Designing Partner-Centered Grantmaking Processes

Human-centered design is on the rise within the social sector. Governments, nonprofits, and social enterprises are increasingly generating products, systems, and processes that put the people primarily affected by a problem at the center of their design process. Called “design thinking,” this methodology enables the sector to tackle complex social problems and design innovative responses and solutions that better reflect the lived experience of a community.

The philanthropic sector can also apply design thinking to create grantmaking and capacity development experiences that more intentionally, authentically, and creatively meet the needs of nonprofit organizations. Starting from a place of empathy – the first step of design thinking – foundations can explore opportunities for more partner-centered grantmaking. As philanthropy continues to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sector and shift power in grantmaking, design thinking is another tool in funders’ toolbox for social change.

At Global Fund for Children (GFC), we use design thinking as one way to practice our core value of partnership and to serve partners first. Design thinking exercises are a helpful guide to practice empathy and answer the essential question of, How might our grantee partners experience this?

Here are three ways you can experiment with design thinking to guide a creative process at your foundation to reimagine your grantee partners’ experience:

1. Empathize With Your Grantee Partners. Human-centered design’s powerful first step is empathy. According to Emi Kolawole, Editor-in-Residence at Stanford University d.School, “Empathizing with the people you’re designing for is the best route to truly grasping the context and complexities of their lives. But most importantly, it keeps the people you’re designing for squarely grounded in the center of your work.” Using an empathy map template, you can generate personas based on your grantees’ perspectives, reflecting on what they see, hear, think, and feel. Empathy mapping helps you better understand your grantees’ motivations and environment. Combined with grantee feedback or an interactive exercise with grantees, you can begin to design more partner-centered grantmaking.

GFC created empathy maps to explore the diverse needs of our partner organizations. For example, we put ourselves in the shoes of a nascent youth-led organization receiving its first-ever grant, a grantee in a rural area with poor access to the internet, and a civil society organization adapting to its country’s closing civic space. Empathy mapping helped us consider the breadth of partners’ realities ­– including through a youth lens – as well as partners’ nuanced experiences with GFC. When it is not possible to engage your stakeholders directly, empathy mapping can help ground your discussion and decision-making in grantee partners’ perspectives.

Empathy maps can be leveraged to better evaluate partners’ experiences during the next design-thinking phase: journey mapping.

A sample Empathy Map Canvas designed by XPLANE.

2. Map Your Grantee Partners' Journey. Through journey mapping, you can visualize your grantee partners’ engagement with your foundation.This exercise allows you to zoom in or out of the grantmaking life cycle. You can zoom into a specific step like completing an initial grant application or use journey mapping to envision a whole new grantmaking process.

With each of the identified steps of the journey, it is important to consider key moments of grantee partners’ experience with reflections from empathy mapping, grantee feedback or engagement, or other research:

  • Goals: What are grantees' needs and expectations?
  • Pain points: What are grantees' frustrations, questions, and doubts?
  • Happy moments: What are grantees' moments of accomplishment and learning?

Global Fund for Children designed a journey map for our entire grantmaking process – from initial contact to becoming an alumni partner. Here is a glimpse at what this process yielded as our team looked at the stage of reporting:

  • Partner goals: “Fulfill requirements so we can get the chance for more funding.” / “Showcase the work we are doing.”
  • Partner pain points: “Do we only talk about what we did with GFC’s funding or all of our work?” / “What does GFC do with our responses?” / “This is really time-consuming because we are all volunteer-led!” / “We wish we had this reporting template sooner!”
  • Partner happy moments: “The report is done!” / “We got a nice email back from our Program Officer with positive feedback.” / “It’s great to see all we’ve accomplished this year!”

You’ll notice that our team wrote our responses in the first person as we tried to put ourselves in our grantee partners’ shoes. Combined with feedback from our Grantee Perception Survey, GFC was able to create a more holistic picture of its grantee partner engagement. By reflecting on feedback given to program officers and imagining the very questions our partners might ask themselves but may not express to us, we re-centered the grantmaking process to focus on our partners’ experience.

3. Identify Opportunities for Learning and Strengthening. Journey mapping can help you observe questions and doubts in your process, as well as pinpoint where to seek more feedback from grantee partners to better understand challenges and possible solutions.

As you complete your journey map, you will identify challenges that you can now turn into opportunities for change. Some may be immediate tweaks that can make an important difference in how grantee partners understand your grantmaking. Others might enable you to ask bold “How Might We. . .” brainstorming questions to help generate creative ideas for a new grantmaking experience, such as: How might the grantmaking experience we create better embody our organizational values? You can then prototype and test these experiences as part of the design thinking iterative cycle.

Overall, this exercise enabled us to identify several important opportunities to improve our grantmaking experience over the next year. We realized simple changes we could make on our website to improve access to information. We reflected on crosscutting themes important to our theory of change and how we can better integrate them throughout our grantmaking process. We created a working group to re-envision how we onboard organizations as GFC partners. We aspire to see the difference these and other changes make through our new annual Constituent Voice survey as we continue to listen to feedback to ensure local organizations have a powerful experience as GFC partners.

Designing the Future of Grantmaking with Empathy

As philanthropy continues to look for creative ways to strengthen its responsiveness to nonprofit sector needs, human-centered design may help your foundation explore difficult questions from a point of empathy: Are we collecting more information than we need? Should we offer more flexible funding? How can we strengthen trust and equity with our grantees and the community? Human-centered design lets you get to the heart of these questions through empathy and invites feedback, participation, and experimentation for continuous reflection and improvement.

