Tough Questions We Asked Ourselves and Where it Took Us

For many of us working in philanthropy, 2020 was a wake-up call for overdue reflection.

The toll of the pandemic and then the rallying cries following the murder of George Floyd called for philanthropy to ask some tough but important questions. Are we being bold enough given this moment? Are we using our own power effectively and to the best benefit of the communities we work with as funders? How are we amplifying community power and agency of the people most impacted? We had to examine if we were walking our talk, and we realized we needed to step up our game. Reflecting on such questions of accountability and power led the Convergence Partnership in bold, new directions, and I’d like to share a bit about our journey here.

At the heart of the Convergence Partnership, a national funder collaborative to advance racial justice and health equity, is the knowledge that we can achieve greater impact when listening, learning, adapting, and aligning our work together. We test ideas and take on issues that individual institutions wouldn't or couldn't, and the partnership model allows for institutions to go above and beyond their organizational priorities to achieve greater and more expansive impact. Convergence has always been about showing that the sum can be greater than its individual parts. Over the last fourteen years, we have created a space where people from foundations with different priorities, practices, and funding approaches come together to reexamine individual ways of operating to push ourselves to break away from the comfortable and move into the necessary.

When the Partnership was established in 2007 and began exploring its on-the-ground approach, we decided to focus on “field building” as a central strategy for creating and leveraging connections across various fields and sectors to advance health equity, policy, and environmental change. The goals of field building included generating greater philanthropic investment in local and state policy advocacy to advance equity outcomes. We also operated under conventional norms by centralizing all grantmaking decisions and power with the funders.

2020 pushed us to act and fund differently. We knew we could no longer be in the driver's seat as a national partnership, deciding what local issues or work gets funded. Instead, we leaned into community-determined, trust-based funding by ceding control and working with frontline grassroots organizations to determine where dollars were most needed.

For example, through our COVID rapid response grants, each of the regional funding partners reached out to their local grassroots and community partners and deferred to them to define their priority issues, scope of work, grantmaking needs. Grant applications were streamlined to simply include a letter of support from the regional funder on behalf of the grassroots organization(s) they identified to receive funding. We also streamlined approaches to reporting and put the onus of due diligence on the funders to understand the work of grantees without burdensome paperwork or vetting processes for the grantees themselves. The grants concluded with the Partnership offering to produce an optional podcast in partnership with each grassroots grantees in lieu of a final written report. We also hosted a virtual forum where grassroots partners could share what was helpful during the grantmaking process and more importantly what we could do better as funders next time.

We heard our grassroots partners loud and clear when they asked us to disrupt conventional grantmaking that perpetuates power imbalances. These investments showed us that it is possible and necessary to share and shift power to local and state grassroots leaders to drive policy and structural change. And that we must also do the critical internal work to transform our own relationships and approaches with grantees.

Philanthropy needs to put into practice the same principles and values that we have been asking nonprofits and communities to follow: to be more sophisticated and nuanced in our understanding of anti-racism, power, privilege, and organize ourselves accordingly; and to make our work accountable and effective for our constituents.

That was a huge impetus for the New Vision to Amplify People Power for Racial Justice and Health Equity we announced in January of this year.

Though Convergence has worked on equity issues since its inception, our commitment to do better by our communities is driving us to expand our definition and root racial justice more deeply in our work. Understanding that the primary driver of health inequities is structural racism and power, our new strategy holds us accountable to make our contributions meaningful and additive toward racial justice and health equity by:

  • Amplifying Community Power: Investing in the power and agency of people of color and low-income people to fully engage in democratic processes for transforming racist policies and systems. We will do this by making investments that strengthen and expand grassroots, power-building infrastructure for local, state, and national policy change.
  • Transforming Narratives: Elevating narratives and stories that shift public attitudes toward inclusion, belonging, and the dignity of all people. We will do this by using our positioning and platforms to advance a national narrative driven by local experiences and successes of people of color and low-income people that shifts the paradigm toward racial justice and health equity.
  • Shifting Funder Practices: Mobilizing and influencing funders, including ourselves, to embrace transformative practices and relationships that dismantle systemic racism and power imbalances in philanthropy. We have seven new partners, and all are committed to this fundamental shift and to bringing more of our sector into equitable practices.

