Last May, began facilitating a group of funders, non-profits, technical and ecosystem partners in a Convening Circle we call The Evolution of Grantmaking. This post represents some of the key learnings from that process. 

10 things you can change today to make your grantmaking process more equitable: 

  1. ‘Rightsize’ Your Applications. Grantees requesting $15K shouldn’t have the same requirements as those seeking $50K, let alone $500k. Make the amount, depth, and specificity of information you request commensurate with the outlay. 
  2. Examine the wording of your questions. “Over the years, we’ve seen our funding partners become more and more nuanced in their theories of change, and more and more restrictive in their priorities and applications,” says one nonprofit participant. “The amount of time we now spend wordsmithing the same information into various permutations of content and character counts is maddening.” From the funder perspective, “not only is our nuance making it more difficult for grantseekers, it also makes it harder to collaborate with other funders without transferring our own bias.” Check your application for jargon, leading questions, and non-essential levels of specificity.
  3. Ditch questions around “overhead” or even “sustainability.” Seek instead to honestly understand the organizational structure of your potential grantee and how they use resources. 
  4. Accept materials developed for other applications. Ask if grantees have submitted a proposal elsewhere, or created something they are proud of for another funder and invite it them to send it to you as their application. If there is more specific or nuanced information you truly need to reach a decision, follow up and request it.
  5. Look at your application process through the lens of the rest of your work. Consider the interactions you have with potential grantees (where you look for them, how you choose them, what you ask, and how you ask it) in light of what you understand about your work and how you approach the communities you serve. One funder shared an experience about changing the kind of imagery they expect to capture from grantees after such an analysis. Ask yourself what is privileged by your current process–in terms of race, language, gender, geography, ability, etc. Is that what you want? Consider the technology platforms you use or require, the forms of communication you prioritize (ie: written word vs. video), and the resource implications of your requests (ie: ‘just send us audited financials’).
  6. Focus on trust. The sad truth is that far more funder-grantee relationships are built on a foundation of fear and scarcity than on openness and trust. Consider removing steps in your application process (and the accompanying work on your end) until your free up time for a genuine conversation between funder and grantee. You might even try inviting potential grantees to spend some time building a proposal with program officers and grants managers rather than fill out a generic application. 
  7. Move toward multi-year commitments. With trusted funding partners, longer-term, less restrictive grants can create space and trust for increased efficiency, deeper impact, and better feedback loops.
  8. Require smarter reporting. Ask your grantees about the reporting they already do for other funders (or their own evaluation). Fill as many of your own requirements as possible with this existing information (and carefully consider whether the rest is really necessary).
  9. Build a mini-coalition. Examine the data you have at your fingertips. What other funders (working in the same sector but different stages, focused on the same geography, invested in a similar approach to the challenge) might benefit from that information? For example, “we have huge amounts of information about the organizations we fund that we have tracked over years and years,” explained one funder. “That information could save so much time for other funders, and even more importantly, for our awardees who might work with those funders.” Start small–just one other organization, and see how much there is to gain. One way to do this is to ask each of your grantees “who else funds you” and then connect with those funders who are likely to have shared priorities and focus.
  10. Consider your capacity, your place in the value chain. Not every organization has the resources to source applications equitably, co-develop proposals, and build authentic trust with partners in the application process. Consider supporting grantees already vetted by other funders you trust–and funding them without an application. Or look into partnering with other aligned funders to create collective capacity for more equitable sourcing (rather than resorting to closed applications).  

We hope this list has given you food for thought, and we look forward to hearing about your experiments with equitable, trust-based grantmaking–the lessons you learn and the impact you reap.