While the design thinking approach offers many creative tools, its true value is as a mindset. Everyone can be a designer and embrace creativity, learning, and empathy. When you and your foundation next face a decision, no matter how small, take a step back and first ask yourselves: How might our grantee partners experience this?

For more information and learning, please see:

About the author(s)

Program Officer, Advocacy and Movement Building
Global Fund for Children

Youth Are Creating Change in Philanthropy

With the holidays in full swing, and Giving Tuesday follow-ups and year-end appeals piling up, it’s clear that the giving season is upon us. Yet, as a mom, I can’t help but worry that kids get a very different message and start to think of it instead as “getting season.” From suggesting gift ideas to parents, extended family, Santa, as well as Día de los Tres Reyes Magos in our family, the giving can sometimes get lost in all the excitement about getting.

While both my kids are socially conscious—they’ve been involved with some organized giving efforts with homeless services and animal welfare organizations—I’m always looking for ways to make sure giving is on their minds. This reminded me of Candid’s YouthGiving.org, a site that highlights the growing movement in philanthropy designed to nurture our next generation of philanthropists.

The platform includes helpful information for youth, parents, and practitioners alike. Parents like me who are looking for ways to engage their kids in giving will find the ability to explore ongoing youth programs most interesting. You can search for programs by geography, age served, and program type, making it easy to find local programs in which kids can flex their giving muscles. (If you know of a program and it’s not represented here, please let us know and we’ll add it to our growing list.)

Youth and parents can also explore Causes: Youth in Action, which highlight some of the leading program interests for youth philanthropists. Environment, immigration, and mental health represent program priorities for which Candid was able to identify robust youth-led involvement. Each of these issue areas has a dedicated page with key stats about giving to that issue, youth-led organizations that are most engaged in the cause, a road-map for steps to action, and peer advice. Each page serves as an excellent starting point for young donors to think about giving to make a difference. My 14-year-old son also enjoyed poking around the Funding Map to see the full landscape of issues and causes youth are supporting.

The entire platform serves to give young people a real sense of hope and possibility to be part of leading the change instead of just the subject of change. Young people are at the forefront of so much change in today’s world and empowering youth to engage in giving with their communities is helping to diversify and strengthen our field. I am excited to learn more about how the field benefits from youth philanthropy and how philanthropy can invest in building young people’s power.
With that, I wish you and yours a healthy and happy holiday season filled with the promise of hope and possibility!

This letter originally appeared in GrantCraft's newsletter. To stay updated with our newsletter and special alerts, sign up here.

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About the author(s)

Director of Candid Learning
Candid

Deciding Together Shifting Power and Resources Through Participatory Grantmaking

Funders are increasingly looking to engage the communities they serve in the grantmaking process, but there are few resources about how to do so. In this guide, we explore how funders can engage in participatory grantmaking and cede decision-making power about funding decisions to the very communities they aim to serve. Deciding Together: Shifting Power and Resources Through Participatory Grantmaking illustrates why and how funders around the world are engaging in this practice that is shifting traditional power dynamics in philanthropy. Created with input from a number of participatory grantmakers, the guide shares challenges, lessons learned, and best practices for engaging in inclusive grantmaking.

Funding for this guide was generously provided by the Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundations. This guide is part of GrantCraft's content series on participatory grantmaking. Help us get the word out on Twitter and beyond, and follow the conversation using the hashtag #ShiftThePower. You can also read our press release here.

Download a Word version of the guide here.

What's in the guide?

  • Nothing About Us Without Us. This vignette shares an example of why and how participatory grantmaking became the approach for an international effort to fund persons with disabilities.
  • Participatory Grantmaking: What Is It? There is no formal definition for participatory grantmaking, but there are agreed-upon tenets that distinguish this approach. We begin this guide by providing context about the practice and defining the underlying values.
  • The Core Elements of Participatory Grantmaking. This section outlines the core elements of participatory grantmaking and describes the ethos and values that support this approach.
  • The Benefits of Participatory Grantmaking. Here, we explore the rationale leading funders to embrace this practice. For many, the values and core elements are a part of the benefits.
  • The Challenges of Participatory Grantmaking. All philanthropic approaches have challenges, and participatory grantmaking is no exception. Recognizing and iterating on these challenges is part of the approach itself.
  • Who Decides and How? This section presents the decisions that are made along the way and shares how different participatory grantmakers assign roles and determine who has power over what.
  • The Mechanics. No two foundations look exactly the same—take a look at a few models of participatory grantmaking and review questions to guide conversation about structure.
  • Evaluation. Participatory grantmaking is process-oriented, iterative, and difficult to codify. Yet, participatory grantmakers seek to achieve and evaluate outcomes. This section outlines the hurdles and approaches that exist.
  • Walking the Talk: Embedding Participation Internally. This section explains why a participatory ethos should be embedded in processes beyond just grantmaking decisions.
  • Getting Started. Funders can begin their journey to embracing the values and practice of participatory grantmaking through a variety of strategies, touched on here.
  • Appendix and Endnotes. These resources support information found throughout the guide and can be used to explore in greater depth.

About the author(s)

Principal
Cynthesis Consulting

Director of Stakeholder Engagement
Candid

About the author(s)

Principal
Cynthesis Consulting

Director of Stakeholder Engagement
Candid

Funders are increasingly looking to engage the communities they serve in the grantmaking process, but there are few resources about how to do so. In this guide, we explore how funders can engage in participatory grantmaking and cede decision-making power about funding decisions to the very communities they aim to serve. Deciding Together: Shifting Power and Resources Through Participatory Grantmaking illustrates why and how funders around the world are engaging in this practice that is shifting traditional power dynamics in philanthropy. Created with input from a number of participatory grantmakers, the guide shares challenges, lessons learned, and best practices for engaging in inclusive grantmaking.