We cannot go back to business as usual—the health of our communities and our nation's democracy is on the line. We will continue to do the necessary self-reflection work in the Convergence Partnership and ask others to test their threshold and willingness to be adaptable. We can be accountable and walk the walk together.

Tough Questions We Asked Ourselves and Where it Took Us


About the author(s)

Chief Impact Officer

Higher Education Access and Equity: Why a Social Justice Approach Matters

Higher education and social change are inextricably linked: by providing access to education, a scholarship program provides access to knowledge, resources, and opportunity for not only an individual, but also a community. With many developing countries experiencing youth bulges and a growing young adult population, making higher education more accessible to underserved communities all around the world is a pressing issue. But who is responsible for driving and funding these efforts? As we can see from Candid’s Scholarships for Change case studies and platform, more and more foundations are playing a role in establishing and shaping scholarships as a means to create broader social change.

>>Learn more about how philanthropy is using scholarships to impact society in a broader way, aiming to change whole institutions, industries, and specific communities through these awards at Scholarships for Change.

Foundation philanthropic participation in higher education is not new, but why are they so interested, and what is driving the increase?

In the last twenty years, institutional philanthropy has played an increasing role in international development and aid. Problems of access and equity – and the gaps created between privileged and underprivileged communities – have made a solid case for necessary funding expansion. Foundations have traditionally been seen as fit players, certainly capable of contributing to this growing demand.

In a recent study by the Institute of International Education, we explored the link between philanthropy, higher education, and social justice by asking why foundations are investing more in international higher education and which endeavors have been successful in bringing about positive social change.

chart of philanthropic giving to education issues

So, if access and equity are driving forces behind foundations’ involvement in higher education, are these efforts effective?

The short answer? Sometimes.

Two preliminary findings emerged in our study. First, while foundation investment in higher education has increased overall, largescale efforts to break down barriers to pervasive education access are not widespread. While themes of higher education access and equity have risen to the top of the development agenda, outcomes differ considerably from one context to another. There is an evident need for more foundations to support these initiatives.

Second, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Exclusion factors span from the quality of secondary education, geographical isolation, differentiation within ethnic and racial groups, lack of access to information, or simply being born or living in a region characterized by chronic marginalization. Programs that tackle higher education should take a nuanced approach to understand the context of the populations they are supporting, not focus solely on blanket approaches to scale-up.

So how can foundations be sure they are investing effectively?

Let’s be honest: In today’s context, the provision of higher education in and of itself is not an effective or sustainable approach.

It needs to be the responsibility of every foundation working in higher education to ensure that their program includes a well-informed strategy to target underprivileged individuals. Programs that focus solely on academic excellence, for example, are more likely to select students from privileged backgrounds that will contribute to a growing gap in individuals from upper and lower economic strata. Without addressing the roots of inequality and systematically supporting those who are traditionally excluded, education and exclusion gaps will remain.

The second part of our recent study asked what we could learn from recent higher education programs that have been successful in bringing about positive social change through scholarships and fellowships. How can foundations working in the sphere of higher education ensure that their money is well spent? A few promising practices have been observed in different parts of the world and they deserve to be highlighted and duplicated.

How can we make this happen?

Make a Common Agenda with the Right Partners

Our study noted that higher education scholarship and fellowship programs that have common agendas, whether between donors and academic institutions or between government and international partners, often lead to sustainable partnerships and better program outcomes grounded in shared goals and visions. For example, one way to do this is to decentralize coordination and work with local grassroots organizations to understand marginalized communities, help identify individuals who need support, and provide the necessary context and nuance for long-term engagement. These organizations are often the most connected to the communities they work with; they have access and know how best to engage with them.

Provide Holistic Support

Let us also recognize that supporting students from underserved communities is complex and identifying and supporting these individuals takes considerable time and resources.  Our study found that programs supporting underserved communities were successful when they adopted an integrated program approach.

For example, the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP), focused on the principle that higher education is an essential long-term investment for addressing major social issues. IFP’s alumni impact study has found that the integrated nature of the program – providing pre-academic training, funding and academic supports, and additional support through networks and services – created a holistic funding model that supported Fellows before, during, and after the program. This support has manifested itself in the success the Fellows have had beyond the Fellowship. Findings from the Ford Foundation’s IFP, Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, Dell Young Leaders program, and the Moshal Scholarship Program provide evidence that a tailored approach — often centered on individual’s needs — extends well beyond financing the degree. It’s essential to provide financial, social, emotional, and job market support to further help people from disadvantaged communities overcome their challenges to completing their higher education.

