How Racial Equity Supports Better Grantmaking Practices

Exponent Philanthropy is on a journey to understand, embrace, and champion equity, and we are embedding it in our programmatic and research efforts. Much of our 2020 Foundation Operations and Management Report centered around exploring how racial equity relates to good grantmaking and governance practices.

The relevance of racial equity

Our survey defined racial equity as, "the systematic fair treatment of people of all races that results in equitable opportunities and outcomes for everyone." We asked foundations to rate the relevance of racial equity to their mission, and more than a third (34%) said it was “very relevant.”

Interestingly, foundations with at least two people of color on their boards and foundations with all female or nonbinary board members, considered racial equity significantly more relevant to their foundation mission than did boards without. Foundations with all white or all male boards can still engage in racial equity work, but bringing more diverse perspectives onto the board is the best way for a foundation to advance conversations around racial equity, and make the work more central to their mission.

Good grantmaking practices align with racial equity

We surveyed foundations on an array of grantmaking practices—from monitoring grantee accomplishments to engaging constituents in the grantmaking process—and analyzed the relevancy of racial equity as it related to the grantmaking practices.

The foundations rating racial equity “very relevant” to their mission were more likely to carry out each of the grantmaking practices above as compared to foundations rating it “not relevant” or “somewhat relevant.”

Stepping outside the survey, members say these strategies also play an outsized role in advancing racial equity:

  • Streamlining and simplifying grant requirements helps de-emphasize traditional long-form applications. It offers alternative ways to collect and share information, reducing some barriers to entry, and affording more organizations a shot at philanthropic dollars.
  • Collaborating with other funders to learn, support a cause, or pool grants, has its advantages including more large scale work, shared risks and new perspectives.
  • Engaging constituents in the grantmaking process helps funders make more informed decisions without preconceived ideas on what they think grantees need.

Interestingly, general operating support and multiyear grants were fairly common regardless of the relevance of racial equity to a foundation’s mission. But we’ve heard from funders and grantees working to advance racial equity that these two types of grants are essential.

Further, general operating support and multiyear grants are increasingly common amongst lean funders, and not just for those focused on racial equity. No matter your funding focus, multiyear general operating support grants afford recipients the security to think long term to better create change and solve problems.

There is still work to be done

Despite the positive findings we identified in this year's report, there is still work to do to increase the number of diverse voices in philanthropy and understand how racial equity relates to even more grantmaking practices.

The racial and ethnic diversity of foundation boards and staff was low compared to the overall population and number of foundations (65%) that consider racial equity “somewhat” or “very relevant” to their mission.

  • Of participating foundations, 74 percent reported having no board members of color (i.e., their boards were comprised entirely of people who identified as white)
  • More than three-fourths (78%) of participating staffed foundations had no paid staff members of color (their staffs were fully comprised of people who identified as white). And this trend continued for CEOs—90 percent of participating foundations with full-time CEOs had someone in that role who identified as white.

Though philanthropy is still dominated by people who identify as white, an important lesson to keep in mind here is that those who are engaging in racial equity work, and working to bring more diverse perspectives into the field, are the foundations more likely to be engaging in other types of philanthropic best practices. In addition to rethinking barriers to entry, rethinking data collection, and knowing the stresses on their grantees, these grantmakers are also streamlining grant requirements, collaborating with other funders, engaging constituents in the grantmaking process, and providing financial support to grantees for evaluation.

As the philanthropic sector aims to build trust, strengthen relationships, and address the systemic power imbalances in our society, trusting nonprofits and the people they serve is crucial. Regardless of a foundation's funding priorities, it can make the world a more equitable place for all of us.

About the Foundation Operations and Management Report

466 foundation members of Exponent Philanthropy completed the 2019 survey for a response rate of 26 percent. The majority of respondents self-identified as family foundations (53%) or independent foundations (39%), and respondents were relatively evenly distributed across the United States. For more information, access the full report on Exponent Philanthropy’s website.

Participatory grantmaking in a pandemic: practical considerations in design

This post originally appeared on the Candid blog.

Many of the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are being led by grassroots activists and organizers across the world.  As we consider how to resource and fund this emergent work both in the short and long term, the need to place communities most impacted by and leading responses at the heart of decisions is deeply apparent. This crisis offers us an opportunity to learn by doing and to experiment with new models of participatory decision making that are accountable and intentional.

As funders in the philanthropic sector seek to support communities in meaningful and appropriate ways, we participatory grantmakers want to share what this means in political and practical terms, including some considerations and reflections on design.

Here are some key considerations for funders seeking to build participation into their grantmaking responses.

1. Find a balance between urgency and participation

Designing a model that is participatory, virtual and quick is new terrain for many, but certainly not impossible. It requires open-mindedness and a balance between the urgency of getting resources out the door and grounding the approach in the values of  meaningful and authentic participation. This requires flexibility and inevitably some trade-offs. The key is clear decisions about which things are non-negotiable and where compromises are possible.

