Written by: Avani Patel
Keeping a service-oriented approach at the Peery Foundation, we’re thinking about ways we can be grantee-centric in our work. In other words, how can we be in service to our grantees, way beyond just grant dollars? How can we adapt our systems and procedures to better fit our grantee needs? Where can we be flexible? When should we push back?
Being grantee-centric involves a huge trust element. Funders and grantees need to have a relationship based on trust in order to truly create a partnership that is two-way. All too often, grantees are catering their reports and conversations to impress funders since their operation, and sometimes their livelihood, is dependent on receiving funds. In an effort to minimize this power dynamic, we’re trying to find ways that show our tremendous trust in grantees, reduce the amount of hours they spend on applications/reports to us, and overall create a two-way relationship.
In the last year, here are some specific ways we’ve shifted our ‘grant-making’ and relationships in the Local Portfolio in an effort to be more grantee-centric. (Keep in mind that we do ask our grantees before embarking on joint processes. We understand that fundraisers have different strategies in securing funds, and joining forces may not always be in the best interest of grantees):
Joint Diligence: In order to give a faster and stronger answer to grant-seekers, we connected with similarly situated foundations in which we have a trusting relationship. After an initial contact with the grant seeking organization, we then share our questions, responses, and documents with each other. This allows us to speed-up our grant making decision, while only asking grant-seekers the same question once between 2 or more funders.
Joint Site Visits: Grantees can spend a ridiculous amount of time preparing for site visits, most of which could be better spent connecting with their staff, or perhaps even their beneficiaries. If there is a way for current funders and maybe even potential funders to sync up our calendars to match that of a grantee’s availability, this could drastically reduce the amount of time spent on-site and preparing for site visits. Particularly when observing classrooms or programs, it’s important to keep in mind that we (funders) are in fact disrupting programs with our visits, though visits are necessary nonetheless. There are ways to minimize the disruption though.
Goals: We can pretty much all agree that it’s important to have written goals so multiple stakeholders are clear on what someone or some org is aspiring towards. However, it’s important that the folks responsible for hitting the targets on goals are part of the process of creating them, so there’s buy-in and excitement. If this isn’t there, it’s likely the goals won’t be a priority, and consequently, won’t be accomplished. For this reason, we want our grantees to set their own year-long goals (with a healthy two-way conversation) and think about ways the Peery Foundation can support them in achieving their goals.
Joint Reporting: Knowing that our grantee’s time is precious, and that reporting takes a while to do, we’re working with colleague funders to accept grantee-created goals for multiple foundations. This is the easy part. In addition, we’re working with our grantees and other foundations to streamline reporting so that grantees do not have to create multiple styles of reports to fit each of our “board-approved” reporting requirements. This seems quite arbitrary and quite frankly, a waste of grantee time. Reporting seems to be the element with the least flexibility amongst funders, and many times, the most amount of time a grantee “spends” with a funder (behind a computer desperately trying to make their internal documents fit the needs of a foundation’s requirements in hopes to receive continued funding, and more unlikely, that someone will even take the time to read it in full and ask questions). Our sector can do better. Are we willing to push internally for the sake of our grantees?
At the end of the day, as much as we’d like to BE grantee-centric, it’s all a matter of how our grantees feel. If you’re a grant-seeker, are these practices you want foundations to do? Why or why not? Do you have other suggestions? We’re open!