Funding for this guide was generously provided by the Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundations. This guide is part of GrantCraft's content series on participatory grantmaking. Help us get the word out on Twitter and beyond, and follow the conversation using the hashtag #ShiftThePower. You can also read our press release here.

Download a Word version of the guide here.

What's in the guide?

  • Nothing About Us Without Us. This vignette shares an example of why and how participatory grantmaking became the approach for an international effort to fund persons with disabilities.
  • Participatory Grantmaking: What Is It? There is no formal definition for participatory grantmaking, but there are agreed-upon tenets that distinguish this approach. We begin this guide by providing context about the practice and defining the underlying values.
  • The Core Elements of Participatory Grantmaking. This section outlines the core elements of participatory grantmaking and describes the ethos and values that support this approach.
  • The Benefits of Participatory Grantmaking. Here, we explore the rationale leading funders to embrace this practice. For many, the values and core elements are a part of the benefits.
  • The Challenges of Participatory Grantmaking. All philanthropic approaches have challenges, and participatory grantmaking is no exception. Recognizing and iterating on these challenges is part of the approach itself.
  • Who Decides and How? This section presents the decisions that are made along the way and shares how different participatory grantmakers assign roles and determine who has power over what.
  • The Mechanics. No two foundations look exactly the same—take a look at a few models of participatory grantmaking and review questions to guide conversation about structure.
  • Evaluation. Participatory grantmaking is process-oriented, iterative, and difficult to codify. Yet, participatory grantmakers seek to achieve and evaluate outcomes. This section outlines the hurdles and approaches that exist.
  • Walking the Talk: Embedding Participation Internally. This section explains why a participatory ethos should be embedded in processes beyond just grantmaking decisions.
  • Getting Started. Funders can begin their journey to embracing the values and practice of participatory grantmaking through a variety of strategies, touched on here.
  • Appendix and Endnotes. These resources support information found throughout the guide and can be used to explore in greater depth.
 

About the author(s)

Principal
Cynthesis Consulting

Director of Stakeholder Engagement
Candid

SDGfunders Helping Philanthropy Engage in the Global Development Agenda

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have become a universal language for discussing how we need to improve the world. SDGfunders.org, a free platform from Foundation Center, tells the story of how philanthropic dollars are being used to achieve these goals on a new dynamically-updated dashboard, and aims to foster better coordination among those working to build a better future for all of us. Launched by the SDG Philanthropy, a partnership of the United Nations Development Programme, Foundation Center, and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors the site features interactive maps and dashboards tracking key funding data, lists of top funders and recipients working on specific SDGs, a collection of literature, including case studies and interviews with global experts, and an online community that will serve as a hub for discussions and knowledge sharing worldwide. Among other benefits, it will enhance opportunities for collaboration across sectors to increase the effectiveness of work that addresses our world’s common social, and economic challenges.

View Resource

Taking a Page out of Collective Impact Work: A Framework for Community Change

Four years ago, on the heels of a groundbreaking report on promising models for communities to engage teens in Jewish experiences, national and local funders representing ten communities took action.

The Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative is an innovative philanthropic experiment—a network of funders working together to develop, fund, support and grow new teen initiatives designed to reverse the trend of teens opting out of Jewish life in their high school years. Co-funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation with other national and local funders, the community-based initiatives differ in their approaches but share a set of common goals. And members have become valuable peer resources, as they coordinate their efforts.

From the start, taking its lead from the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Funder Collaborative chose to hold itself accountable to measurable impact. It therefore invests heavily in evaluation, as each local initiative engages independent consultants and, importantly, a Cross-Community Evaluation (CCE) enables the Collaborative to analyze outcomes across communities; to identify the most promising practices and hopefully to spark a cascade of philanthropic activity on behalf of Jewish teens.  

Preparing to Deepen Action: A Funder Collaborative Finds its Way is the second installment in a series of case studies documenting the process by which these funders have come together to do their work (the first was released in 2015) and the result of 15 months of observations and interviews. By commissioning these case studies, the funders have opened a refreshingly honest window with a view to the merits and challenges of such large-scale collaboration—particularly given that large scale, collaborative community change efforts have increasingly been a focus of study among those actively engaged in supporting these initiatives. In 2011, for example, FSG, a consulting firm focused on large-scale social change efforts, first published its framework for the conditions necessary for engaging in collective impact work. More recently, The Tamarack Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to understanding community development efforts mostly in Canada, proposed a revised consideration of these conditions (see Figure below).

While the Funder Collaborative is not a strict example of “collective impact,” the Tamarack Institute’s revised articulations are instructive and highlight the complicated terrain that the Collaborative is navigating as well as some of the challenging territory it has yet to cover. Each of these conditions— FSG’s original formulation and Tamarack’s revision—serve as a focusing lens to more clearly see the ways in which the Funder Collaborative has evolved over the past two years and to understand important lessons learned about effective collaboration:

1. Broad framing of success helps move from a common agenda to shared aspirations.

The Funder Collaborative’s five shared Measures of Success are bold and audacious targets, which set the bar high for a community to move the needle on teen engagement. Critically, because the Measures are framed broadly, the 10 community funders are able to pursue independent, locally relevant approaches without getting bogged down in the need to agree on a set of common strategies; this may ultimately yield a richer, more nuanced set of results than a strictly defined common agenda.