2. Be clear on whom this participatory model should serve

Before you start designing, ask yourselves: Why do you want to make this process participatory? Who is the core community or constituency that should be part of this process? Then engage these communities in design as early as possible in the process, and find agreement on the values underpinning your model.

3. Start with your original base

This one comes with a shout out to Virisila Buadromoi from the Urgent Action Fund for Asia and Pacific: Where you can, start with activists in your community, your networks or sister funders. This is a way to ensure you can very quickly resource and also show up for your community when they need you most. It will cut down on due diligence and outreach and allow you to move quickly. One way to consider this is to first fund grantees of sister funds as phase 1, and then, having tested the process with your existing community, as phase 2, roll out a more widely accessible pot of funds.

4. Know that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel

The COVID-19 pandemic underscores our interdependence. It shows us that we need to be in solidarity with others and use our skills and experience where we can to contribute to quick and well-designed responses. Draw on your networks and the expertise of those who have concrete experience in doing participatory and/or rapid response grant making. The GrantCraft Guide Deciding Together on participatory grantmaking is a good place to start. Look at how your work can complement existing work rather than duplicate.

5. Compensate activists for their time

Many activists have lost their jobs and organizations; many are in even more precarious financial situations then they were before the pandemic. Where you can, prioritize paying some financial compensation, stipends, or remuneration for people’s time spent advising or deciding on grants. Time is more precious than ever right now, and activists bringing their capacity and expertise to this work should be valued.

6. No process is perfect; plan to learn and adapt

Designing these models is new for almost everyone! So it is important to be open and accept with humility that there’s much we don't know. Do not strive for perfection, but rather a “work in progress” that will get better over time. Acknowledge up-front your plans to test and adapt your model.  Doing this with intention, transparency and care will ensure the changes do not have a backlash on people that apply for grants, peer reviewers.

7. Embed transparency in your process

Wherever you can, document your learnings in real time. Make your documents open source so they can provide learning for your peers in philanthropy. Not only will this help you to learn but it will also build with broader stakeholders. Also, it will help the field generally to grow—to learn from each other and to improve together.


COVID-19, Racism, and Philanthropy


As the founder and president of Marga Inc., a consulting firm providing strategic advice and research to philanthropic initiatives and community partnerships, I have led coordination of the Race and Equity in Philanthropy Group (REPG), which engages a cluster of member foundations in strengthening policies and practices on racial equity, diversity, and inclusion. Through that work, Marga Inc. has collected the information and examples shared here.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. It is a crippling disaster.

As is often the case during and after disasters, philanthropy has stepped in. Over recent weeks, we have seen foundations and their partners create numerous relief funds and explore new policies to move resources more quickly or make grants and donations more flexible for recipients. And we have seen foundations raise their voices to highlight injustices during the crisis as well. More recently, some foundations have been speaking out regarding the events surrounding the deaths of George Floyd and other unarmed Black citizens and the broader racial injustices these incidents represent.

COVID-19 and Structural Racism

This pandemic is no ordinary disaster. It is creating, as so many have said, “a new normal.” While it has ushered in some new realities, it has also highlighted existing inequities—one of which is longstanding structural racism.

As data begins to become more available, we are seeing that people of color are more likely to be affected by the pandemic—they are contracting and dying from the virus at higher rates, as they disproportionately reside in densely populated metropolitan areas that increase the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, and those who contract the virus face worse health outcomes than their white counterparts.
Social distancing and working from home have been vital ways in which the spread of the virus has been limited to some degree. But many lower income people of color are not in a position to practice distancing if they don’t have much space at home, or they live with numerous others in those quarters. Perhaps they do not have homes at all. Mass incarceration has disproportionately filled prisons with people of color living in close quarters in which the virus can spread.

Additionally, many of the jobs that cannot be done at home and are considered essential, such as service employees in grocery stores or transportation workers, are disproportionately occupied by Black and Latinx employees. These workers are true champions for placing themselves at risk to keep things going. They deserve tremendous gratitude. Native American communities have been particularly devastated by COVID-19 as well.

Discrimination, xenophobia, and ignorance are components of racism that have also surfaced around COVID-19, as demonstrated in the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, who are being blamed for the virus.

In addition, what is unquestionably a public health crisis is also an economic one. As jobs disappear and small businesses go under, populations with limited savings and limited career flexibility cannot withstand the loss of even a single paycheck. In the context of structural racism, again, communities that have been historically underserved and disenfranchised are most vulnerable.

One of the greatest disparities by race is around wealth, beyond income. Crises put a strain on communities with the least wealth (e.g., savings). So many in communities of color experienced dramatic losses in wealth during the financial crisis over a decade ago and were just starting to recover. This pandemic worsens conditions for those already vulnerable conditions.

As the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities in a public health and economic crisis, a third crisis of racial injustice has converged with our experiences around COVID-19. Again, the very recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are not actually new. They are emblematic of a history of systemic violence against communities of color, and Black people in particular. There have been many protests following specific acts of racial injustice throughout this century, but none as widespread and multiracial as the daily and nightly civil unrest of late May and early June.

