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.

New Scholarship Tool Maps the Landscape of Change

Providing funding for academic scholarships is often the most likely entry point for new philanthropists, and also very popular among small and family foundations. Large international foundations are also significant funders, alongside individual philanthropists, universities, and governments. Collectively, annual expenditures of academic scholarships in the U.S. totaled $2.2 billion (Candid’s 2017 foundation figures).

Perhaps you know someone who benefitted from an academic scholarship, or perhaps you were a deserving recipient yourself. Yet beyond the individual recipients, have you stopped to consider why scholarships are such an enduring staple of most donor’s philanthropic portfolios? Many of us believe in the transformative power of education, realizing that a scholarship will not only increase access to educational opportunities, but that the education may transform the individual, their families, their communities, and their society.

The United Nations agrees with these ideas. In 2015, the UN launched the Sustainable Development Goals as a global plan of action for economic, social, and environmental improvement worldwide. As part of this ambitious agenda, higher education scholarships were mentioned as a tool to “substantially increase” by 2020, with special focus on the least developed countries and the science and technology fields.

I research international scholarship programs, with a particular focus on the influence of scholarships on social and economic development across systems, countries, and regions. My focus is on the ways that individuals influence societies. Yet in my research and consulting work, I am often asked questions about the programs themselves: How many programs exist? Where is the gap in funding? Aren’t all scholarships the same?

These kinds of questions just became much easier to answer, with the recent launch of the Scholarships for Change portal. Created by Candid, this resource is designed to help donors increase the impact of scholarship giving. The portal is incredibly comprehensive, including over 680,000 grants that result in countless more scholarship opportunities. Moreover, the site provides funding trends data, an interactive grants map, case studies from leading programs, and a curated knowledge center. Since its launch, I have already recommended the portal widely to those who are both looking for a broader view of grantmaking and deeper insight into the more plaguing questions in the field. It is also a valuable resource to scholarship seekers, who have access to insights and strategies from the donors themselves.

There are two aspects of the portal that I appreciate most. First, the funding map! The interactive map allows you to set criteria and search for grants by recipient profiles, funder profiles, specific geography served, or geographic area covered by the award. Even more exciting, you can search based on the “desired change” or outcome desired by the funder, allowing you to see who else is trying to achieve similar goals in the same place.

Based on my research, this aspect could be a real gamechanger. In 2019, Dr. Aryn Baxter at the University of Idaho and I published a study that showed that scholarship alumni associations that existed for 10 or more years shifted into social change organizations. In short, their main focus was on the social or community changes rather than individual recipients, and they had either partnered with other alumni associations or opened their membership to non-alumni to work together to reach these social change goals in their home countries. While the Scholarships for Change portal was not created to build a network for social change among alumni associations, the idea of mapping funders which have similar goals can surely lead to interesting and exciting collaborations and put the goal at the center of the conversation.

Second, the portal has a rich library of materials which include academic books and articles, program evaluations, videos, case studies, and think pieces. I am proud to see some of my own research there, alongside a case study of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans and the Ford Foundation’s IFP alumni tracking study reports. To have access to these myriad resources is truly a treasure chest from which scholarship funders—big and small—can benefit.

As a researcher, I have partnered with others who administer, evaluate, and research scholarship programs worldwide to share academic literature and program evaluations through the Scholarship Program Research Network. We were happy to share our list of materials with this portal to bring greater attention and to share the lessons learned across time and organizations in this accessible, free platform.

One final note: Dr. Mirka Martel at The Institute of International Education, Dr. Aryn Baxter, and I started the Scholarship Program Research Network in 2017 (more information here) because as researchers of international scholarships, it was difficult to find materials; many funders do not publicly share their evaluations. I encourage any funders reading this post to consider submitting their materials to the site, so we—funders, administrators, evaluators, and scholars—can learn from each other and continue to improve these programs for future recipients.

Invitation Only: Closing the Door to Equity?

After more than 20 years of grantmaking in Los Angeles County, you’d think our staff at the Durfee Foundation would know all of the eligible nonprofits in our region. But we don’t.

Not long ago, for example, we got a grant request from a car mechanic who had opened his garage to foster youth in the high desert, a couple of hours north of us. Aaron Valencia, founder of Lost Angels Children’s Project, is now among the most innovative and talented leaders in our grant portfolio. But we would never have met him, had we employed an invitation-only application process.  The lesson to those of us in philanthropy: you just don’t know what you don’t know.

