The organizations you want to be funding are already in your community. To reach these organizations, it’s important to “meet them where they’re at” and create the systems that make this possible.
For the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado (LCFC), meeting the community where it’s at has meant creating more accessible grants processes and offering programs that provide grantees with capacity-building assistance to ensure their longevity and success.
In Foundant’s Building Resilience by Building Access into Your Work webinar, LCFC’s former Director of Communications and Grants Administration, Alexis Whitham, and Lety Salinas, Program Manager, shared specific examples of the organization’s relationship-first approach that emphasizes people and community trust instead of documentation requirements. They discussed how LCFC:
- Offers fully bilingual applications and reports for all grants, and the associated complexities.
- Moves the focus from rigid grant requirements to knowing leaders and how the organization fits into the community they serve.
- Creates a space where grantees can connect with each other and supports leaders in professional and organizational development.
Alexis and Lety describe two specific programs offered by LCFC:
- Ayuda Colorado was launched in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ayuda Colorado was specifically designed to support and stabilize Latino and targeted nonprofit organizations and immigrant and refugee organizations through direct grants, organizational capacity building, and resource acquisition.
- Adelante Colorado is a program that was informed and guided by a group of concerned Latino leaders. The program is dedicated to building the capacities of Latino-led and -serving nonprofits and leaders in Colorado. Through a culturally-grounded process, 23 established nonprofit organizations were selected as members of the three-year Adelante Colorado cohort.
These unique programs and LCFC’s relationship-forward philosophy generated great interest and many questions from the webinar audience. Here is the full Q&A from the October 26, 2021 webinar, including questions answered live!
- Can you share the three ways you determine “Latino-led” for your grantees?
To be considered “Latino-led,” an organization needs to meet two out of three criteria:
Executive director is Latino
Board of directors is at least 51% Latino
Senior staff is at least 51% Latino
Overall, the criteria help identify who within the organization identifies as Latino so we know the organizational leaders are part of the community being served.
- What is your organization’s staffing size?
Our organization has 10 staff members, nine full-time and one part-time. Many of us have multiple titles. We have a president and chief executive officer, two vice presidents, and various director and manager-level positions. It is a small staff, but we get a lot done. We are currently looking into a potential reorganization to make sure staff members are logically placed to be most effective within the community.
- Can you discuss how you approach trust-based philanthropy for a multi-year grant?
Many of the people selected for the cohort are from organizations that we know well, but not all of them. Selections for this capacity-building cohort were made through a uniquely culturally-grounded process that started with a Conocimiento, or “getting to know you,” phase. Through this inventive approach, LCFC was able to reduce the philanthropic emphasis on transactional documents and traditional metrics, and instead prioritize personal conversations with applicants —conversations that led to an understanding of each unique organization’s vision, leadership, and path for evolution.
- How did you go about funding Adelante Colorado? Did your funding partners commit to a three-year grant to your foundation so you can then distribute grants to your nonprofit cohort members?
Yes, we received multi-year funding and then passed it along. Our primary funder for this program is the Colorado Health Foundation. They see how support from established local organizations is benefiting the health of the Latino community. We couldn’t make these multi-year commitments without funders.
- How do you keep board members engaged and committed? We have a challenge keeping the same board members involved given that many local nonprofits are led by volunteers as opposed to paid staff.
Our board functions as a typical nonprofit foundation board. They are amazing and helped develop the “Latino-led” definition that requires meeting two out of our three criteria. It was developed by a committee that involved staff and board members who came together and decided on the criteria together. In addition to being a working board, they provide financial assistance. We are also happy board members are required to be representative of the community.
- Do you limit the monthly roundtables to your grantees or are they also open to non-grantees that are interested in being part of the community building?
The roundtables were originally only for executive directors of organizations that were current or past grantees. We started to extend the group by inviting community members who do strong community work but not necessarily for an organization. Over time, we extended the opportunity and now it's open to two high-level staffers from each organization, and the roster of organizations has been extended to include organizations that are recommended to us. We ask roundtable participants to refrain from forwarding the invite, but invite them to let us know if there’s someone they think should join and then we add them.