It is also critical to examine the distribution of resources by financial institutions and by philanthropy during this multidimensional crisis. Who gets the money? At this moment, there is debate and inquiry around how the smallest businesses that need funding the most are not getting much, while larger businesses are figuring out ways to get more funding. These are familiar dynamics, with a racial dimension to the distribution of resources in philanthropy. Smaller organizations led by and serving communities of color that are in greatest need are often disconnected from larger foundations and greater philanthropic resources.

As we look at the inequities illuminated in the pandemic, philanthropy absolutely must explore how grantmakers can substantially expand giving to organizations led by and serving communities of color. It is particularly important to serve representative organizations that provide a voice for their constituents and raise awareness about the realities confronting communities and advocate for policy change.

The many actions taken by foundations and donors recently are very important. But it is crucial to expand the number and range of philanthropic activities that directly address the racial dynamics that are increasingly apparent in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the racial injustices around repeated police brutality. The clear worsening of racial inequity demonstrated throughout this crisis only underscores the need for foundations to make it a priority in all aspects of their work well beyond the near future. If foundations want to contribute to improving the health and economic conditions that have influenced the gravity of the pandemic’s impact, they will have to consider crucial racial dynamics.

Philanthropy Together for Change

It is encouraging that many foundations have been actively engaged during the pandemic, focusing on the various racial equity considerations evident in the crisis. Because racial equity is complex, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Below are a variety of approaches some funders are taking that may serve as helpful examples for others.

Advocating for immigrant communities

A group of 40 California-based foundations signed a joint letter to Governor Gavin Newsom elevating the need to support and protect immigrant Californians and their families, who are excluded from federal relief and ineligible for state safety-net programs.

Creating rapid response funds and giving grants to support communities of color and other vulnerable communities.

(A complete list of the many recently created crisis response funds can be found on Candid’s regularly updated list of funding opportunities on its coronavirus popup web page.)

  • The California Wellness Foundation is committing $3 million in grants to support the most vulnerable communities and people in the state. Additionally, they are providing core support grants to small and mid-size organizations led by people of color.
  • The James Irvine Foundation board approved $22 million to support grantees that are critical to California’s efforts to protect and advance low-wage workers and to help other grassroots organizations in California.
  • The East Bay Community Foundation is allocating $1 million from its endowment to support provide support for the most vulnerable communities in the East Bay.
  • The Ford Foundation, along with several other funders, launched the Families and Workers Fund to serve the workers, families, and communities most devastated by the economic and health crises resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Seattle Foundation, in partnership with a coalition of philanthropy, government, and business partners, started the COVID-19 Response Fund. The fund, which is intended for nonprofits that are working on the frontlines, prioritizes communities of color, undocumented immigrants, low-income residents, limited English proficient residents, among others. So far the fund has galvanized $21 million.
  • The San Francisco Foundation has created the SFF COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund for capacity building grants to address worker support, preventing homelessness, providing renter protection/housing security, ensuring food security, and addressing racial bias. It is also tracking race and ethnicity data of grantees and populations served.
  • The Langeloth Foundation has created the COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund to address organizations’ urgent and critical needs.
  • The California Endowment announced a $5 million COVID-19 Response Plan to provide for the essential needs of highly vulnerable populations in California.
  • The Walton Family Foundation approved using part of its annual grant budget for disaster relief to provide direct support for existing grantees. Many of these are education grants to target under-resourced schools where students of color often comprise the majority of the student population.
  • The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation has relied on local philanthropic partners to provide grants to individuals for basic needs and to nonprofits providing direct services. recognizing that many businesses in communities of color have limited access to capital, the foundation has also provided $400,000 directly to CDFI (Community Development Financial Intsitutions) partners to provide loans and grants for small businesses
  • The Lumina Foundation designated two contingency funds totaling $1.4 million to address the needs of national partners and to fund the work of local nonprofits in Indianapolis.

Denouncing discrimination against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities

Several foundations have endorsed the call to action from Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) entitled “Open Letter to Philanthropy: The Cure to Viral Racism is Within Our Hands,” which denounces the racism accompanying COVID-19 that is targeting Asian American communities.

Focusing public attention on structural racism and racial inequities

Policy advocacy, and community organizing

  • The San Francisco Foundation is planning to weigh in on key policy issues, as it sees this as one of the most important tools it can use to advance racial equity and economic inclusion in the Bay Area.
  • The California Wellness Foundation will commit $1 million to community clinics and the associations that advocate for them.
  • The East Bay Community Foundation’sCOVID-19: “Just East Bay” Response Fund will target community groups that put policy and organizing at the core of their work and prioritize underserved populations.
  • The James Irvine Foundation, as part of the Priority Communities grantmaking initiative, is focusing on building more inclusive and equitable economies in several places.
  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation has provided policy resources, which elevate the needs of youth, families, and communities of color, to help grantees influence and educate federal legislators to inform relief bills.