Every time Durfee opens an application cycle, we meet eligible nonprofits that we’ve never heard of before.  It hardly seems possible, but it happens, every time. Even with our lean staffing, we think it’s increasingly important to keep the door open, so let me share with you why and how we do it.

As a generalist funder, our grantmaking lens is as wide and diverse as Los Angeles. These circumstances might explain why it would be hard for us to craft a list of ideal grantee partners. But even if we could, we would still prefer the open application process.

No matter how much time we spend on the ground, in the community, we can’t possibly keep up with the goings-on of all worthy, high-performing nonprofits. Plus, we’ve heard from so many of them how much they appreciate the opportunity to put themselves forward, and to state their case directly to us. Nonprofit leaders are active change-makers, and they seek agency over their future.

We also hear rueful complaints by leaders who are frustrated by their inability to get in the line of vision of funders whose mission seems to align with their own.  We field a lot of “do you know anyone there?” calls.

Which makes us wonder—what if we looked at the grantmaking process through an equity lens?

At a time when our field is focused on equity and inclusion, an invitation-only application process seems counter-intuitive. Or worse, it can project autocracy, instead of partnership—a sort of opaque “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Imagine what it would feel like to stand at the door of a windowless, locked building to which you seek entry, with no bell to ring.  And yet, that’s very often how foundations present to would-be grantseekers. Why?

I recognize that sometimes, invitation-only makes sense.  A place or issue-based initiative, with a specific goal and time horizon, might best succeed in a sustained, collaborative model with a set of close, expert partners.  Or, grantmakers in spend-down mode might choose to bring their work to a close in a deliberate fashion with a select few longstanding colleagues. It can streamline limited resources, reduce the demand on nonprofit leaders’ time while increasing their odds of being funded, and reduce the time foundation staff invest in application review.

While all of this seems great for the nonprofits who find themselves in a funder’s favor, what about those who fall outside their line of vision?

What Do Nonprofit Leaders Say?

The opinions above are my own, and I’m a grantmaker. Knowing that we alone shouldn’t be the ones to decide about our process, the Durfee Foundation sent a survey to approximately 100 nonprofit leaders in Los Angeles to ask their opinion on the matter. The leaders surveyed are recipients of the Durfee Sabbatical Award and are arguably among the strongest nonprofit sector leaders in our region.

We asked two questions:

  1. Do you prefer foundation application processes that are open, or invitation only?; and
  2. Do you think “invitation only” processes help or hinder the work of your organization?—and, in both cases, why?

The results were mixed and thoughtful. Overall, 78% prefer open processes, an overwhelming majority.  Not surprisingly, those who tilt in favor of invitation-only represent larger organizations, but even they recognized the challenge of achieving a spot in the inner circle. Almost all acknowledge the dilemma of a Hobson’s choice – invitation-only is always preferable if you are offered an invitation.

“If I’m in,” said one leader, “of course I prefer the invitation-only application because it increases my odds of getting the grants. But if/when I find myself in need of finding new foundations to fund our work, it seems the likely ones are invitation-only, so I’m stuck.”

Other leaders expressed appreciation for the satisfaction they feel when they work in partnership with funders.  “When we are on the ‘inside,’ it’s of course great! The collaboration with a funder is very rewarding.”

Those circling closed shops while looking for entry were incisive and blunt.

“Invitation-only applications further the funder as an all-powerful source,” said one leader. “They exclude small community-based organizations who are doing great work, but don’t have access to the privileged circles big funders run in. My organizations have been in the select group for some of the biggest foundations. It takes years of relationship-building, and the skill and ability to spend time doing that. Often those most impacted by the issues being funded do not have the time or ability to spend in that way. It’s an equity issue.”

“The open process speaks to me about the receptivity of the foundation," said another. “It tells me the foundation doesn’t think they know about everything that’s going on that might be mission-aligned.”

“Invite-only foundations can perpetuate income/gender/racial inequity in the same way as invite-only clubs,” said a third.

In addition to posing a challenge regarding equal access, some see invitation-only as limiting to experimentation: “Invitation-only, it seems, reduces the ability of the nonprofit organization to innovate and move in a new direction. If, say, our board has decided through strategic planning that we need to engage in green infrastructure when we are known for habitat restoration, how can we telegraph that to a funder that funds in this new area?”

So What’s a Funder to Do? Advice on a Hybrid Approach

The survey results yielded lots of practical suggestions, with nuanced perspective.