2. Nurture relationships early on to move from a backbone structure to a container for change.

The Funder Collaborative has taken seriously the need to continue its work without overtaxing the time and energy of its constituent members by contracting with a fiscal sponsor and hiring a director. Less frequently considered, but equally critical in multiparty efforts, is the larger container for change that must be nurtured; a container built on trust which allows for experimentation and learning. From the start, using consultants with expertise in facilitation, evaluation, and teen development, members of the Funder Collaborative have been investing in relationship building and expanding their own conceptions of how to do this work.

3. Let high leverage opportunities for change lead to mutually reinforcing activities.

Some collective impact initiatives begin by choosing strategies that lend themselves to cooperation and ignore other strategies that might complicate cooperation. Although some members would like to see more opportunities for coordinated collaboration, each community is first committing to the highest leverage opportunities for delivering results locally. Only as it becomes apparent that some communities are deploying similar strategies, are there emergent opportunities for learning with and from each other. It remains to be seen if this will yield more impactful change over time.

4. Implementing shared measurement does not guarantee real-time, strategic learning.

The Cross-Community Evaluation’s work of aggregating data from local evaluations has only just begun and it is still too early for Collaborative members to have robust findings that speak to the impact of the work unfolding in each of the ten communities. Moreover, as communities grapple with their real-time local learning needs, it has become clear that cross-community evaluation of the shared measures of success is a critical but insufficient dimension of the learning agenda of the Collaborative. Efforts are underway to consider how best to enable the funders to learn about their efforts, both locally and across all ten communities, in effective, timely, and relevant ways.

5. It’s not easy to move from continuous communication to authentic community engagement.

The Collaborative has been intentional about designing initiatives that emerge out of a robust community planning effort at the local level, intended to engage as many of the relevant stakeholders as possible, including teens themselves. As many of the communities have launched their initiatives, however, it has become clear that keeping these stakeholders engaged requires significant time, political finesse and creativity. In many communities, local program providers are also satellite organizations affiliated with a national partner. The Jim Joseph Foundation has led the charge, together with the national funders, to engage these national organizations in other forums, most notably through the support of the Summit on Jewish Teens, but it is not yet an organic and integrated component of the Collaborative’s agenda.

The Collaborative has evolved into a healthy, dynamic mix of local and national funders and implementers who come together to discuss, dissect and tackle shared areas of interest. Moving forward, as more initiatives are underway in communities—and opportunities for shared learnings increases—we believe the Collaborative will continue to provide exceptional pathways for exploring the most efficient and effective means of collaborating for collective impact.

About the author(s)

Director
Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative

Director
Rosov Consulting

Preparing to Deepen Action: A Funder Collaborative Finds its Way

The formation of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative was the result of a process begun by the Jim Joseph Foundation in 2013. At that time, in an effort to spawn innovative, locally sustainable teen engagement programs, the Jim Joseph Foundation brought together an array of funders to explore various approaches. The first 24 months of this deliberate process in which ten local and five national funders undertook to educate themselves, build relationships and co-invest in community-based Jewish teen education and engagement initiatives was thoughtfully documented in a case study issued in January 2015 by Informing Change, entitled, Finding New Paths for Teen Engagement and Learning: A Funder Collaborative Leads the Way.

 

The first case study highlighted several important achievements of the collaborative in its early years:* Strong leadership from the convening funder which enabled old and new colleagues to engage in open discussions about possible collaborations;* Early commitment of significant financial resources;* Provision of operational and substantive support by an array of consultants;* Development of mutual expectations and articulating shared measures of success.

This case study by Rosov Consulting documents the next stage of the Funder Collaborative's development, roughly the 21-month period from January 2015 through October 2016 and reflects the Collaborative's commitment to share its process with others who may choose to embark on their own co-funding endeavor.

Authors

Pearl Mattenson

Publishers

Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, Rosov Consulting

Through IssueLab, the Foundation Center is working to more effectively gather, index, and share the collective intelligence of the social sector by providing free access to thousands of case studies, evaluations, white papers, and issue briefs.

Preparing to Deepen Action: A Funder Collaborative Finds its Way

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What Makes Advocacy Collaboratives Successful?

MOST IMPORTANT: Well-defined goals and agendas

What’s the most important factor in successful advocacy collaboratives? Funders were unanimous: Clear and well-defined goals that all members understand and support and can return to often when there's confusion or conflict. The sharper and narrower the goals are, the better.

How does this help?

  • It frames a more strategic discussion among collaborative members for the work. “You have to be focused on a solid target, whether it’s overturning Citizens United or getting comprehensive immigration reform. Even if it’s not successful, having this target forces you into a strategic conversation.”
  • It leads the collaborative to be more specific with grantees about what it’s doing, which, in turn, ensures more on-target applicants; rather than having new and broad appeal, the collaborative can more clearly and narrowly articulate a focus.
  • It helps mitigate tension when there are disagreements about strategy or direction. “When our collaborative, which had abolishing the death penalty as its major goal, would drift from that or get hung up with disagreements, we’d always bring it back to the goal we all agreed on: abolition. We reminded the group that we were all there to achieve that end goal so we needed to do everything we could do to win.” The goals in this case serve as an accountability mechanism.
  • It keeps the work focused on action, rather than “devolving into funder continuing education and things like joint site visits, which are important, but they often aren’t particularly action-oriented. Rolling up your sleeves and digging into specific policy objectives is an experience funders don’t always get to have because their job is usually focused more on doing due diligence.”
  • It’s easier to measure progress and success. The fuzzier or more complex the issue is, the harder it will be for funder collaboratives to figure out whether they’ve been successful. “We had very specific policy ends: A Supreme Court decision in our favor and state referendum wins. That’s really different than saying ‘racial justice’ is your goal. You can’t get 100 people in a room to agree on what that is! So, how are you going to figure out if you’ve moved the needle?”
  • It creates a clear marker for evolution or disbandment. For some collaboratives, the right thing to do is to “go out of business when they’ve reached their goals, rather than sitting around asking ‘what should we do now?’” Still other collaboratives find that reaching their goal creates a moment to evolve and redefine what the group can achieve together. 