Promoting power building strategies

Going Forward

One way foundations should deepen communication with communities of color is through existing networks that have been organizing people of color in philanthropy and raising awareness about racial equity, such as the ABFE, Hispanics in Philanthropy, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, and Native Americans in Philanthropy, among others.

COVID-19 has revealed the depth of persistent racial inequities, which has made the array of existing resources in philanthropy even more relevant to helping foundations contribute to social change. Change Philanthropy’s assessment tool can help foundations understand the state of their current policies and practices and the breadth of considerations as they imagine the work required to become more inclusive and equitable. The Philanthropy Initiative on Racial Equity (PRE) is another resource that has been helping foundations bring a racial equity lens to their work. United Philanthropy Forum’s Racial Equity Committee has been helping philanthropy-serving organizations build capacity to help their foundation members develop programming on racial equity.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed structural racism we already knew about, and the need for philanthropy to directly address these inequities has been longstanding. But if anyone needed an additional reason to prioritize racial equity in philanthropy, the rationale is upon us. In this pandemic, its impacts, and aftermath, we will need foundations to use all the tools at their disposal. This will include greater funding to organizations led by and serving communities of color and will also require foundations and donors to reflect on themselves as civic actors—as institutional change agents willing to raise awareness about the racial dimensions of this crisis and advocate for change.

Persistent acts of police brutality and racist violence that have especially impacted Black communities over generations have been painfully animated in recent events. While each incident involves individuals, the context is systemic racism. The lack of accountability of the perpetrators of such acts demonstrates the structural racism that supports and even encourages these behaviors. Foundations will have to challenge these systems in order to be relevant, and support the advocacy and community organizing to dramatically reform the criminal justice system and the racism embedded within it.

As the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color will be longstanding, philanthropy will be faced with a continued challenge. And as the calls for justice in the face of recent racist murders increase, philanthropy is faced with another responsibility. Philanthropy will have to make a sustained commitment to racial equity, racial justice, and communities of color in order to truly have an impact.

Certainly, philanthropy alone will not transform historically persistent inequities. But philanthropy can use its influence—both money and power—across sectors to authentically collaborate with communities that are most impacted to effect real change.

Crisis at Scale is an Invitation to Share & Learn at Scale

I hope this newsletter finds you staying healthy and productive during these stressful times. From social distancing, and donning masks, to remote work and school, and determining which phase of re-opening our communities have entered, there’s a lot to get used to, and many updates to track.

Here at my desk in California, my husband and kids have been at my home office with me daily since mid-March. We are fortunate that the children are school-aged and that their teachers have been providing remote instruction that keeps them busy most of the day.

However, this routine has also made me painfully aware of the inequities of this sudden leap to technology-based learning. Though some schools are making laptops available, not all families have Wi-Fi at home so children can connect. And in helping a local teacher communicate with Spanish-speaking families in my community, I’ve also discovered that some families fear accepting laptops on loan because they worry their children might break them, so they opt for worksheet packets instead.

In a world where only those with access to technology receive regular interaction and instruction from their teacher, it’s clear that many students will get left behind. The tragedy of this is magnified when one considers college-aged young adults who may find themselves now lacking a supportive learning environment or, in some cases, even becoming homeless.

Student poverty is a huge issue. It’s reminding me of our ongoing work on the Scholarships for Change platform, where we are tracking information about how donors are able to use scholarship dollars to create social impact. Some of the case studies there now take on new resonance, such as Ascendium’s emergency student aid program, which provides critical support for students in crisis. Does your organization award scholarships or student aid? How has your support of students changed due to the crisis? Given this ongoing effort, GrantCraft is interested in featuring blog content about adaptive approaches donors are using to equip students during these difficult times. Let us know so we can help you share what you are learning.

Education is just one of many such issues that are magnified by this pandemic, which is expanding divides between the haves and have-nots in wide-ranging areas of essential needs, such as health, hunger, housing, and employment. Here at Candid, we’ve been tracking how philanthropy is using its grant dollars to respond to the scale of this crisis. Our COVID-19 Pop-Up Page is providing free access to grants information, rapid response funds, COVID-related RFPs, and related news.

The grants data updates regularly, and, as of this writing, we are mapping a total of $10.5 billion of grants awarded in response to the crisis. Are your grants on our map? These tools are incomplete without your participation. The majority of this data comes from either news sources or directly from funders electronically reporting these grants to us. If your organization has funded efforts related to the crisis, please share information on this grantmaking so we can include your COVID-19 grants on our free, public map. We even have templates for submitting your information. Just be sure to include either the term "coronavirus" or "COVID-19" in your grant descriptions so they end up in the right place.

Candid’s COVID-19 web page also shares insights from our staff about what we are learning from our data. For example, I recently examined how foundations that participate in our GlassPockets transparency program are communicating about changes they are making to grantmaking practices. You can find out more about the communication trends I identified. This effort led to a recent “Community Conversation” co-hosted with PEAK Grantmaking during which we captured more information about practice changes that funders are making now, and which ones we hope are here to stay. These include things like streamlined applications, wider adoption of electronic submissions and payments, and increased use of general operating support and participatory grantmaking.