Case Study Image     Case study graphic

Document Impacts for Decision-making

Finally, it is imperative to measure and document the impact of higher education scholarships and fellowships. Think ahead and plan for meaningful monitoring, evaluation, and learning strategies that will give you valuable data about your higher education scholarship initiatives. This will allow you to demonstrate the return on investments – particularly the social impacts of investing in individuals for social justice – to your stakeholders and promote an evidence-based decision-making culture.

In conclusion, higher education remains a key pathway for social mobility and economic opportunity. Equally important, providing educational opportunities for the most underserved populations continues to be a worldwide priority providing a key pathway for donors to make an impact. If individuals are not presented with the same opportunities, the equity and access gaps will widen, and social mobility and economic opportunity will be compromised.

Adopting a social justice approach to higher education is a win-win situation and, candidly, the one the world needs right now more than ever.

Higher Education Access and Equity: Why a Social Justice Approach Matters


About the author(s)

Evaluation and Business Development Specialist
Institute of International Education

Lessons in Scaling Initiatives for Maximum Impact

One of the ways in which funding partners can make the biggest impact is by recognizing and supporting ideas and efforts worth scaling. But how can well-intentioned funders realize the potential to help grantees grow and export relevant solutions far and wide? We’d like to share some recent lessons learned from a funding collaborative’s efforts to scale meaningful programs for teens in the Jewish community.

Although mental health has always been a concern for the teen population, 2020 and 2021 have seen increasing and alarming rates of stress, anxiety, and depression in teens and young adults. In response to these times, the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative and other partners have thought critically about how they might reach more teens in today’s climate.

Through 2019, the Funder Collaborative—in which national and local funders work together to develop, nurture, and scale new approaches to teen engagement—had delivered mental health training to 400 professionals. But this scale wasn’t enough. Guided by their ongoing work with Spring Impact, founded in 2011 to help mission-driven organizations create change at a greater scale, the Funder Collaborative decided to offer a virtual certification course for professionals, caregivers, and parents to train as Youth Mental Health First Aiders. The Funder Collaborative is now offering this course at no cost to nearly 1,000 professionals, caregivers, and parents, equipping them with a hands-on, five-step action plan for helping young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Each of the ten communities within the Funder Collaborative has integrated mental health wellness into their unique programming.

This example demonstrates how impactful, relevant programs can be scaled to reach thousands, while fostering local adaptation to each unique community.

By pooling resources, sharing toolkits, and learning how to adapt best practices to fit different programs, locations, markets, and audiences, local organizations can successfully scale up to maximize their impact and see results on a national level. While the value of scaling new approaches is clear, there are obstacles to accomplishing this in a sustainable way that centers local adaptation by each community.

Some of the main lessons the Funder Collaborative has learned to address these challenges include the following.

  1. Scaling does not equate to duplication. Programs must be evaluated and adapted to fit the unique context of a new setting or target population. Some of the most successful instances of scale have come from stripping back to specific elements of a successful program and thinking about creative models to extend this impact to new communities. In the Funder Collaborative’s experience, it’s crucial to consider nuanced scaling approaches that go beyond duplication -- like centralization, accreditation, loose networks, and training or fellowship programs. Funders can help by introducing organizations to examples of others who have successfully scaled impact through looser, creative models.
  2. The time and resources it takes to scale are often underestimated. It is essential to have the drive and resources to scale impact. Often, organizations are unaware of the key elements necessary to scale successfully and underestimate the need for dedicated capacity and overestimate the demand from other communities. Scaling requires both time and capacity to plan and implement, as well as the ability to move beyond local funding restrictions. Taking into account the organization’s readiness to scale by assessing these key elements is a critical step before embarking on the scale journey. Funders can support organizations on this front by being flexible with restrictions and ensuring organizations have adequate resources to support the ample capacity and time needed to scale.
  3. Scaling proven solutions can often be more valuable to your community than designing unique programs from scratch. Organizations often think that the only way to provide value is to create unique programs for their communities, when, in fact, capitalizing on existing great ideas and adapting them to fit your community is often a far more effective and efficient way to generate impact. Funders are in a unique position to have a broad view of different programs happening far apart and can make introductions that lead to collaboration and use of existing programs.
  4. People who create programs may not always be the right people to scale them. The skills and strengths needed to create great programs aren’t the same skills and strengths needed to scale. Scaling requires empathizing with the leaders and individuals that adapt a given program in their own community and preparing sufficient initial and ongoing support to aid their adaptation. The Funder Collaborative has seen that many scaling initiatives need support from partners who can help build the structures, resources, and support for leaders and individuals that take on and adapt the program. Funders need to invest in building the capacity of organizational leaders to design effective, intentional scale plans, and iteratively validate these plans in the real world.”  