In addition to well-defined goals and agendas, there are several other factors that point to success:

  • Sticking with it over the long term, with the understanding that success will not necessarily be the result. Policy change is difficult, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Collaboratives can help funders hold steady. “Grantmakers who are part of advocacy collaboratives have to be patient and go into these things understanding that sometimes it takes years to see any kind of change.” And, even after seeing change, policy could be reversed by changes in government or other factors. Because many advocacy collaboratives also provide capacity building support—for both individual grantees and the larger field—sustained commitment is doubly important. “But you have to provide this kind of technical assistance if you want to be successful. You can’t just drop money into groups or locales and hope for the best. It takes time, patience, and focus.”Staying the course, however, can be a heavy lift for a lot of foundations, which tend to “change up their strategy and/or programs every few years.” To deal with this, advocacy funders say that they enlist their collaborative colleagues to pull together a strong case and make commitments to each other that will help persuade their institutions to stay the course. “Our collaborative did this as a group, which each of us could use at our own foundations. We saw that it helped make our institutions feel less anxious about the work because they were able to say, ‘look we have other funders working with us.’”Policy work is risky, and the policy environment is always shifting, meaning that sometimes even the best funder collaboratives may fail in reaching their goals. “Funders who want to join these kinds of collaboratives have to make sure they and their institutions are clear that this work can be very unpredictable and there is always the specter of failure looming over you. You—and your foundation—have to be able to accept that.” While sticking with it is something successful collaboratives do well, funders also caveat that “knowing when it’s time to change approach or even stop working is very tricky. There’s a need to balance staying with the plan long enough to know whether it’s working, but not so long that resources are spent in vain.” Funders focused on the end result need to remain vigilant about monitoring progress, changing contexts, and emerging opportunities to reflect on – and update – strategy to stay on course.
  • Getting the right mix of funders to participate. So much depends on having the right mix of people at the table, advocacy funders say. “In our collaborative, we had a nice mix of different kinds of foundations and individual donors. We also had big and small foundations. Having that kind of diversity brought a lot of different and important perspectives to the table.” Small foundations, in particular, “often have a lot to contribute beyond money, so we’re able to take advantage of that by using a more inclusive approach.”Having funders with diverse skill sets at the table is also important. “If we were all experts on these issues in the same ways, we wouldn’t have been as successful.” And, diverse backgrounds across factors such as race, religion, military service, physical ability, sexual orientation, academic training, family structure, and beyond brings essential perspectives that help overcome a single-background narrative. Having members that belong to population groups directly affected by the work of the collaborative is especially essential.And, of course, there’s always the issue of chemistry. “Whether a collaborative works well is about who’s at the table. Do they participate? Do they show up? If the time isn’t well spent or the process isn’t getting you to a good set of decisions you feel good about, it won’t succeed. You’ll also lose participation if you’re unable to find a way to get people to agree and work together well because people won’t feel positive about the experience.” While “chemistry” isn’t a checkbox item that is necessarily seen from the beginning of work together, it is something that is usually known after the first few meetings. Collaboratives with good chemistry understand how to listen to the “gut feeling” of how different people and organizations will gel together, and build the composition of the group accordingly.
  • Building and breathing a culture of trust and collaboration. While it might seem logical that funder collaboratives would be, well, collaborative, developing those kinds of cultures can be challenging. “When we started, the field was relatively new, and funders were just getting to know each other as a new group so they had to build trust, which takes time. But we knew that if we were going to get alignment around a shared strategy, we were going to have to trust each other first. As a long-time advocacy funder and activist, I’ve seen that no matter what the issue, the more funders know and trust each other, the more successful they are.”Grantmakers say it’s important that the collaborative’s members—especially long-time members—and staff be intentional about promoting an inclusive and informational culture that adds value to people’s work. “Like any good organization, you have to make it a political home that people like. You can’t do it on dry merit alone. People have to feel affirmed.”Making new donors feel comfortable is also important. Some collaboratives have existing members invite new members out for drinks or coffee to answer questions they might have before a larger meeting. Others have a culture that encourages new members to “say anything at the table, and you’re not considered a ‘junior’ member. It’s good for new members to see that and be embraced by everyone. This kind of openness and acceptance makes it easier to recruit new people to our advocacy collaborative.”