On that latter point, you may already be familiar with GrantCraft’s field guide on participatory grantmaking, Deciding Together. But did you also know we share the mechanics of how funders have made such efforts work? Since shifting power is taking on new resonance now with many working to lift the burden on grantees, and considering how to better learn from community voices and expertise, GrantCraft is interested in lifting up case examples and mechanics of participatory grantmaking during the pandemic. How do you balance the need for participation at a time when many community leaders are dealing with crisis? Let us know if you have lessons that we can share on our platform.

I realize this is a lot of questions for one newsletter, but hopefully it’s a good reminder that everything we do in philanthropy is ultimately about sharing and learning, and the knowledge that we are in this together makes social distancing, and the scale of this crisis, just a little more bearable.


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

Can Students, Parents, and Higher Ed Survive a Global Pandemic?

As a philanthropy advisor who works with individuals to help them chart a course for making an impact with their giving, I can attest to the strong interest many donors have in supporting access to higher education.

Some do it because they themselves were scholarship recipients and want to give back to a system that supported them when they needed it; others do it as a way to level the playing field; some want to support the institutions that they hold deep affection for; and others because they see education as a way to improve outcomes for struggling communities.  In short, there can be as many motivations as there are donors. But what they share in common is a yearning to make a difference.

So, last year when Candid launched its new Scholarships for Change website, I was excited to dig into the data and case studies showing how scholarship dollars can be used to effect transformative change. The website, funded by the Ford Foundation and Mellon Foundation, provides funding trend data, case studies, and an interactive grants map with more than 680,000 scholarships.

The case studies highlight the kinds of strategies that funders with many years of experience in supporting scholarships are using to change the lives of individuals, and also change whole regions, institutions, and communities for the better. From Ascendium’s emergency financial aid for unexpected student expenses, to the LeBron James Family Foundation’s strategy of engaging whole families in supporting first-generation college students, the case studies provide an insightful, behind-the-scenes look at how funders are enabling transformative change for scholars everywhere.

So Many Unknowns

Reflecting on these ideas of emergency student aid and the plight of first-generation students, coupled with recent conversations I’ve been having with colleagues and friends, makes me realize the enormity of the need students, parents, universities, and philanthropists will be facing.

COVID-19 has changed everything. Though the full impact of a global pandemic on higher education is not yet known, the disruption that it is causing in the lives and futures of American students is undeniable. Nationwide, colleges and universities are trying to decide whether or not they can safely reopen campuses in the fall. Uncertainty is wreaking havoc in the lives of students, parents and faculty members throughout the country. Yet even in crisis, there are moments of clarity.

Despite the disruption, a whole generation of students is still forced to go through the motions of applying for colleges and financial aid, and deciding whether or not to make the leap to college in the fall. And those who are currently students have seen their college experiences uprooted, shifting from once-engaging campus interactions with faculty and fellow students to less than satisfying remote online instruction. Most students have had to move home, adding layers of emotional complexity to their parents' and siblings' lives as well as their own.

Shortly before sheltering in place began in the Bay Area, I’d joined a women’s incubator at the Hivery, a women’s creative workspace and community at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Every Friday for three months, this group of 21 highly motivated, talented women were scheduled to meet  in a beautiful workspace to help each other bring our passion projects to life. But just three weeks into the incubator, the coronavirus led to sheltering in place and all of our gatherings pivoted to Zoom virtual meetings. As we checked in with each other online to see how we each were doing, it became clear that the unprecedented challenges that their children now faced were taking a heavy emotional toll on the mothers in our group.

A catalytic bonding moment occurred for all of us who hadn’t known each other well before the incubator began, when one of the participants teared up and told us how she and her son were both struggling with fear. “My son’s clamming up,” she said. “I’m afraid for him to travel. We’re considering letting him take a gap year.” Others jumped in, noting that their finances were stretched now, yet tuitions remain the same. “No one wants to pay full tuition for an online experience,” someone added.

Another mentioned the sheer terror her child was going through. “She’s talking about death. We’re all watching too much news and get anxious when we constantly hear about people getting sick and dying.”

Participants commiserated over children concerned about looking for work as the economy crashed, frustration and confusion over credit/no credit grading systems, coveted internships that may no longer be possible, entering freshmen looking at their dreams deferred, and concerns that college may become even more out of reach for first-generation students than it already was.

Envisioning Philanthropy’s Role

According to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, higher education grantmakers, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Lumina, Kresge, and others share these concerns and are focused on efforts to get more emergency aid directly into the hands of students who were already at a financial disadvantage and who will be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 economic turmoil.

The Scholarships for Change case studies also provide a helpful playbook for donors to follow when it comes to meeting the needs of first-generation and economically disadvantaged college students. The Ascendium Dash Emergency Program helps low-income and underrepresented students complete college by creating a safety net of small grants designed to help students overcome unexpected financial setbacks.