From its inception, the Funder Collaborative was dedicated to sharing program results and, eventually, proven models of effective engagement with other organizations. By using its considerable resources to develop, implement, and evaluate meaningful programming, the Funder Collaborative has and will continue to empower other organizations that might not have the means to take the risks involved in new programming.

With support from the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Funder Collaborative continues to work with Spring Impact to help effective teen engagement initiatives impact more lives. Our work together involves identifying programs ready for adaptation, answering key questions that would determine new community selection criteria, systemizing and codifying the processes that support program success, and coaching new communities through the launch of these programs.

Whether an organization is at the stage of understanding the criteria necessary to adapt to new environments, or testing out new methods of implementation, the Funder Collaborative helps to break down the barriers to scaling by identifying and providing key resources. The Funder Collaborative identifies the key ideas in an organization’s programming, evaluates how to best replicate or adapt programs, assists new communities in absorbing and implementing new ideas, helps match organizations with populations in need, and empowers organizations to self-evaluate and best understand scaling methodologies.

Philanthropy must be able to identify proven models of engagement and plan strategically to scale them when possible. Now more than ever, community leaders should know how to help smaller and medium-sized communities take on proven new initiatives in sustainable and cost-effective ways.

Additional Resources

Methodology to Extend Impact: Email [email protected] to receive our step-by-step toolkit that helps Jewish programs effectively and sustainably extend their impact to new organizations and communities.

The impact of Jewish experiences on teens can be measured using the Teen Jewish Learning and Engagement Scales (TJLES), which formed the basis of a major national research project on Jewish teen engagement.  Anyone can freely access the Teen and other validated measurement tools by contacting FC Director Sara Allen at [email protected].


Lessons in Scaling Initiatives for Maximum Impact


About the author(s)

CEO and Founder
Spring Impact

Executive Director
Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative

ICYMI: Candid Learning for Funders (and Grantees)

If your summer schedule includes a few unscheduled moments, take advantage of the opportunity to get some learning in with Candid Learning’s self-paced learning courses. Summer is also often a season in which interns and new staff are on-boarding, so below are some great options you might have missed that will be helpful for advancing field learning at your organization:

Understanding the Impact of COVID 19 on Nonprofits

Candid teamed up with Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and Center for Effective Philanthropy to provide data-driven insights to understand the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on nonprofits in the U.S. and around the world. Find out what their findings tell us about the immediate and long-term impact of the pandemic on nonprofits. This course will help funders understand the new challenges facing their grantees and stimulate thought on how to meet nonprofits where they are to help them through this time of uncertainty.

Overcoming COVID-19 through Sustainable Collaborations

Interest in sustained collaborations has increased slowly among nonprofits and grantmakers alike in recent years. Given the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the economic downturn, organizations considering mergers have increased from 1 percent to 23 percent, according to a recent survey by La Piana Consulting. Which potential benefits and challenges should organizations evaluate when considering a formal collaboration?  Why should organizations prioritize their mission when considering a formal collaboration?  And, importantly, how can grantmakers support collaboration amongst their grantees? View the conversation with leaders from SeaChange Captial Partners, La Piana Consulting, and Child Crisis Arizona as they explore the various forms that collaboration can take.

Designing Equity-Centered Organizational Values

Organizational values guide the ways in which organizations commit to showing up in the world. We currently find ourselves in the middle of a movement that calls on us to consider the meaninglessness of words that aren’t underpinned by commitment and accountability. This forces us to recognize the ways in which our values can’t operate outside of history but rather are informed by it. This webinar is for organizations considering what it might look, feel, and sound like to intentionally create or reimagine a values statement through an Equity lens—that is, a lens that invokes history and confronts notions of power and action.

Thanks to the generous support of Borealis Philanthropy, Candid created this video as part of a series to further a variety of conversations on diversity, Equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the social sector.