  • Including the field affected by the collaborative’s work in shaping the strategy for the collaborative. Many grantmakers believe that advocacy collaboratives work best when their strategies reflect the involvement of the issue-specific field and its stakeholders —from helping to set priorities to designing the strategy. “If you’re in our collaborative, you have to agree to work with and take direction from the strategic leadership of the campaign we’re supporting and who aren’t grantmakers. They are the strategists, and if they say, ‘the next six months, we really need communications’ or ‘next year, we’re getting bills in Utah and South Carolina so let’s work there,’ we’ll listen to what they say and align our funding accordingly.”Some funders, however, believe that grantmakers and the field can have parallel strategies as long as they’re mutually complementary “and there’s communication between the two.” What’s most important, they say, is being clear about grantmakers’ role in the process—not just to the collaborative’s members but also to strategists leading the campaigns. “You have to have a sense of who you are in the field. Are you another advocate? Or are you a partner with the grantees in the field? Are you a collaborator? Or are you taking a more traditional approach—being more at arm’s length from the grantees and being in control of making the decisions? It’s important to be clear and transparent about this with grantees.”
  • Leaving egos at the door. Advocacy funder collaboratives, funders agree, aren’t the place for big egos. To be successful in a collaborative, “individual members need to be committed to contribution not attribution! They need to check their institutional egos at the door. The focus needs to be on what the group is doing and who they’re doing it for—not on who gets credit.”Compromise and humility play an important role. “You’re joining with others, and you broaden your focus when you sit down at the table. You decide you’ll be more effective in a collaborative than you would be on your own because there’s strength in numbers.”
  • Hiring quality staff or facilitators. A number of advocacy funders point to staffing as a key ingredient in successful collaboratives. “We’ve been able to pay for the staffing at our collaborative. Two of those staff members came from foundations that had donated to the collaborative. Other funders have thought about applying for these jobs, which says something about the quality of the staffing. If you can afford it, hiring smart staffers is a smart move the collaborative should support.”Sometimes that staffing comes in the form of an intermediary. “I’ve found that collaboratives that have used intermediaries well tend to be quite effective. They have to be supported, though, because they provide a lot of additional services for grantees like capacity building, technical assistance, and convenings—a lot of the stuff that individual funders can’t or don’t do but that are critical to sustaining this work!”Having a “strong facilitator who’s not a grantmaker”—either as part of the staff or as a consultant—is also important, many grantmakers say. “There are many occasions collaboratives may need to call in an external facilitator—disagreements about strategy, personality conflicts, analysis paralysis, and other issues that the group may be unable to resolve itself. We’ve found them to be enormously helpful in getting us unstuck.”
  • Promoting strong leadership. Some grantmakers say that the best advocacy collaboratives “are those with someone—or a group of funders—with a clear vision and who can bring people along with that vision.” An important part of that leadership is being ever vigilant to potential problems or challenges that could derail the group’s commitment or solidarity to the goals they agreed on.That doesn’t necessarily mean that collaboratives have to have a formally-elected or appointed leader. Rather, all members should feel comfortable in assuming the role of helping the group keep on track when it starts to veer off.That sometimes requires different skill sets. After serving as the leader of an advocacy funder collaborative, one grantmaker said that she’d come to realize that leadership isn’t just about vision or “keeping the eyes on the prize.” While those are important, if she ever led a collaborative again, she’d approach that role differently—“less as a director and more a facilitated leadership approach. I’ve learned how important good facilitation can be when it comes to keeping collaboratives running smoothly because so much is about facilitating decisions, not forcing them.”
  • Building a strong field and infrastructure to support ongoing policy work on the issue(s). A striking number of funder advocacy collaboratives view field building as important as “wins.” “You can have a bunch of policy wins, but if there’s no infrastructure to support the work going forward, it won’t have as much impact.”There are many ways to do this—capacity-building assistance, organizational development support, general support. The important thing to remember, however, is that while “policy goals are the priority, advocacy collaboratives also have to keep their eyes on the infrastructure behind pushing for those policies.” Without it, another funders says, “this work will never be sustainable.”
  • Funders see value in their participation. Successful advocacy collaboratives have robust participation. “Grantmakers have to perceive that they’re getting a lot of value from their involvement. Otherwise, they’ll leave because they want their time to be well spent.” Maintaining participation and longevity, in fact, can be a good barometer of what’s working for the people participating in the collaborative. “If they don’t show up or don’t participate or leave halfway through—those are warning signs.”Unsurprisingly, the more people know and trust the other collaborative members, the more incentive there is to participate. “Four or five times a year, we’d meet as a group and just be in a room where we spent full days together. We got to know each other well and build trust, because we not only talked about issues but had meals together. You can’t underestimate the value of that.” The opposite is also true: “A collaborative I was part of only met once a quarter for two hours. People didn’t see the value of participation vs. value of ‘just funding the effort’ because funders didn’t really get to know each other. For these things to work really well, you need a lot of funder engagement.”

