorities. Be open to conversations with potential grantees. Listen with respect.
  • Appropriate due diligence: Ask grantees for due diligence materials prepared for their internal use or for other funders. Only ask for what you use. Assess whether your due diligence process is appropriate for each grant size.
  • Aligned reporting: Hold grantees accountable to their own internally set milestones. Align reporting timing with other funders of the grantee, or internal reporting they can leverage. Ask grantees how long reporting to you takes. 

3. GIVE WHAT’S MOST EFFECTIVE

  • Unrestricted multi-year funding: Signal confidence in grantees with general operating support. Trust grantees know how to allocate funds. Enable grantees to make long term decisions by providing multi-year commitments.
  • Contingency funding: Where you can’t provide unrestricted funding, provide contingency funding in addition to the project budget. Actively encourage your grantees to build a contingency line item in to all their project budgets.
  • Don’t freeze: Set a goal of how long it should take you, on average, to get a grant out the door. Please, please don’t freeze your funding decisions due to strategic planning! Communicate all delays in process proactively.

4. PROVIDE ADDITIONAL SUPPORT

  • Make introductions: Build relationships with other funders. Use your social equity carefully but generously when you see potential fit between a grantee and a funder. Warmly recommend grantees for opportunities and funding.
  • Provide non-monetary support: Ask about and listen to what grantees tell you they need. Provide advice when solicited. Consider additional services as you see trends. End meetings by asking: what else can we do for you?
  • Be of service: Start conversations with honest enquiry. How are your grantees doing as people? Go to their office for meetings. Let them know they can say no to your requests. Say thank you to your grantees on a regular basis.

5. STAY ACCOUNTABLE

  • Set expectations: Let your grantees know that you want to be accountable to them. Establish the expectation that you are interested in their input and ideas.
  • Seek input regularly: Ask grantees what they think of your performance. Regularly solicit anonymous feedback on your work and approach intermittently. Regularly discuss what you hear, with your team.
  • Act on what you hear: Listen, discuss, and then DO! What can you change now you have more information about your performance? Report back to grantees on how their input changed your practice. Thank them for it!

This list is not fully comprehensive or definitive. Consulting your grantees is important to understand the nuances of Grantee-Centric Philanthropy in the context you and they work in. Together you can create a process that prioritizes and facilitates increased impact.

Being grantee-centric isn’t something you can just do overnight. It will take time to shift culture and build a set of habits amongst your team. Take things slowly and integrate one or two steps a month. Keep asking your grantees how you’re doing. Keep adding and shifting as you hear from your grantees about what works best for them. It’s a journey rather than a destination. No one foundation, as far as we know, is an expert at all these things—yet! 

Printable PDF version of 5 Core Practices of Grantee-Centric Philanthropy