“More hybrid approaches are needed,” said one leader.  “Open processes should still be focused and targeted. Before applying, I want to know if my organization’s work is a fit for the foundation.  For those that are invitation-only, I would like to see more mechanisms for opening their processes, like polling current grantees for younger, smaller, newer organizations that deserve a ‘look.’ Another idea might be for grantseekers to have an exploratory interaction with the foundation, like an ‘office hour,’ a ‘meet and greet’ or a systematic process by which foundation officers actively seek out new groups to add to their portfolio.”

“I believe that an open process is perceived by the field as being more equitable," said another, “however, I don’t think this is necessarily true. The ways in which the open applications are vetted is where real equity happens or doesn’t. Who’s making the decision? What are the guidelines? These are the real questions when it comes to equity.”

So, my fellow funders, let’s start there—with these simple and complex suggestions that emerged.

Write Clear Guidelines. This may be the most challenging, but essential practice of them all. Clear guidelines may enable a foundation to shift from invitation-only to open application, without opening the floodgates to impossible numbers of applications. Vague or imprecise guidelines generate vast numbers of unsuccessful applications, and waste valuable time for both grantseekers and reviewers. Clear guidelines help nonprofits take agency in determining whether they are a fit for a grant opportunity or not.

Invite a Letter of Interest. Even if your foundation prefers to work with nonprofit partners by invitation only, offer a letter of interest option or an online platform for nonprofits to introduce themselves, and to get in your line of vision.  Acknowledge that you have received the communication, and let them know what you will do with the information.

Explain Your Selection Process. If you are invitation-only, take the time to explain why. Whether you are open or by-invitation, let grantseekers know how decisions are made, by whom, by what timeline. If there are set opportunities to invite newcomers and expand your portfolio, share when and how.

Durfee uses a peer review process for most of its programs. We’ve found this an excellent way to expand the expertise of our small, generalist staff, and to offer some transparency to our process. Our peer panelists, usually alums of our award programs, bring deep community knowledge to our decision making, and subsequently serve as ambassadors in the field, clarifying and demystifying the foundation’s process to their peers.

Be Available by Phone. In our digital age, this practice might seem old-fashioned, but we’ve found it’s incredibly valuable at Durfee for building relationships. One compassionate, articulate staff person on the phone can right-size an applicant pool by helping applicants determine if they’re a fit. When they’re not, we find we can often point them in helpful directions, offer feedback, and provide a heartfelt thanks for the organization’s work. This really can go a long distance. Regardless of the outcome, the cost of this simple strategy yields dividends in goodwill.

List Board and Staff. All grantseekers deserve to know who has decision-making authority at foundations, which are, after all, tax-exempt public entities. It’s reasonable for nonprofit leaders to consider who’s in the room before investing time in an application, so board and staff should always be listed on a foundation’s website or in print materials.

Acknowledge Funder Fragility. Let’s face it, it’s a real thing. Whatever prompts funder fragility—uneasy power dynamics, concern about being overwhelmed by requests, disinclination to express rejection, deference to our boards, fear of criticism—we often work behind a buffer that separates us from the sector we serve. Most of our decision-making takes place behind closed doors, out of public view.

For those who truly seek anonymity in their grantmaking, a donor-advised fund might be a more appropriate giving vehicle than a foundation.  Indeed, a more honorable one. If you choose to hang out a shingle—if you seek and are awarded IRS status as a private foundation—you owe it to the public to make your grantmaking process reasonably accessible and transparent. That’s also one of the reasons that Durfee was an early adopter to participate in Candid’s GlassPockets transparency initiative to encourage greater openness in philanthropy. We hope our profile there signals our ongoing commitment to working in a trusted and transparent manner.

Build Trust. According to Southern California Grantmakers, only about 30% of its members currently offer an open, accessible application process. Let’s collectively inch that number higher!

I’m hopeful that we are trending in that direction. The recently-launched Trust-Based Philanthropy Project, a national initiative spearheaded by the Whitman Institute, the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Headwaters Foundation, seeks to rebalance power in philanthropy by promoting trust-based relationships between nonprofits and foundations. Being responsive, streamlining paperwork and seeking and acting on feedback from nonprofits are among the pillars of best practice that they recommend. Other important endeavors, like California’s Full Cost Project and LA’s Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative, prize clarity and candor in nonprofit and funder exchange, and strive to put more strategic decision making in the hands of nonprofit leaders.

It takes two to tango, as they say. But a trusting relationship between nonprofits and funders shouldn’t begin on the dance floor, after funders have chosen their dance partners. It needs to begin much earlier, as they explore shared interests and skills.