Aside from financial setbacks that low-income students may now be facing, another consideration is the change of educational setting as many college students have had to return home and access remote learning. How will first-generation college students get the educational support and mentoring that they need? The LeBron James Family Foundation's I Promise Scholarship case study provides some helpful insights for donors about engaging entire families and multiple generations in the effort to change life trajectories with access to education. The focus is not just on the student, but also on supporting educational attainment for parents and extended family of the student.

The Wall Street Journal (Colleges Ponder Fall Semesters) notes that the return to normal may take many years. Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, a higher-education advocacy group, estimates that the number of students on campus will decline by 15 percent, causing $23 billion in lost revenue. Some colleges may not survive the financial shocks of the pandemic, particularly those with small endowments, less than $24 million.

For funders seeking impact in this challenging environment, it’s safe to say that approaches that were effective prior to the pandemic will be equally but more important going forward. The need for scholarship support, for instance, will be intensified as the economy and the job market slowly recover. Financial support will be critical for first-generation students and for those who were financially vulnerable prior to the crisis, who may no longer consider higher education an option without significant scholarship support. Graduation rates may decline as students facing new financial hurdles--whose college plans may be disrupted--need to take much longer to fulfill academic requirements. Plans may need to be put in place to lure back dropouts.

Going forward, colleges will need to be much more proactive in anticipating and addressing the needs of students whose lives have been impacted by COVID-19. As a funder, it always makes sense to keep in close communication with your contacts at a college you’ve funded, and it is especially critical now to ascertain as realistically as you can how colleges are addressing the specific needs of their students and faculty.

Approaches for Impactful Funding Going Forward

  1. Give unrestricted support that will allow colleges and universities the flexibility to meet students’ needs as they arise and to design programs that will bridge workplace and college learning, encourage entrepreneurialism in an age of diminishing jobs, or ease students’ transition from community colleges to four-year institutions, or from colleges that may close during the crisis to more viable institutions.
  2. Increase funding for support programs for first-generation and financially vulnerable students.
  3. Encourage other funders to join you and leverage your support. Tech philanthropists Jennifer and David Risher's #HalfMyDAF set an inspiring example recently by setting up $1 million challenge in matching grants for nonprofits whose backers pledge to donate half the money they keep in donor advised funds to nonprofits by the end of September. One hundred nonprofits will receive matching grants of up to $10,000.

Funding in a pandemic crisis and its unknown aftermath is uncharted territory. But now, as never before, it’s essential to communicate with your grant partners and to adopt a flexible mindset in addressing their evolving needs.

Candid launches pop-up coronavirus webpage, emphasizes online trainings and programs

This blog originally appeared on the Candid blog.

Candid gets you the information you need to do good. That’s why we created this pop-up webpage to share the philanthropic response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Knowing where money is going and how, and having the latest information from organizations, facilitates thoughtful collaboration and decision making in times of crisis.

The page updates automatically as data and news are added to our database. The data is derived from news articles and other sources, and funders who directly share their funding data with us. We code the data according to our taxonomy. The news section pulls from 300,000 source articles that we regularly scan for relevant information. The page also links to funding opportunities related to the pandemic. Check back regularly for updates.

Beyond the pop-up webpage, you can also visit this free disaster funding map to track giving to disasters, including coronavirus. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), our partner on the map, has several resources that can help funders be effective in their response to this crisis.

Changes to Candid programs and trainings

We are working to move all public programming online across all regions. Affected programs include in-person trainings as well as other gatherings and convenings scheduled with our Funding Information Network partners. Specifically:

  • Our library at 32 Old Slip in New York City is temporarily closed until further notice.
  • We are postponing trainings and programs that can’t be offered online.
  • We invite readers to explore our recorded webinars, self-paced eLearning, e-books, Online Librarian, and other resources on GrantSpace.
  • We are postponing larger planned regional trips by Candid staff through April.

Giving to coronavirus relief and recovery

For individual donors, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and GlobalGiving have both created funds to support efforts related to the pandemic:

Your local nonprofits may also be feeling—or may soon feel—the pinch. A Kentucky animal welfare organization told Candid, “Our biggest fundraiser, Bark Bash, scheduled for March 28, 2020, may have to be canceled due to Coronavirus. This will make it very difficult as we will lose nearly $8-$10,000.” This same story is happening with organizations of all sizes everywhere. And organizations that provide food, housing, medical assistance, and other human services are seeing demand for their programs rise, while they themselves are also facing challenges. If you’re not sure where the need is most pressing, your local community foundation may have suggestions or have established a coronavirus fund.


Be careful

Coronavirus scams are already popping up. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and U.K. Financial Conduct Authority have each issued warnings. To protect yourself, never give by clicking a link in an email or over the phone. It’s too easy for scammers to mimic an email or claim to represent an organization in a phone call. Instead, go to the nonprofit’s website and donate there, give through a site such as Network for Good or JustGive, or (gasp!) use the old-fashioned method of writing and mailing a check.