Funding Smarter: Using Candid Tools to Inform and Share Your Foundation’s Work

Philanthropy is a team sport—but do you know who else is on your team and which players may make sense to tap to learn from, collaborate with, or have legacies to build on? You don’t need to work in the dark. Learn to leverage sector knowledge to create more informed, efficient, and equitable grantmaking. Take this self-paced course to learn to use Candid’s mapping, data, and knowledge tools to better identify funding peers, potential grantee partners, identify funding connections and gaps, and learn from knowledge other funders have already shared.

And for your grantees…

While you’re taking in all that Candid Learning has to offer, here are two free, quick hits and a self-paced learning video you can recommend to your grantees to help them grow and learn this summer as well!

Fund Your Nonprofit's Mission with a GuideStar Profile

Nonprofits have the power to choose what tens of millions of potential donors see about their organizations. Claim your free GuideStar profile and earn a Seal of Transparency to boost your fundraising potential.

What do funders look for in grant proposal budgets?

Watch Candid's Programs Manager, Tracy Kaufman, share how nonprofits’ proposal budgets can add credibility to an organization's grant application.

Introduction to Individual Giving

According to Giving USA, “American individuals, bequests, foundations, and corporations gave an estimated $449.64 billion to U.S. charities in 2019,” and, of that, individual giving “totaled an estimated $309.66 billion,” representing 69% of total giving. A successful nonprofit organization has diversified funding streams, and individual donors play an important role. This webinar is for fundraising and development staff (and their organization leaders) who are new to individual giving. Get an overview of the fundraising landscape and walk through the key components of an individual giving program.

ICYMI: Candid Learning for Funders (and Grantees)


About the author(s)

Content Development Associate

Anti-Oppression Allyship in Global Development

The events of the past year have brought new attention to long-standing inequities in American society. More people have risen up to resist the deeply entrenched systemic racism in our country.  More people are stepping up to call racism by its name and take a more active role in opposing and dismantling it.

For those of us who work to address global challenges, lessons for anti-racist allies are equally applicable to our global development work. Renewed focus on addressing systemic racism in the US provides opportunities for transformative thought and action by American foundations working in the international arena.

International anti-oppression allies resist all structures of oppression, regardless of the category used to sort, “otherize,” and discriminate against any human being (including race, ethnicity, class, caste, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability and so on).

As privileged North Americans working in global development, now is the time to recommit to work as international anti-oppression allies, to own our privilege, and to listen, learn, and take responsibility. We must recognize:

Our privilege is a threat.  An international anti-oppression ally recognizes that our work often replicates, justifies, and props up oppressive structures operating inside our own organizations and through the programming we fund. We are not saviors.

Our privilege is also an asset.  We have an intimate understanding of the way power works to open doors, elevate voices and bridge what inequity has divided. We can use our leverage to bend systems and processes towards justice.

Getting Started

This is big stuff.  Where do we start?  As an evaluator, I’m keen to understand how my own practice and perspective needs to change and how I can support the transformation of evaluation itself to become a tool “for and of equity” as called for by the Equitable Evaluation Initiative.

Community conversations spur learning and commitment. The Funder and Evaluator Affinity Network (FEAN) recently released its Call to Action series spotlighting innovative ways to tackle challenges in philanthropic evaluation. “Evaluation is so White,” drafted by FEAN’s Evaluators of Color Action Team provides exciting answers to the question, “What will it take for evaluators of color to flourish in the evaluation ecosystem?” That paper called out the systemic barriers evaluators of color face, and that diminish and deplete the entire field.

So, how can we leverage insights and energy in the US to reconsider and reimagine the way we support change overseas?  FEAN’s Global Challenge’s Call to Action outlines steps towards building a robust and inclusive evaluation ecosystem to enable philanthropic evaluation’s contribution to global transformation. The brief includes timely and practical recommendations for strengthening shared identity, leadership and member engagement, funding and supporting policies, the knowledge base, and identifying exemplars of practice.

Moving forward

Real and sustained change is only possible if members of the communities that philanthropy seeks to benefit have meaningful roles in making decisions that affect their lives. “Nothing about us, without us” is true of philanthropic programming.  Funders, evaluation firms, and the field’s infrastructure organizations – each have an important role to play in cultivating an ecosystem that is more inclusive of diverse perspectives and lived expertise. People whose lives foundations seek to improve should hold positions of influence in the organizations that fund, implement and evaluate programming.