And access to the dance floor? The building that houses it needs windows, and a front door with a bell that rings. Or better yet, an open door to a standing invitation.

Case Studies Reveal How Donors are Changing the World One Scholar at a Time An Interview with Author, Jane L. Polin

Scholarships for Change is a new, open-access website created by Candid that explores how donors are using scholarships as a force to accelerate the broader change they hope to see in the world. Though all scholarships can change lives, some scholarships are also designed to improve institutions, communities, economies, industries and even whole regions. Scholarships for Change pulls together data and knowledge to tell the story of how philanthropic dollars are achieving such change and guides funders in the practice of scholarship grantmaking.

Jane L. Polin authored a series of 12 new GrantCraft case studies for Scholarships for Change, spotlighting established programs with an impressive record of change.  She brings nearly four decades of innovative leadership experience within the nonprofit and private sectors in high-impact investment of philanthropic resources. Now serving as a philanthropic advisor, principally in the fields of the arts, education, and workforce development, she has completed complex assignments for a diverse set of national clients, including field-building initiatives, such as Funding Futures: Scholarships as Agents of Social Change (2016) for The Ford Foundation; Transforming Arts Teaching: The Role of Higher Education (2007) for the Dana Foundation; and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, an award-winning funder collaborative launched in 2007.

In this interview, Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives for Candid, discusses Jane’s insights and reflections about the new Scholarships for Change case study series.

Janet Camarena: Jane, you’ve devoted much of your career to helping donors think through the impact they want to make with their education dollars. Are there any trends you’ve noticed in the field of funding greater access to higher education and how did those trends surface in the case studies?

Jane L. Polin: Yes, several trends can be observed in these case studies.  First, the traditional emphasis on college access has been replaced by a commitment to completion.  Too many students begin college, and do not obtain their degrees. Only 58% of U.S. college students complete their post-secondary degrees within six years. Second, high-need students require much more than financial aid to cover tuition expenses; recognition is growing that they require comprehensive assistance. Third, institutions are changing their practices and policies to better support scholarship students, but a more widespread use of proven practices is still needed. That’s why illuminating real innovations, such as the emergency grant program advanced by Ascendium Education Group, is so important. Fourth, the core issues and needs are global in nature. That’s why the Mastercard Foundation is facing many of the same concerns in African nations as the Kauffman Foundation has encountered in the greater Kansas City region. Making such connections between programs and sharing approaches across geographies are both of immense value to the field. Fifth, in speaking with the program leaders, I found an eagerness to learn from the experiences of others. That’s indicative of a healthy trend to learn from those with experience, a track record of change, and a willingness to share lessons learned.

JC: Since new donors often enter philanthropy by making a scholarship award, what do the case studies have to offer about the best way for these donors to begin to think about the impact they want to make?

JLP: Engaging in a learning process is essential. To begin, I would suggest donors to spend time considering their responses to the 12 questions posed in the Donor Resource Guide we developed for Funding Futures:  Scholarships as Agents of Social Change. The first three questions address donor aspirations: What is your goal? How will you define success? How will you measure progress toward success? These simple but not easy questions demand thoughtful deliberation.

I would then urge donors to explore the Scholarships for Change case studies; they will find both ideas and inspiration. Over 12 weeks or months, they can discuss: What are the key lessons we see here? What are the implications for what we want to do? Do we want to pursue our own program purpose, or perhaps join an established one, such as TheDream.US that’s working to support degree attainment for students with DACA status, or further increase achievement for students of color with The Jackie Robinson Foundation?

Allowing sufficient time for learning, planning, and relationship-building is necessary for success. As the case studies reveal, the donors both “learned by doing” and enabled their efforts to evolve over time. But a substantial investment of time and thought prior to program launch was critical to maximizing impact and minimizing missteps.

JC: The donors profiled in the case studies were intentionally selected to represent a wide cross-section of the field. Despite the variety, did you find any common themes or approaches across the case studies that might be helpful for those entering the field?

JLP: The most critical common denominator across the 12 studies is that careful attention to program design drives impact. Finding, defining, and refining a focus, and making design choices that support that focus, creates a “what” and a “who” for the program. In the LeBron James Family Foundation case study and in other instances, the definition of “where,” or a sense of place, is a primary focus factor. Another feature that distinguishes these cases is their time orientation: the “when” is viewed in terms of decades, not days. After creating consensus for the “why” through a learning process, and the “what,” “who,” where,” and “when” during a planning process, these programs have all excelled at the “how:” high-quality implementation. When challenges were encountered, or results were disappointing, they adjusted their approaches.  They also listened to all of their stakeholders, especially the scholarship students themselves.

