Our Challenges with Grantee-Centric Philanthropy

by Avani Patel

Illustration by Jessamyn Shams-Lau

Illustration by Jessamyn Shams-Lau


We coined it. Our grantees tell us they love it. They ask us to tell our peer funders about it. 

And, it’s hard work.

GCP requires hope, belief and trust in the leadership and the organization. This takes time and empathy. GCP requires humility and humanity. This takes discipline and patience. 

The Peery Foundation practices GCP to the best of our ability. We operate with an understanding that solving social issues is complex and relentless, and the work of our grantees is the hardest. We want to be able to support them to do their work better.

We are doing GCP well in some ways (i.e. appropriate due diligence, doing our homework and leading with empathy) from what we hear back from our grantees (especially relative to their other funder relationships). Yet, because this work is time intensive and our number of grantees has swelled to ~90, we have been trying out ways to create more capacity on our team.

At the top of the year, we made the difficult decision to close our pipeline. We also experimented by differentiating our touch-points with grantees relative to grant size and length of time in partnership. We transitioned our longer-standing grantees to what we internally refer to as High Trust, Low Touch (HTLT). We cut our interactions down to only one email a year, so they could work without being interrupted by needing to schedule a meeting, call or site visit with us. Since we had already established milestones at the start of the grant cycle, we simply asked these HTLT grantees to send us a final update of the progress of their milestones.

What we thought was most helpful to grantees - preserving their time - has turned out to not always be as helpful as we thought. Through our Funder Feedback tool, we actually received a comment that we should be spending more time with grantees. We’ve learned that HTLT may simply have given us more time and given us more capacity. Through this process we have realized we’re putting our needs in front of the needs of grantees, which isn’t GCP at all. Of course, we still need to function as a healthy organization overall and we do have some methods of ensuring that. For example, team health is our #1 priority - if we’re not healthy, we can’t support each other or our grantees in the best way we can. 

In trying to solve for our capacity issues, we in fact steered away from GCP.

So, what we learned:

  • Experiment. Get feedback. Assess. Make a decision. Share out. We’re scrapping HTLT, at least in terms of us deciding who shifts to that kind of partnership. 

  • GCP is not one size fits all

  • GCP is hard, and we need to be honest about that and share our mistakes (here’s an attempt!)