According to the Global Fund for Community Foundations, an ally goes beyond funding programming and hiring local evaluators to ensure that “local people have control over the resources they need to enable them to build the communities they want.” Movements like #ShiftthePower and community philanthropy are reshaping our understanding of what just engagement looks like. Organizations such as The Share Trust, Network for Empowered Aid Response, Thousand Currents, and Radical Flexibility Fund are demonstrating how to nurture and finance local solutions for local people with global implications.

Opportunities abound when it comes to harnessing existing assets and expertise, developing connections across practitioners, and leveraging existing infrastructure to build capacity. Now is a critical window of time to seize these opportunities given the scale and complexity of the challenges we collectively face.

Continue the Learning & Conversation

In this spirit of collective action, FEAN is partnering with GEO on a webinar series highlighting the learnings from its new Call to Action resources. The first of these is scheduled next week on Thursday, June 17 and will focus on evaluation for global transformation and strengthening evaluator collaborations and knowledge-sharing. The second session on Thursday, July 15 will focus on actionable strategies to make evaluations more useful to philanthropy and to help evaluators of color thrive.

Anti-Oppression Allyship in Global Development


About the author(s)

Principal Research Scientist
NORC at the University of Chicago

Sharing Power: A Frank Discussion Between Funders and Grantees

One of the most energizing things about Candid Learning is the opportunity it affords us to bridge the philanthropy divide by bringing together funders and grantees to learn from one another.

As we collectively grapple with the uneven pandemic recovery, and the realities of the work ahead to improve systemic inequities, it’s increasingly critical to examine the role power and influence play in the social sector.

A special free webinar program we are offering next week brings together funders and their nonprofit partners to discuss strategies and approaches to sharing power to improve the grantee-grantmaker relationship.

Join us on June 2 for this frank conversation, which will include approaches to help grantee organizations advocate for themselves despite the power imbalance, and advice for funders about how to mitigate the power differential inherent to grantee-grantmaker partnerships.

The webinar will draw upon the powerful and thoughtful essays in the recent Leap Ambassadors publication, Funding Performance: How Great Donors Invest in Grantee Success.

Candid is delighted to be hosting Tipping Point CEO, Sam Cobbs and Ford Foundation Executive Vice President, Hilary Pennington in conversation with National Immigration Law Center Executive Director, Marielena Hincapié and Homeless Prenatal Program Founder and Executive Director, Martha Ryan to explore how funders and grantees can navigate power sharing—in service of stronger, more equitable outcomes. Leap Ambassador Lowell Weiss will moderate this free discussion.

Whether you are a donor or grantee, the insights and hard-won lessons learned that the panelists will share will be compelling and inspirational as we consider how we can all work together more equitably and effectively.

Register for this free webinar today.

Sharing Power: A Frank Discussion Between Funders and Grantees


About the author(s)

Director of Candid Learning

Funders: It’s Time to Talk to Our Legal Teams About Power, Compliance, and Trust-Based Philanthropy

For philanthropy to have more equitable practices, we must examine and reimagine the way we do our work. Only when funders are proactively working to shift power and build grantee-funder relationships rooted in transparency, dialogue, and mutual learning will philanthropy be a more equitable field.

In theory, this is an approach that most philanthropic leaders can get behind. Trust-based values include leading with trust, centering relationships, collaborating with humility and curiosity, redistributing power, and working for systemic equity. But as foundation staff and leadership begin to operationalize trust-based values, practical questions arise about what these new practices mean for compliance.

As a trained attorney, I have been part of many philanthropic efforts to mitigate risks. What I have learned is this: when we use risk-mitigation as our central framework, we become a more controlling, un-trusting, and risk averse field. At Headwaters Foundation, we do not let compliance drive our grantmaking approaches. Instead, we start by developing trust-based grantmaking practices and then get creative about how to meet compliance requirements.

Our GO! Grants program is an example. GO! Grants are awarded to mission-aligned nonprofits in our grantmaking region. It takes applicants about ten minutes to apply, we can approve the grant in 24 hours and have funds in a grantee’s bank account within two weeks. We are thrilled to be able to provide this kind of support, which eliminates unnecessary barriers and hoops for grantees and meets all financial and auditing requirements for the foundation. Rather than getting in the way, our financial and legal team said, this is a great innovative approach, let’s figure out how to make it work. Key to this is that our CFO, lawyer, and auditors come to this work as partners instead of as “the compliance police.”