JC: One of my favorite aspects of this effort is the many inspiring stories of change you were able to document. Can you pick one or two to highlight that give our audience an idea of the scale of change donors have been able to achieve through scholarships?

JLP: Fully agree, Janet. One of the myths concerning scholarship support is that the impact is limited, and matters only to the recipient. Not true! As with the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation, program beneficiaries are having a profound “multiplier” effect on other individuals, institutions, and issues. The STEM Scholars we featured are already increasing inclusion beyond the university and throughout the Middle East and North Africa region in ways that impact thousands of lives, yet they are just three of an anticipated 15,000 program participants. A vast scale of change has been well-documented by the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowships Program (IFP), a global initiative focused on developing social justice leaders. The associated 10-year tracking study is a rarity in the scholarship field. Having reached its mid-way point, the IFP alumni tracking study is documenting how 4,305 individuals, often overlooked by other higher education programs, are now leading change in their communities, nations, and fields of interest. Vo Thi Hoang Yen, the IFP fellow featured in the case study, has become an honored leader in advocating for persons with disabilities throughout southeast Asia. Her example, multiplied by thousands, shows how well-designed scholarship support can yield large-scale, transformational change.

JC: If you were to start a Jane L. Polin Scholarship Program in the future, what might you do differently than might have otherwise been the case, based on what you learned from your case study research?

JLP: Scholarship support is personal for both of us, Janet. I’ll always be grateful for the donors who made my undergraduate and graduate degrees possible. I’ve actually made an initial commitment to funding a Jane L. Polin Scholarship at Wesleyan University, designating my support for a student of independent status. Now, if I had the resources to fund an entire program, I’d put on my professional hat and consider various lessons from Scholarships for Change. For one, donors can influence each other, and leverage can be a powerful tool in creating greater and sustained impact, as we found in the Bonner Program. Among the exciting examples we explored is how the Los Angeles Scholar Investment Fund enabled existing resources to achieve greater impact through more effective use of pooled and aligned funds with a select set of higher education institutions. So, in designing any scholarship program, I’d be even more mindful of how coalitions of donors and institutions can come together to achieve even larger and more lasting impact.

Conducting the interviews and related research revealed the extraordinary range of scholarship program endeavors – they are as varied as the donors themselves. Donors can choose to be visible ambassadors who offer a personal presence, such as the Jonas and Soros families, or they can be unseen partners. Whether the donor is visible or invisible, their stories will be best told through the years by the students and alumni of the scholarship programs created during their lifetimes. As the closing song from the Broadway musical Hamilton asks us, “Who tells your story?”

New Tools to Help You Create Change

The school year is now in full swing, which means as a working mom, when I’m not on Candid duty, I’m staffing my kids’ activities and coordinating carpools with other busy parents. I’m happy to champion their latest interests, but the time and energy I invest makes me aware of the embedded inequities of a system that relies on parental involvement for educational and enrichment activities. From the time and fees involved, it’s easy to see how the paywall to such activities is too high for many families.

This experience and awareness deepens my appreciation for the newest Candid tools that are designed to help philanthropy contribute to a more fair and just society. I’m excited to announce that today we launched Scholarships for Change, a new website that documents how donors are harnessing scholarships as a force for change.

Through scholarships, fellowships, and grants philanthropic institutions can and do work to increase access to enrichment and educational opportunities. As donors become more ambitious in tackling the world’s issues, some have developed strategies to create change that extends far beyond an individual recipient—from increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion to creating an economic engine in struggling communities, and more.

Funded by the Ford and Mellon Foundations, Scholarships for Change provides a centralized place for donors to learn from peer strategies and funding trends. The site includes an interactive grants map, a curated knowledge center, and 12 new GrantCraft case studies that together serve to orient, inform, and empower donors with a road map to effective scholarship philanthropy.

The case studies, written by philanthropic advisor and friend, Jane L. Polin, cover the areas of change most frequently addressed by scholarship programs and identify strategies, approaches, and lessons learned by experienced funders. From Ascendium’s provision of 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 inspiring and informative behind-the-scenes look at how funders are enabling transformative change for scholars everywhere.

