Ashmore Consulting

Beyond Grants

Did you know there are many non-financial ways you can support your grantees, beyond grants?

Training at a women's conference

Training at a women’s conference for grantees

Last week I moderated a session called “Beyond Grants: Non-Financial Ways to Support Grassroots Organizations” at the Council on Foundations conference with my colleagues John Esterle of  The Whitman Institute and Katrin Wilde of the Channel Foundation.

Many new, small and growing foundations want to know “What can we do to help our grantees make the word a better place besides writing a check?’  For those that fund domestically, the recent federal and state budget crises have renewed concerns that grantees will suffer from the impacts of continued decreases in government funding. For those that fund internationally and particularly in the Global South, we know that NGO’s or non-governmental organizations as they are called abroad, need lots of support in technical assistance, training and skills and capacity building.

We all know the financial ways we can support grantees – from writing a check to strategic investments so we will not address that aspect but instead look at ways you can support grantees with what I call “value-added grantmaking”.

Foundations can play a large role in catalyzing change among grantees. In addition to accelerating social change and promoting collaborations, funders can catalyze change by convening gatherings of grantees. This can be done with a relatively small financial outlay or even none at all with a gathering such as a brown bag lunch.

One of the most important roles is community building. This can be seen in bonding and unifying the community, balancing diverse roles, and leading. Choosing trustees and staff who reflect diverse backgrounds and interests can make a big difference in the vision and strategy of the organization. Making certain that grantees are similarly reflective can help a community achieve a healthy balance. Local grantmaking committees are a tremendous way to achieve that result. Domestically, I like the Funding Exchange model, where the grantmaking committee is composed of community activists and people of wealth. This helps ensure that you are seeking out and being accessible to groups struggling at the margins but it also brings a whole new perspective of ways to work together. For instance, the power dynamic that donors bring to the table when working alongside activists and grantees must be constantly monitored and addressed.

Internationally, I think regional advisory committees are even more important. How are we as Americans going to know the real needs of a small community in a developing country? If we are to truly support what is called bottom-up development, listening to local leaders is the best practice to define the needs and the solution. We may come in with our pre-conceived notions of the situation but until we listen to the local people, we have no idea what the real needs and the most effective solutions are.

Another aspect in community building continues beyond listening to local leaders. When you listen, you can identify areas for improvement for the organization. This is where you can exercise your role as a leader by offering training and technical assistance to help groups become more successful. I was Executive Director for 8 years of a foundation in Haiti and after much discussion and reflection (often over the span of a year), we would provide training and technical assistance to the organization before a grant was ever made. Our philosophy was the grassroots organizations needed a lot of capacity building and organizational development before they embarked on a project to ensure success.  This could be something as simple as providing financial management or evaluation training, providing capacity building technical assistance to help them build up their fund development skills, or helping them increase their revenues by referring them to like-minded funders.

In our conceptualizing role, we can help grantees in analyzing the problem, defining and redefining the solutions, focusing on the important issues, and framing the story. In this respect, media and communications can play an important role. Some of the activities are free or inexpensive such as digital outreach and making introductions.

In critiquing the issues, we can support grantees with commentary with little or no cost such as writing an editorial or a blog to not only inform the public but to comment on needs not being fulfilled. We can also be the gadfly and provoke the social conscience by arranging for grantees to present on panels such as this conference where they can raise issues before an audience of stakeholders.

Another role in critiquing the issue is simply being a sounding board. This can mean listening and reflecting as grantees work through ideas or it can be availing ourselves from our perspective as a big picture viewer where grantees can pick our brains or bounce ideas off us.

Here is a short summary of the concepts:

Beyond Grants Resource List

Catalyzing – Strategic foundations can speed up social change through action strategies such as initiating, accelerating, leveraging, collaborating and partnering, and convening.

Grantee convening types include:

  • Skills building
  • Issue oriented: gender equity, environmental issues, etc.
  • Peer exchange
  • Building relationships
  • Reflection and rejuvenation
  • Brown bag lunch to discuss common issue

Community Building – Work locally to strengthen a community and build capacity and partnerships by unifying, balancing and leading. Tools include:

  • Grantmaking committee of both local activists and donors
  • Regional advisory committees who live in developing countries and understand the local needs of the region
  • Skills training to strengthen the organization (ie, financial management or monitoring and evaluation)
  • Technical assistance to build capacity (ie, advocacy or fund development)
  • Training and TA before the grant
  • Quantity or wholesale purchases when several grantees need the same materials
  • Intern to conduct third party monitoring and evaluation of grantee project

Conceptualizing – Foundations can bring to the forefront new ideas that speed progress by analyzing, defining and redefining, focusing, innovating and testing. Examples include:

  • Connecting grantees to media and journalists
  • Introducing digital outreach and social networking
  • Advising on framing the story
  • Providing technical support on visual aids (flip cameras and/or videos)

Critiquing – Foundations can play a role as advocate and social conscience, ensuring that important needs are not overlooked by commenting, approving and disapproving, serving as a social conscience, and advocating. Examples include:

  • Writing editorial or blog
  • Arranging for grantees to participate on panels and workshops
  • Listening and reflecting
  • Being a sounding board
  • Coaching
  • Ensuring safety of activists

Many of the concepts discussed can be found in the publication “Small Can Be Effective” by Paul Ylvisaker available at the Council on Foundations Bookstore.

Have questions or need help planning value-added grantmaking? Click here to contact me.

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