During a recent world-class fit of procrastination, deep in my Twitter feed I found a video of a woman starting a wolf pack howl somewhere in the Arctic Circle. Surrounded by gray wolves on crisp white snow, she cupped her hands around her mouth and gave a long, low scary-movie howl. Within 10 seconds the wolves around her awoke from their midday nap and joined her. Each started howling at different times, and in different pitches. The woman fell silent and listened to the wolves before rejoining them with some color commentary howling of her own.
This made me think of my place in the grants “pack,” and what I want to howl out into the funding universe. Grants have helped to transform communities, impacting everyone and everything living within them—feeding the hungry, healing the sick, cleaning rivers, building parks and libraries, and saving endangered species.
But over the past few months, I have read about, listened to, and interviewed thought leaders who have inspired me to add my voice to the growing chorus calling for true partnerships in grantmaking and grantseeking—and an end to the lone wolf style competition fostered between nonprofits and other agencies that inhibits true growth and positive change.
In the spirit of collaboration, here are some key issues grantmakers and grantseekers can address in different ways, but to the same end.
Restricted Funding vs. General Operating
Grantmakers: Supporting nonprofits or other agencies already doing good and important work through general operating support, or at least general program support, frees them from repetitive restricted funding cycles and burdensome reporting. Unrestricted grants don’t mean a free for all, it means trusting and truly partnering with the people getting the good work done, and giving them the breathing room to do it.
Grantseekers: In person, in conferences, online and wherever you can, reach out and educate foundation staff and board members about how general operating support/unrestricted funding allows nonprofits to become more agile about how to best use their resources with those they serve. If, like me, you were used to dutifully grinding out deadline after deadline and never speaking out, be kind to yourself and those you seek to engage - start slowly.
Let’s Talk About It
Grantmakers: Include nonprofits in your annual conferences, planning sessions, and other educational forums. Discussing the changes you want to see in the nonprofit sector without including meaningful dialogue with members of that sector leaves meaningful insights and information on the table. Many foundation applications require (rightfully so!) proof that potential grantees include those that they serve in the grantees’ planning processes and governance. The same logic should hold true for foundations and their professional associations—include those you want to serve in your strategic planning processes.
Grantseekers: Let’s all make a pact to fully answer the questions funders include on their grant applications that request feedback on their funding processes. And continue to invite funders to participate in regular association meetings such as the local chapters of the Grant Professionals Association and Association of Fundraising Professionals. Go to Grantadvisor.org and review funders anonymously to help educate other grantseekers and grantmakers.
Want to learn more? Check out these thought leaders
Edgar Villanueva: Read his book, Decolonizing Wealth for a thoughtful and provocative challenge to the philanthropic status quo. He is Chair of the Board of Directors of Native Americans in Philanthropy, a Board Member of the Andrus Family Fund, and currently serves as Vice President of Programs and Advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education.
Jessamyn Shams-Lau: As the Executive Director of the Peery Foundation, she co-creates the grantee-focused approach to philanthropy. Learn more here: http://www.peeryfoundation.org/ She also co-authored Unicorns Unite.
Together, grantmakers and grantseekers can work cooperatively, generate some howling good ideas (#sorrynotsorry), and change the world. What are some other ways to improve this important work?
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