I also want to highlight another important tool we launched just a few weeks ago, Investing in Native Communities. This interactive site aims to encourage greater philanthropic funding and support to Native American communities. It includes funding data, a new research report, and a GrantCraft case study on improving how we talk about and collect data in Native communities. One particularly unique and inspiring feature of the site is the rich history captured through a historic timeline developed from a Native perspective. This is a tool I look forward to sharing beyond philanthropy, including with my kids so they can understand more about the history of Native Americans and the land we live on.

Both of these sites are designed to support funders who are delving into this work for the first time as well as more experienced funders who want to increase their capacity and knowledge. Each site can help you understand your role in the field and highlight opportunities to collaborate or plug in. Even if scholarships and Native communities aren’t the focus of your work, the strategies and insights shared can be carried across the field.

At a time when institutional philanthropy is grappling with increasing criticism about how it wields its power and influence, both of these new sites present hopeful signals that philanthropy can be part of the solution. I hope you enjoy exploring them as much as I have.

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

Redefining Accountability to Incorporate Values

When one’s role at a philanthropic organization includes words like “grants management” and “compliance,” addressing tasks that fall under the “how” of organizational life is common. This includes everything from process to procedures to workflows—all of which are emphasized as core drivers of organizational excellence.  But this understanding lacks the acknowledgment that achieving excellence depends on more than just completing the task at hand. The challenge, rather, is focusing on the intentionality with which something should be done, rather than only focusing on how it should be done.

At the Jim Joseph Foundation, we strive to act with deep kavanah (intention) to foster compelling, effective learning experiences for young Jews. Our professional team focuses on the “how” of grantmaking and evaluation to pursue this mission. More recently, we also created space to focus on the values we hold as we do this work. The staff values below were fomented by the foundation’s culture committee, a diverse cross-section of the foundation team who asserted that how we conduct ourselves matters. Each staff value is linked to a Jewish value that stems from Pirkei Avot, a compendium of ethical texts that are rooted in morality and common decency. A copy of these values hangs on the wall of our office, and each manager now uses these as a core part of performance appraisals. In addition to agreeing to and embracing the staff values holistically, each team member agrees on one or two staff values with a manager at the beginning of each year on which to focus attention.

  • Respect & Humility: We assume positive intent (Tzelem Elohim) We are stewards of a tremendous legacy that began with the foundation’s benefactor, Jim Joseph z’’l. Since his passing in 2003 we’ve assumed the responsibility of positive intent and aim to treat others with uncompromising respect.
  • Learning: We are always developing and growing (Hitlamdoot) Every undertaking has failures and successes and we are compelled to acknowledge them all for personal and professional growth. Further, achievement is not merely about the individual. Collaboration, constructive discourse, and mentorship are necessary components of a shared learning environment. Investment in professional development both internally and for grantees helps accelerate the learning process.
  • Teamwork: We are one team and our teamwork makes us a smarter organization (Areivoot) We aspire to create a team-oriented approach to grantmaking such that grantee partners and foundation partners combine brainpower to solve challenges. We strive for a democratic and sincere approach to establishing our professional team—one that is informed by the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Each team member has a unique opportunity to lead and to follow. We continue to make space within all conversations so more voices can be elevated.
  • Integrity: We do the right thing even when no one is watching (Shleimoot) Honesty, transparency, and authenticity are three prerequisites for maintaining trust both internally among co-workers and externally among other colleagues. We embrace and try to live by these principles. Integrity extends to our internal policies (conflict of interest, code of ethics, whistleblower), external requirements (non-discrimination clauses, harassment policies, and general child and employee protection requirements), and regular dialogue with partners and stakeholders in the broader field.
  • Giving Back: We aspire to be good community stewards (Avodah) While giving is the essence of any foundation, this value relates to more than just the stewarding of effective philanthropy. Rather, “giving back” relates to volunteering as individuals and as a team to serve with the broader community. It also relates to acting with compassion. If a potential grantee-partner is not the right fit for the foundation, we strive to be cordial in the process helpful where possible.

The exercise of spending time thinking about and developing our staff values was both rewarding and beneficial to our team. We hope others set aside time to develop staff values, to practice them, and be proud of them. Given the work we do in philanthropy, it’s important we articulate the values of our work and what we stand for.

The Foundation’s Culture Committee is comprised of Nicole Levy, Executive Assistant to the President and CEO; Mallory Morales, Program Assistant; Dawne Bear Novicoff, Chief Operating Officer; Aaron Saxe, Senior Program Officer; Kari Simpson, Human Resources Director; and Sossena Walter, Director of Finance and Accounting. Jeff Tiell, former Program Officer at the Foundation, served on the culture committee too.