- Could you talk more about how "branching logic" works within Foundant’s Grant Lifecycle Manager (GLM) system? I am in the process of developing an application and would like to create it in both Spanish and English and avoid creating two processes.
The GLM system has a built-in Google Translate feature, but to create the most equitable application process possible, we manually translate everything that goes into the system and do not rely on this feature. Once everything is pre-translated before being built into the system, we then utilize the GLM feature that allows for question branching. With this option, an applicant can select either English or Spanish at the beginning of the process and then see only the fields that correspond to their selected language for that form. This does need to be built into each form (application, final report, etc.). And it's important to note that the set field names can't be changed because they are system-wide in GLM. This only relates to a few fields, such as NAME, but it’s worth noting.
- I love LCFC’s strategy for enabling different ways to report/share/provide information outside of the current dominant cultural ways (i.e., reports). Are there other examples of your flexible grantmaking process?
We try to make our application process as easy as possible and take into account what we know about organizations based on relationships we have built with them when developing each application. We start with an earlier template but create each new grant application, evaluation, and report based on what we knew before, and what we have since learned from our grantees. We encourage people to call us or email us with questions at any point throughout the process. When possible, we offer Q&A sessions with potential grantees when grant periods first open or when introducing a new funding opportunity. We give a lot of extensions, reminders, and anything else we can do to make sure we get the information we need, but not necessarily on our own timeline.
- Do you pay community members to provide input in program design?
That is a great question and, to my knowledge, we haven't paid community members to provide input on program design. We've worked hard to always pay honorariums to anyone who's speaking at our events, so payment does happen in those circumstances. We have also had a fellowship program and many of the fellows who were paid did help inform our grantmaking programs on several occasions. However, overall, we do not have anything set up where we can afford to financially compensate folks directly for program design. But we always strive for two-way learning and share data when possible.
- Did introducing a bilingual grant application/grant cycle process bring new organizations to your foundation? If so, how has this access benefitted the organizations served by LCFC?
On a purely anecdotal level, a volunteer at an organization recently reached out for advice because she found the application and wanted to fill it out, but was reluctant since she, as a white woman who helped with administrative work, was not a Latino leader in the organization. The Spanish-speaking leaders, however, needed her input because she dealt with administrative matters. Therefore, I told her to fill out both an English and Spanish form, and then I would piece them together, as necessary. This enabled the organization to tell their own story, rather than have it come from a secondary source, and she could provide the administrative details on the English form.
- Did you provide grants to new grantees during Ayuda Colorado? If so, how did you quickly develop a relationship with new grantees?
The first round of grants for Ayuda Colorado only went to known grantees. But for round two, when we distributed general operating funds, we opened it up to any organization that met our criteria. In round one, we asked known grantees to tell us about "recommended organizations," which produced 30 to 40 names. Most of them were either already known to us, or not eligible for funding because they weren't official 501c3s or did not meet some of our criteria. However, we did receive the names of about 10 new organizations that we then added to our "potential grantee list" in the CommunitySuite system and sent an announcement. We ended up with five to eight new grantees in rounds two and three through this process.
- How is LCFC planning to measure the impact of Adelante Colorado?
We have evaluations in place but are still figuring out how to make the process as easy as possible for applicants. We are also planning to collect audits and organizational budgets each year an organization is part of the grant program. We would like to be able to compare the growth that occurs or other ways an organization may have shifted while participating in our grant program. We will also conduct a survey at the beginning and end of the program to measure leadership progress for each organization. Overall, these evaluations will be more qualitative than quantitative to help us better understand how the organizations have progressed.
- We’ve discussed offering grant applications in both English and Spanish, but I worry about being authentic and supportive in our ability to maintain relationships. How do you accomplish this across the foundation? I would contract the translation but still worry about the burden on Spanish-speaking staff.
This is definitely something to consider as organizations seek to be more inclusive of non-English speakers. Not everyone at LCFC is bilingual in English and Spanish, but because we have a staff that is primarily made up of the population served, we have enough bilingual staff to be able to support our Spanish-speaking grantees. If we are requiring staff to communicate with Spanish-speaking grantees/community members, we try to be very explicit if that is part of someone's job description rather than an add-on task, so it does not become a burden. If engaging the Spanish-speaking community is important to your foundation, we recommend considering how this would impact the organization and what structures (e.g., hiring bilingual staff or an interpreter) would be needed. In addition to having a staff that is greater than 60% bilingual, we budget a significant amount of money for translators for written materials and interpreters for live events.