NOW REFLECT:

  • What do you see as the most important factors in predicting success?
  • How many of these elements do you see reflected in your collaborative?
  • Are there other factors not mentioned here that you think are important contributors to a collaborative’s success? What makes them important?

FURTHER READING:

Please click here for information on GrantCraft’s methodology for this research.

(Photo: Apollo Habtamu, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

About the author(s)

Principal
Cynthesis Consulting

REALITY CHECK!

If I asked you to personify philanthropy, what would you say? (Ok, now I'm curious, tweet and tell!) 

At first glance, he might be fairly traditional and lethargic, with a love for the arts and cocktail parties, and a fisherman at heart. At second look, she might be an environmental activist, involved in her small-town community, and on the board of two health and empowerment-focused nonprofits. With still another look, philanthropy is the blur of a runner who refuses to quit. And, with another look, they transform again through an infinite kaleidoscope of “people we know.”

I'm not pitching a montage video, though there are some good ones out there. Foundation staff and trustees don't fit a singular mold, but they all wield a similar power, and that's the power to challenge the status quo. Through convening key actors, building capacity, publishing articles, meeting with government leaders, and, of course, grantmaking, philanthropy doesn't have to take “that's the way things are” for an answer. When a group of Rwandan women wanted to grow a beekeeping business (though it's a traditionally male activity), the African Women's Development Fund supported them. When marriage was defined in the U.S. as between a man and a woman, the Civil Marriage Collaborative raised a unified voice. When there was suspected imbalance in summer camp opportunities for youth in different geographies, the Jim Joseph Foundation stepped in with a program pilot. You hear these stories every day in our field, but we seldom pause to appreciate that the heartbeat of philanthropy personified is an insistence on questioning norms and pushing for change. Every action is in the name of upping our communities' game, of making the world a place where people can thrive.

On a very related and visible note, there have been a number of statements and a lot of discussion by field leaders about philanthropy's charge in a shifting U.S. government context. A new, up-and-coming leader recently questioned, “So what happens to current grantees when foundations decide to shift priorities? Do they just get left hanging, or do they shift too, or is everything still the same for them?” Good questions, and as we know, probably all of the above. As you ponder present or future shifts in your approach to challenging the status quo, take extra time to balance new thinking with learning from tried and true practice. I recently reread our guides from years ago on effective exits and funding advocacy, and they're just as useful as ever. Knowledge is an important power, too, and my personal plea is to always build strategic practice and thoughtful risks into every action. The best way to do that: sharing with and learning from colleagues that are challenging the status quo through the same heartbeat.

This letter originally appeared in yesterday's GrantCraft newsletter. To sign up for our newsletter and special alerts, register for free

P.S. Share Your Wisdom! GrantCraft is based on the wisdom of funders like you. Do you have a great blog post, case study, or podcast you'd like to contribute? START SHARING

About the author(s)

Director of Stakeholder Engagement
Candid

Grantmaking for a Sustainable Future Lessons learned from Eden Hall Foundation’s unusual gift

Tucked just outside of the city of Pittsburgh, PA and surrounded by woods, Chatham University’s Eden Hall campus spreads out across 388 acres of bucolic land. Not long ago, this land was under the care of the Eden Hall Foundation, but serendipitous timing, alignment of ideologies, and a strong partnership between the two organizations allowed for a smooth and beneficial transfer of the property. The land once belonged to Sebastian Mueller, a senior vice president of the Heinz company and business associate and cousin of H. J. Heinz. With a passion for supporting the women who worked for the company, Mueller established the Eden Hall Foundation and dedicated his farm to these women as a place of retreat upon his death in 1938. The foundation preserved his mission to “lift women and children” for nearly seven decades as it used the farm to serve as a prized space for women’s retreats. In 2008, as interest in retreats decreased, the foundation had an opportunity to shift with the changing times and make a new use of the farm through selling or gifting the land. Trustees wanted to make sure that the future owner used the land in a meaningful way, someone who could “move the farm forward” and use it to its fullest potential, explains Sylvia Fields, executive director of Eden Hall Foundation. 

Intent on finding the right recipient and steward of the farm, Chatham kept surfacing in board room conversations. The university was historically an all-women’s school and alma mater of noted environmentalist Rachel Carson. When the foundation asked Chatham to share its future plans, it discovered that Chatham was, at the time, looking to expand and create a carbon neutral campus. Chatham’s vision for the land, combined with its commitment to women, captivated the Eden Hall Foundation. The foundation’s decision was sealed when learning more about two recent interests at Chatham: their “food and farm to table” initiative, and their plan to include a working farm at their new campus. Although the foundation considered a few development requests, it ultimately decided on Chatham and transferred the land to the university in 2008. “Everything was aligning. We really thought we were handing it over into good hands—the right hands,” says Sylvia. Chatham echoed this sentiment, notes Esther Barazzone, then-president of Chatham University. “We very much believed that we were the right institution to take this piece of land and that our historic mission to women in the undergraduate education and our great commitment to sustainability would mean that we would use this land properly.” 

This gift of land illuminated an essential alignment between the foundation and the university. Most visibly, the interests of the foundation—namely fostering opportunities for women, sustainability, and connection to the land—squarely lined up with those of Chatham—offering education for women, sustainability, and environmental planning. Neither reframed its mission or objectives to match the other; the DNA of the two eventual partners were already intertwined. The timing was right; Chatham was looking for means of expansion and integration of strong environmental practices at the same moment that the foundation was ready to gift the land. 

“We knew that Chatham was the right organization to receive this gift.” – Sylvia Fields, Eden Hall Foundation

As George Greer, an Eden Hall Foundation trustee, shared, “Chatham could afford to raise the money to actually put the property to use. It was clear that we couldn’t afford to support the property forever.” Local interest in sustainable food systems was increasing, signaling that the greater community would likely support the transfer and new use of the property under Chatham’s ownership. With a gift of this size and long-term impact, alignment of mission and timing, sustainability, and community support were essential. Sustainability was part of the equation, which was essential to long-term success. These factors laid the groundwork for understanding, buy-in, and the shared vision of the involved parties. Different missions, misaligned timing, or competing local priorities can often lead both recipient and funder to feel misled or disappointed—or there might not be a gift at all. In this case, the shared vision of Chatham University and the Eden Hall Foundation tells only part of the story. The gift would not have succeeded without an alignment in the grantmaking process itself, where both parties invested significant time and resources into analyzing the potential transfer and working together to imagine the most beneficial community outcome. The gift resulted from significant investment of time and a relationship-rich process.