Nonprofits are facing challenging times now and going forward. At Candid, a nonprofit itself, we’re feeling it, too. Just like many of you, we are weathering work-related challenges such as conference cancellations, and life-related challenges of childcare and quarantines. During this crisis, we are redoubling our efforts to bring empathy and kindness into every interaction, and we’re committed to continuing to share resources and information that will hopefully help us get through it together.

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:

Getting Your Board on Board with Participatory Grantmaking

When I started talking to people in the UK funding sector about my fellowship, one of the questions that got brought up, again and again, was how to get boards and senior managers on board with participatory approaches. As the majority of foundations I met were set up as participatory funders this question was quite difficult for them to respond to. The tension between boards and approach was totally alien to them as their boards and senior management had been the instigators and biggest champions of participatory approaches.

For the few more traditional foundations I met with, they were likely to have only small pockets of participatory grantmaking within their portfolios either through one-off programs of funding or through testing smaller aspects of participation within their work, such as having a layperson on their decision making panels or recruiting staff from the communities they were trying to serve.

It was clear that there can be quite a bit of nervousness around participatory grantmaking, especially if you are moving from a more traditional form of grantmaking. Through my conversations there seems to be a few core concerns when it comes to trialing and embedding participatory approaches:

That participatory grantmaking takes much longer and is much more expensive to deliver than traditional grantmaking.

There is currently no research to suggest that participatory grantmaking does take longer than traditional grantmaking, and there are those who argue that once the fundamentals are in place it is a similarly timed process. But this is a difficult question as it is obviously dependant on what you are comparing it to. You would need to understand the amount of time that traditionally goes into a foundation’s assessment, relationship building, outreach, and due diligence processes and these are different from foundation to foundation so it’s difficult to give a definitive answer. For some foundations, participatory grantmaking will take much longer and/or require more operational costs and staff time; if you only have one or two staff members, you need to bring in external support or you are delivering urgent response funding. For others, it could actually take less time as assessment and decisions can be done collectively with the group on the day rather than by one person over a prolonged period.

If you are developing a participatory process it can be designed and delivered around required timelines meaning that often participatory grantmaking can be as long or as short as required. If you are doing participatory grantmaking thoroughly, often what takes the time is the relationship building, supporting the decision-makers, organizing the logistics of the event, and developing the facilitation skills needed. The increased costs usually come through the logistics if you are bringing people together e.g. room hire, food, payment, travel, accommodation. If necessary there might also be costs if you require external facilitation support.

However, there are so many different ways of doing participatory grantmaking — community votes, strategic program co-design, peer decision-makers, online deliberation, etc. all of which take different lengths of delivery time and costs so there are options and ways to embed participation that match different requirements. (To find out more about the different models of participatory grantmaking check out this blog:

The concern that those without lived experience of an issue will no longer be needed within Foundations and that firsthand experience would be valued above and beyond both academic and work experience.

I think the premise of this thought is a little disingenuous. There are currently foundation staff up and down the country and across the world who have lived experience of a social issue. It is important to understand that you can be, and many people are, a care leaver and a funder; disabled and a funder, working-class, in recovery, have mental health issues, even be an ex-offender and a funder. What is important is that we provide recruitment and employment practices that allow a range of people from different backgrounds to thrive in our organizations. There are not two specific roles, one for those with lived experience and one without. We all have experience and knowledge from a range of different places what is important is recognizing that we can value and utilize this knowledge without a hierarchy of where this knowledge comes from. Academic knowledge or work experience shouldn’t be of more value then lived experience and vice versa. We should recognize the value in all of this and seek out new insights and opinions to help our work develop and better tackle some of the issues we are looking to solve. In the UK the 2027 project aims to diversify foundation staff by providing paid year-long roles for working-class frontline workers in foundations, it’s a great place to start recognizing and recruiting talent.

That staff do not have the skill sets to deliver participatory approaches.

Whereas a traditional approach might involve more desk-based research and analysis of written proposals, participatory approaches might require different types of skills such as event management, facilitation, active listening, and community organizing. This doesn’t mean that traditional skill sets are obsolete, but that developing and supporting skills across a range of areas or having a diversity of staff who can lead or support different aspects of delivery is an exciting opportunity for a whole team. This can be achieved through both training and development of current staff as well as recruiting staff with these specific skills and knowledge.

There is also the opportunity to bring in the skills that are required through a consultant or by supporting organizations already working this way e.g. funding Camden Giving or the Edge Fund in the UK.

There is likely to be a need to conduct some form of due diligence for applicants and reporting/grant management for grant holders, these can all be delivered through staff with these existing skills and knowledge (although there are interesting ways of doing grant management differently too). In short, there might be a skills gap within staff teams but that provides an opportunity for learning and development or to bring in others to support.

That there is a much greater risk with participatory grantmaking and that those making decisions might make the ‘wrong’ decisions.