I’m not the first one to point out this necessary piece of the puzzle. Jean Tom, Partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, presented a webinar last summer on Legal Considerations for Trust-Based Philanthropy (you can watch it here), and the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project has a resource by the same name (PDF) on this topic. This primer addresses frequently asked legal questions about trust-based philanthropy and offers guidance on how to work within legal parameters to reinforce trust and relationship building with grantee partners. Questions include, "How do I talk to my lawyer about trust-based philanthropy and bring them along on this journey?" and "Is trust-based philanthropy consistent with legal requirements?"

On June 9, the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project will host a trust-based philanthropy conversation with the Headwaters CFO, an attorney, a tax expert, and an auditor who will share how they’ve designed and implemented practices that are both aligned with the vision of trust-based philanthropy and also fully compliant with all legal and financial regulations.

If funders truly want to remove unnecessary roadblocks for grantees, we must begin working alongside our legal and financial teams to understand what we’re asking of grantees and staff, and which of the old ways of doing things perpetuate inequitable practices and create unnecessary burdens under the guise of compliance . I hope philanthropic leaders will join these conversations, and begin to see themselves as part of the solution to making the field adopt more trust-based practices across the board, including their approach to compliance.


About the author(s)

Headwaters Foundation

New Funding Smarter Course Launches

We asked and you answered. Thanks to the participation of our GrantCraft community, we are excited to announce that today we are launching Candid’s very first on-demand course for funders!

The new free course, Funding Smarter, is a helpful overview of how to use Candid’s data and knowledge tools to better inform and share your work. Foundations make the social sector’s work possible, but like many in the sector, staff are often short on the crucial support, tools, and information necessary to maximize their impact. As a result of such capacity barriers, funders often go it alone rather than benefitting from collective field intelligence.

Learn how to avoid the perils of working in the dark and become a more informed and effective funder. We’ll also help you tell your foundation’s story on Candid’s platforms to share what you fund and why, and the lessons that you've learned.

Upon completion of this training, you should be able to:

  • Find aggregate and trend funding data about the fields in which you work
  • Identify funding connections and gaps
  • Use Candid tools to identify potential peers and partners
  • Streamline your due diligence practices with GuideStar tools
  • Become versed in how to find and learn what your peers already know
  • Use Candid’s tools to improve what is known about your foundation’s work

The knowledge tools shared in the course can benefit a wide range of funder roles, so throughout we have flagged tips that are of benefit to program, communication, grants management, or evaluation functions. It’s also a very helpful overview that can be part of your orientations to new staff or integrated into your professional development plans for existing staff. Once you complete the course, you will receive a Funding Smarter course completion badge to show off your new knowledge.

We are most grateful to those who volunteered their time to test early versions of the course and give us their input. And now that the course is launching, we look forward to hearing from more of you.

To register or learn more, visit Candid Learning.

Happy Learning!

New Funding Smarter Course Launches


About the author(s)

Director of Candid Learning

Candid @ PEAK2021 Online

Across eight days in May, PEAK Grantmaking will be hosting their 2021 conference online. Candid is proud to have several presentation opportunities at the event, which kicks off the celebration of PEAK's 25th anniversary. We hope you'll join the sessions that intrigue you and use the hashtag #Peak2021Online to stay plugged in to what's happening at the conference.

Here's where you can find Candid during PEAK2021 Online:

TUESDAY, MAY 4  |  1:30PM
Creating Organizational Effectiveness and Resiliency Pilot Programs for a Post-pandemic World (featuring Jacob Harold)
What You Know Shouldn't Be About Who You Know (featuring Janet Camarena)
TUESDAY, MAY 4  |  3:00PM
Confessions of a DEI Data Junkie (Eva Nico)
TUESDAY, MAY 11  |  3:00PM
Philanthropy and COVID-19: Diving into the Data (featuring Grace Sato and Cathleen Clerkin)
THURSDAY, MAY 13  |  12:30PM
Holding Ourselves Accountable: Measuring Progress Toward Equitable Grantmaking (featuring Katherine Neiheisel)


Swing by our virtual exhibit booth to watch our cool video, check out our resources, and chat with Candid staff who are experts in a variety of technology, data, research, and social sector topics!