- Could you elaborate on the process you’re using in Phase 2 of the Adelante Colorado program to assess capacity and determine the roadmap for a group’s project?
As mentioned, Adelante Colorado supports the capacity-building needs of the cohort through a culturally relevant three-phase approach:
Phase 1 – Mindset of the Organizational Leadership
Phase 2 – Defining the Vision, Assessing of the Organization, Building the Roadmap
Phase 3 – Putting the Plan into Action
We've created an organizational assessment that each grantee will be required to complete at the beginning of Phase 2. Grantees are asked to evaluate where the organization stands in areas including strategic planning, program alignment with their mission and vision, board and nonprofit governance, fund development, evaluation systems, communications, and financial management. The assessment will help leaders identify strengths and opportunities for the organization. Once they do this, they'll decide how to use their funding to help create a roadmap that outlines how they will address organizational gaps and capitalize on strengths as they move onto Phase 3. We'll use their answers to help guide them in the process and support them by providing resources and suggestions, as needed, based on where they are in their organizational journey.
- How many applications did you receive for Adelante Colorado and how many grants were given out?
Initially, we received about 47 applications and planned to have a cohort of 10 to 12 members. However, we ended up selecting 23 because we had so many great applicants. This is still a pilot program, and we are evaluating whether continuing with a cohort of that size makes sense as we open up the application process for future cohorts. Any changes will be guided by our evaluations of current experiences and what we want people to have moving forward.
- What is your grant distribution amount?
LCFC's grant distribution varies year to year. In 2019, that amount was only around $230,000. In 2020, it was close to $1 million in response to COVID-19. In 2021, it's around $650,000. It's important to note the multi-year Adelante Colorado funding has paid out very little in Phase 1 (2021). About 85% of the Adelante Colorado commitment will be paid out in Phases 2 and 3 in 2022 and 2023. Each organization in total will have $45,000 to $150,000 by the end of their Adelante Colorado grant, but most organizations have only received $10,000 to 25,000 to date.
- Who provides the training/skill-building support to grantees? Is it LCFC staff or other topic experts from the community?
It's a combination of our staff and consultants. For example, our executive director has significant experience and is offering a workshop on transformative organizational change. There are topics that our staff is well-equipped to provide training on for our grantees. We also ask for funding to enable us to bring in consultants and experts to talk about different topics.
- How do you document your conversations with your grant partners/applicants?
Conversations with applicants are recorded for internal purposes, but we also have staff members who take notes during virtual calls. Some staff keep notes in our CommunitySuite system and some use more informal note-taking methods.
- Assuming you use an evaluation panel, how are you finding the right panelists?
It depends on which process we are using. We generally have internal reviewers, along with some community members and prominent leadership groups. Community members are not always as involved in the process as they should be. It would be great to get their input on more conversations. In fact, we hope to involve previous grant recipients in the evaluations of the next cohort to better include the community's voice. We hope this will make our process even more equitable. It's also important to note that the evaluation form is different for every process. It is a starting point for our decision-making process that enables us to weigh personal input with quantitative data to make the best decisions possible.
- Are your evaluators publicly listed/known? If not, why? If yes, how is that going?
Our evaluators are not publicly known but we would love to learn more about how that is being implemented at other organizations because transparency is incredibly valuable. It is something we could move towards in the future, but being in a small community presents challenges. In the past, we have had some evaluators who had to abstain from many applications because the more connected someone is, the more likely they are to be faced with a conflict of interest and be forced out of the process.
The Latino Community Foundation of Colorado has adjusted its grantmaking process and created unique programs to increase access and help their grantees build capacity. By setting eligibility criteria, offering bilingual applications and forms, emphasizing flexibility and relationship-building conversations instead of rigid grant requirements, and creating a space where grantees can connect and learn from each other, they have demonstrated many unique ways to truly “meet the community where it’s at.”