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Creating an Accessible Grant Process that Minimizes Language Barriers

Funding organizations are continually searching for ways to better serve their constituents. One way to accomplish this is by identifying barriers in the grantmaking process, such as language access. Historically marginalized communities face many challenges and obstacles within the philanthropic sector, as its processes have often been most accessible to white, English-speaking populations. With historically marginalized communities facing even more significant challenges due to the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19, it is of the utmost importance to develop opportunities and programs within the philanthropic sector that provide equitable access and address these challenges.  

The Center for Immigration Studies reports that 67.3 million homes speak a language other than English. In addition, the Migration Policy Institute states that 22% of the population in the United States does not speak English or does not use English as their first language. Community foundations have a huge opportunity to increase their impact by adjusting their grantmaking processes to reduce language barriers and provide these communities with the resources needed to succeed.  

In Foundant’s recent webinar, Building Resilience by Building Access into Your Work, Latino Community Foundation of Colorado (LCFC) shared approaches that community foundations can take to better support historically marginalized populations and provide equitable access to funding opportunities that can help build community resilience.  

Getting Started in Your Organization 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, historically marginalized communities faced more challenges than ever. Many members of these communities are not eligible for stimulus support or unemployment benefits, creating a great need for philanthropic support. Alexis Whitman, former director of communications and grants administration for LCFC, explained, “If you look back at the great recession of 2008 and 2009, nonprofit organizations run by and for people of color were much more likely to be shuttered because they didn’t start with the same capital and resources.”  

Additionally, LCFC found that applicants from historically marginalized communities often spent a significant amount of time filling out an application only to realize they were ineligible due to a social security requirement or abandoned the process after becoming frustrated by language barriers. It is more important than ever that organizations rethink their grantmaking processes to support these communities. The steps listed below outline critical ways for your organization to begin making progress towards a more equitable grantmaking process:  

Start Small 

Developing a grantmaking process that allows for bilingual options requires significant resources and time. Therefore, while your organization creates this process, you can start by taking small steps to support historically marginalized communities in other ways. One option would be to offer direct assistance. Partnering with key community members and organizations to distribute direct aid for housing, food, utilities, and childcare can have an immediate impact. By gearing this initiative towards historically marginalized communities, community members ineligible for unemployment or federal stimulus support are provided with basic necessities. This is a significant first step your community foundation can take to get the ball rolling while preparing your organization to make more substantial adjustments to your grantmaking processes. 

Gather Data 

To enable your foundation to better understand what community members need, it is important to have personal conversations with members of historically marginalized communities. These conversations allow grantees to describe the barriers they face and the frustrations that arise along the way. It is essential to listen to their frustrations and needs so your foundation can directly address the issues at hand. Developing these personal relationships is an integral part of gathering the data needed to adjust your grantmaking process appropriately to reduce any barriers.  

Minimize Language Barriers 

Once you have gathered and analyzed data from personal conversations, your organization can begin breaking down language barriers within the application process. One way to start is by implementing a bilingual application using Google Translate. Foundant’s Grant Lifecycle Manager (GLM) and Scholarship Lifecycle Manager (SLM) solutions integrate with Google Translate, which can be used to display the applicant interface in Spanish and many other languages. This will help translate system fields, navigation buttons, and questions built into the solution into the desired language. However, automated translation has its limitations, and there can be inaccuracies with dialects, idioms, and sentence structure. 

To minimize language barriers more fully, your organization could work with translators to develop bilingual applications using a human touch. Working with an experienced translator can help ensure the translation is clear and accurate for your audience. Focused on serving the Latino community, LCFC contracted with a year-round translator who created Spanish versions of the foundation’s forms for every part of the grant process. The translator also translates documents submitted in Spanish into English, enabling the Latino community to complete the granting process. Based on your organization’s research, determine which language(s) is most common in your community and hire a translator who can help facilitate a fully bilingual experience for grantseekers with limited English proficiency. This complete experience may include offering grantees support by phone, chat, or email. It is also critical to analyze the application review process—will your reviewers be bilingual, or will you translate responses prior to review?  

Another way your organization can increase language access through translators is by offering live interpretation at events. This can be done at in-person and virtual events to ensure that attendees clearly understand the event’s content and details.  

While minimizing these language barriers is essential for supporting populations with limited English proficiency, it is important to realize it takes a lot of work. Alexis stated, “We encourage many of our foundation partners to move toward a bilingual process, but we recognize that it’s a lot of work. I always like to tell people what it takes because I don’t think it’s worth doing if you’re not going to do it well.”  

Form Your Community Cohort 

After implementing the steps above, your foundation can look into forming a community cohort composed of nonprofits led by historically marginalized community members. LCFC created a Latino-led nonprofit cohort that provided members with peer-to-peer learning spaces, skill-building opportunities, cohort-wide meetings, and individual support to build capacity and community in the Latino nonprofit sector. These resources allowed cohort members to share ideas, further board development, and, most importantly, create a safe space for Latino organizations to connect.  

Building on the success of this cohort, LCFC selected 23 established nonprofit organizations for its three-year Adelante Colorado cohort, a project “dedicated to building the capacities of Latino-led and Latino-serving nonprofits and leaders in Colorado.” In addition to financial support, LCFC is “further assisting grantee organizations through leadership development and trainings at four to six collaborative meetings per year to support and envision a unique pathway for a bold and courageous evolution for each organization.” Lety Salinas, former LCFC program manager, explained the foundation’s goal to “build a culturally relevant model that incorporates the values and traditions from within the Latino Community and incorporates social concepts including racial, economic, and language justice which are all areas that affect Latinos.” 

If your organization has the time and resources to develop a similar program, consider bringing together nonprofits led by historically marginalized groups in your community to form a strong cohort focused on breaking down barriers. Through your foundation's support, these nonprofits can maximize their impact on the communities they serve.  

Breaking down the barriers faced by historically marginalized communities in the philanthropic sector is crucial to providing equitable access in the grantmaking process and maximizing your organization's impact. The practical examples and initiatives provided by LCFC can be incorporated into your organization’s funding process to best serve these communities.  

About the Author

Foundant Technologies has specialized in making philanthropy easier and more impactful through innovative software solutions and exceptional client experiences since 2007. Passionate about philanthropy, our team is dedicated to meeting the unique needs of grantmakers, scholarship providers, community foundations, and nonprofits to enable change-makers to make the world a better place for all.

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