Although the driving missions appeared to be in sync on the surface, the organizations spent time to collaborate, and, as Sylvia recalls, to conduct “due diligence to make sure that the visions were as aligned as we thought them to be.” Beginning the funder-grantee relationship with candid discussions regarding the fit allowed for both parties to feel comfortable with the grant and more importantly, for mutual trust to flourish. Eden Hall Foundation had been working with Chatham for a few years prior, helping to support some of their other initiatives. Because of this, the foundation staff had already connected with Chatham as a grantee. “Trust is something that you have to build over a period of time,” recognizes Sylvia, “it can start with smaller programs and observing how the partner handles the reporting and other unsexy things about a grant.” When trust on the part of the foundation is met by trust from the recipient that they will have agency with the gift, a strong relationship can form. “Chatham was stellar in being mindful of our needs, and this led to a great partnership, with a strong ability to work together and to trust one another.” The candor was vital in leveling power dynamics that are often at play, in that Chatham did not have to shift its narrative for the foundation or share anything less than its authentic vision. “Eden Hall Foundation gave us the gift of belief in what we can do and in our vision,” shares Esther. The result? A campus that not only benefits the students that attend Chatham, but contributes to the study and practice of sustainability in a global context.

For Sylvia, ensuring that an organization is prepared for a grant is also crucial to success. “Being ready,” as she puts it, “is good leadership, good clean finances, a vision, and a plan to get there. Chatham definitely was a very mature organization with a dynamic leader and a stellar board, and they were so ready.” For the trustees, this readiness was understood through open dialogue, clearly articulated plans for adopting new environmental practices, and demonstrated understanding of the foundation’s intent for the gift. In addition to being ready, Chatham was willing; they weren’t simply accepting the gift because it was offered, but the foundation saw how willing they were to activate the farm gift to advance the university’s mission.

“There are other ways to give in addition to writing a check that can be just as effective.” – Sylvia Fields, Eden Hall Foundation

Philanthropy is often thought of in terms of monetary transactions. But the story of Eden Hall Farm was not only non-transactional in its collaborative spirit, it was also nonmonetary. This doesn’t necessarily have to change the grantmaking process itself, as Sylvia says, because “even though it was nonmonetary, we still looked at it no differently than we would any other grant.” It highlights a broader scope of what can be considered a philanthropic resource. “I hope this story shows that there are other ways to give, in addition to writing a check, that can be just as effective. Nonmonetary gifts—such as property, such as time, such as talent—are viable options in a foundation’s giving sphere, and we saw the Eden Hall Farm gift as an important investment, like everything else.” 

When the foundation made this land transfer, it was an investment in the vision of the university and how it would evolve its practices over time. The greater community of Southwestern Pennsylvania took note. Sylvia noted that “folks really sat up and took notice, and looked more closely at the university.” In fact, it inspired others to do the same, such as Sigo Falk, the former board chair of Chatham who went on to support the campus through his Falk Foundation to establish the Falk School of Sustainability. This gift also built on trust and alignment of mission and timing, demonstrating the ripple effect that a single thoughtful investment can have. The prominence of the university in the community and its dedication to environmental concerns will visibly elevate the work conducted on this land and through the Falk school well-beyond the campus borders. 

For Chatham, the land offered the chance to expand in new ways and to strengthen its educational model. “This initiative will be a living and learning model in sustainability that we think will be of national importance,” shares Esther. For the foundation, the gift spread awareness in the philanthropic community that giving could be transformational and take nonmonetary forms. “Would I do it over again?” Sylvia asks herself, “In a heartbeat.” Now, Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus has a thriving farm, an interactive laboratory, and much more, and Sylvia, reflecting upon the new stateof-the-art campus says, “I have a great sense of pride every time I go out there.” 

This case study was developed as one of five companion pieces to stories shared through the Pittsburgh Philanthropy Project. The Pittsburgh Philanthropy Project, in association with the University of Pittsburgh, showcases the rich and varied narratives of giving in the region through comprehensive storytelling techniques, giving insight to the philanthropy landscape and approach for residents, researchers, and practitioners. Please visit storyline.gspia.pitt.edu to explore further.

About the author(s)

Former Knowledge Services Fellow
Foundation Center

Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2017

Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2017 is an annual industry forecast about the ways we use private resources for public benefit. 

Foundation Center is pleased to again partner with Lucy to offer the Blueprint as a GrantCraft guide. The Blueprint provides an overview of the current landscape, points to major trends, and directs your attention to horizons where you can expect some important breakthroughs in the coming year.

Tweet about this year's Blueprint using #blueprint17 

Highlights

  • Insight: Big Ideas That Matter for 2017: What is political? What is philanthropic?
  • Worksheets: Data, Governance, and Your Organization
  • Foresight: Predictions for 2017
  • Hindsight: Renovations to Previous Forecasts
  • Buzzword Watch
  • Glimpses of the Future: Black Lives Matter and Closing Civic Space

About the author(s)

About the author(s)

Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2017 is an annual industry forecast about the ways we use private resources for public benefit. 

Foundation Center is pleased to again partner with Lucy to offer the Blueprint as a GrantCraft guide. The Blueprint provides an overview of the current landscape, points to major trends, and directs your attention to horizons where you can expect some important breakthroughs in the coming year.

Tweet about this year's Blueprint using #blueprint17 

Highlights

  • Insight: Big Ideas That Matter for 2017: What is political? What is philanthropic?
  • Worksheets: Data, Governance, and Your Organization
  • Foresight: Predictions for 2017
  • Hindsight: Renovations to Previous Forecasts
  • Buzzword Watch
  • Glimpses of the Future: Black Lives Matter and Closing Civic Space
 

About the author(s)