See the full PEAK2021 Online schedule and register today!

Candid @ PEAK2021 Online


About the author(s)

Content Development Associate

Growing Our Philanthropy Team

As we cautiously begin to sense a light at the end of the pandemic, I am reflecting on the philanthropy field, the people in it, and how we work together. Before discussing some welcome changes—and the benefits they could bring—I must first acknowledge how fortunate I am to simply have a job at this time, let alone a seat at a foundation. That is always an inherent position of privilege from which to work; it is amplified at this unique moment.

Through the 12-months-and-counting “moment” of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sense of team—which is incorporated into the Jim Joseph Foundation’s values—across the field has manifested itself in new ways. This could have long-lasting, positive effects for all of us. While there are 11 Foundation team members who work with grantee-partners to pursue the Foundation’s mission of fostering compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews, my sense of team is much wider than that. The Foundation recently undertook a network mapping exercise of sorts to discover which colleagues at other foundations we correspond with, and how frequently that occurs. There are some colleagues at other foundations that I connect and strategize with more than internal team members. What does this say about our field? What opportunities do this type of communication present moving forward? How can this wider “team” most benefit grantees? Here are three possible answers to these questions.

More individuals in the field are eager to learn and learn together.

From more broadly sharing research and program evaluations and best practices for virtual engagement, to sharing lessons learned about philanthropy’s role in supporting Jewish life right now, there is a palpable sense among colleagues that we’re all learning in a new environment—oftentimes failing forward, and oftentimes with each other. This is a significant culture change in the field, perhaps accelerated over the last year. Colleagues, me included, are more open to meaningful and constructive feedback about grantmaking operations and how we support grantees. Some of this has been borne of necessity—we’re working in different ways through different types of interactions. We are more vulnerable and know that we need all the help we can get. I see the benefit of this learning happening organically and want to be even more intentional about making space for it, including carving out at least two hours per week to talk with colleagues at organizations outside of the Foundation’s grantee-partners.

Increased interactions among colleagues places greater importance on building trust and care.

Beyond the learnings that result from broader, field-wide team engagement, colleagues are pushing each other to be better in different aspects of work. This results in important changes in how we approach interactions with each other. Recently, I was strategizing with a colleague from another foundation about a fieldwide initiative. As we exchanged perspectives, I shared how we could each show up in the work, including suggestions for how they could show up. I later heard from a different colleague that my communication was not received in a helpful way. In fact, I had offended my colleague, and had eroded elements of the foundation of our trust. This third colleague was inviting me to repair the damage, to say we are all part of the same team and to understand how my intentions differed from my impact—and to address it. A follow-up call with my colleague was not easy for me but was critically important. The interaction highlighted that these deep, meaningful relationships enable real challenges and vulnerabilities to be shared among professional peers. That’s a positive. This also means that we need to treat these relationships with the care and respect we would of any relationship we want to sustain and grow. I commit to further helping build this across our sector, with a particular attention to the challenges of this work across lines of positional power to the Foundation’s grantee-partners as well.

Increased knowledge sharing among funder representatives can greatly help grantees.

For example, when the pandemic first hit, one of our earliest responses was to mobilize with our peer foundations to form The Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund, designed especially to be efficient for, and responsive to, potential grantees. From knowledge about what interventions are impactful, to what organizations need help in certain areas, to what potential grantees need to submit as part of a proposal, JCRIF is a systematic way for funders to share with each other. And JCRIF’s design to create a more efficient system for grantees reflects the power of a more connected, cohesive funder community. In this approach, grantees ultimately can more quickly be funneled to the right potential funders. One funder can more quickly aid another in helping a grantee maximize impact and/or overcome a challenge. Knowledge is power—and knowledge helps grantees.

In the spirit of a wider team, with more relationships among colleagues than ever before, and the trust that we all go further together than any one individual, the Foundation will soon share a major new report on networked leadership. This report lays the foundation for a new emphasis on the connections across our field and how to build programs that strengthen entire networks, rather than just developing specific individuals. As we continue to strengthen the network of professionals working in foundations, we see more benefits, and can work to leverage this stronger, growing team for the betterment of all.

Growing Our Philanthropy Team


About the author(s)

Program Officer
Jim Joseph Foundation