I think there are two parts to this. The first is a legitimate concern about risk the second is a more veiled concern about giving up power.

With regards to risk, there is nothing that suggests that participatory grantmaking is more or less risky than traditional methods and for most of the grantmakers I met the due diligence conducted was pretty similar regardless of the decision-making process. For some, the timing of these checks were different, some people conducted their due diligence before applicants were sent to decision-makers, others did this afterward. There are pros and cons to both and this decision can be made based on the approach you choose to take and the level of risk you want to mitigate against. All of this can be taken into consideration when you design your approach. It is also worth bearing in mind that risk checks should be proportionate to the size of the grant, it is expected that risk checks would be less arduous for a smaller grant than a much larger one.

For many of the grantmakers I met, trustee boards reviewed the due diligence and had the opportunity to flag and question any concerns about recommended grants, they also had final sign off. The Other Foundation had only a handful of examples in their 8-year history of the board rejecting a recommendation. The main boards trusted their staff to carry out the agreed-upon checks and balances and they trusted the community to assess the merits of the proposals.

Seeing the responsibility that community members took in making funding decisions and the knowledge and insights that informed such a deep level of discussion and critique was often a real eye-opener and learning opportunity for board members to not only trust the process but its outcomes.

The second part of this is the concept of communities making the ‘wrong’ decisions. It suggests that boards make the ‘right’ decisions and I am not convinced that this is the case. Especially when I think what is more likely to happen is that the decisions are just different. Difference is good; it uncovers alternative solutions, new ideas, supports people that wouldn’t pop up on the radar otherwise. This might be unfamiliar and nerve-wracking but it’s important to be outside our comfort zones once in a while.

I think it is sometimes scary for board members to put their trust in a process they don’t understand and in people that they don’t necessarily know, or to acknowledge that other people might know more than them, or that a collective of people might make their role null and void. These things can only really be tackled by having open conversations, building trust and seeing the process in action. We can approach this by providing opportunities for board members to get involved, ask questions, challenge what we are doing and use their insights and knowledge to develop an approach that is strengthened by collective design. What makes participatory grantmaking strong is the sum of all our parts and having board members question and critic (within reason) the design of an approach provides buy-in and helps set the parameters of what you are trying to achieve. It also allows us to demonstrate that participatory grantmaking is robust, exciting and compatible with risks being mitigated. This might mean that getting buy-in is a longer process but one that will hopefully bring everyone along on the ride and set the foundations up for further work in this space.

My Churchill Fellowship is all about implementing this learning across the UK so if you are wanting support or to chat through how you might approach your board please do get in touch, I am more than happy to help.

This blog originally appeared on Medium. Check out more of Hannah's writing and insights about her participatory grantmaking journey here.

In 2020 We’re Thinking about Philanthropy, Politics, & Advocacy

Welcome to 2020! It’s election season! Or should I say impeachment season? Or presidential debate season? And let’s not forget Census season. While we all work for mission-driven organizations that are usually non-partisan in nature, policy strategies that the current administration and the presidential hopefuls are developing have the potential to significantly impact the communities and issues we support.

As a result, you may be wondering whether or how philanthropy is responding to shifting political winds. Candid was wondering the same thing, so last year we conducted a survey asking 645 of the largest U.S. foundations whether they had changed their giving priorities as a result of the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. A recent PhilanTopic blog post from Candid’s own Larry McGill, VP of knowledge services, shares a detailed summary of the survey results and key highlights.

We learned that though the vast majority of grantmakers, 88 percent, reported making no changes, 12 percent reported making some “notable changes.” Among those who did feel it important to make changes, most did so in connection with five specific causes: immigration; civic engagement/democracy; equity/social justice/intolerance; the environment; and health care. And, in some cases, foundations also established "rapid response" funds to help grantee organizations that might be facing new or urgent challenges in carrying out their work. (This begs the question of why there is not always “rapid response” funding if that is a more efficient means of getting money out the door, but I digress.)

Grantmakers who did change their giving also mentioned an increased interest in policy and advocacy work, particularly in regards to healthcare, the environment, and DACA-related efforts. If your foundation is curious about or already supporting advocacy, we just published a new GrantCraft guide that’s a compendium of our best grantmaker peer advice on this issue.

The guide, Teaming Up for Advocacy, focuses on the power of partnerships to bring about change, and how to effectively make progress with donor and advocacy collaboratives. This “best of GrantCraft” approach makes our curated content more accessible and flexible for you and your peers to use. Looking at why advocacy funding has historically been the “philanthropic road not taken,” this timely resource is a helpful roadmap for those who might now find that path more tempting or desire to try a “safety in numbers” approach to the work. Topics covered in the guide include the benefits of participating in an advocacy collaborative, elements of success, staffing, strategy setting, and overcoming fears and roadblocks.

Whether 2020 means you are setting off on the path not taken or staying the course, we hope that you learn a lot on your journeys and that you consider sharing those lessons with us on GrantCraft.

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

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, 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.