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Adjusting the Grantmaking Process to Address Equity and Inclusion

We asked our clients to share the work they’re doing in the areas of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion and, no surprise, they went above and beyond. We are truly inspired by their responses and our follow up conversations, and look forward to sharing these stories with you in a series of blog articles to provide practical ideas for your organization and community.

Grantmakers have an opportunity to examine their grantmaking process and consider what changes could help increase access to funding for the communities experiencing the greatest inequities.

Find inspiration and actionable ideas for your own organization by reading about adjustments, both large and small, that several organizations leading change across very different communities have made to support equity, inclusion, and justice (EIJ).

Understanding Impacted Communities and Root Causes

Funders know that proactively asking individuals about their experience is the best way to truly understand a community's needs. This has never been more important than when addressing issues of equity.

"Equity requires us to understand the communities that we are working with," states Diego Zegarra, Vice President of Equity and Impact at Park City Community Foundation (PCCF).

Zegarra credits nonprofits for how well they are able to react to emergencies, but also invites them to proactively examine the root causes of the issues and the systems that are in place. 

"What we know now in this equity journey is that when we center voices of communities experiencing the inequities we seek to address, our programs are better, our funding decisions are better, our initiatives have greater impact, and that's what donors care about at the end of the day," explains Zegarra.

Expanding Programs to Meet Community Needs 

When a generous donor approached Park City Community Foundation about launching a program to increase Latinx youth participation in skiing and snowboarding, PCCF talked with community members to better understand their needs. They learned that participation was not just low in snow sports, but across all non-school activities. In fact, Latinx participation across youth sports and recreation averaged just four percent, while 20 percent of students in the Park City School District identify as Latinx.

PCCF decided to expand the scope of the Solomon Fund to more broadly "facilitate access to sports and recreation opportunities to Latinx youth to create a more inclusive, and complete community." The program addresses several barriers that currently hinder Latinx participation, including communication and outreach, transportation, scholarships, and gear. In addition to managing the grants process, PCCF staff provide support by organizing family sign-up events, providing translation services for partner marketing materials, and guiding families through the opportunities throughout the year. In 2020, just four years after the fund was created, Solomon Fund participation rates hit 19 percent, nearly reaching its goal of having Latinx participation directly reflect the demographics of the school district. 

Supporting Front-line Organizations

Seeking to directly address racial equity gaps, Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville (CFGH) launched its Racial Equity Fund to provide grant funding for "nonprofit organizations that are on the front lines addressing the issue of racism and inequity in the community." 

The Racial Equity Fund provides grant funding to address equity gaps in the following areas that affect quality of life:

  1. Criminal justice system
  2. Education and job readiness 
  3. Health and wellness 
  4. Income and wealth creation
  5. Neighborhoods and communities

When establishing the fund, CFGH was intentional in establishing a majority minority grants committee to include voices from impacted communities. In just the first grant cycle, CFGH was able to distribute $115,000 to 13 different organizations.

Program Officer Ann Kvach explains, "We tried to be very intentional about looking at smaller, grassroots organizations that may be working in the minority community."

Appreciating Smaller, Grassroots Organizations

During the pandemic, Pasadena Community Foundation reframed the question they were asking nonprofits. Instead of inquiring about their organizational needs, Pasadena Community Foundation staff asked nonprofits what they were seeing in the community. When food insecurity and support for vulnerable homebound seniors were clearly identified as two of the greatest community needs, Pasadena Community Foundation sought to fund nonprofits doing the most work in these areas. They discovered some smaller, grassroots organizations doing great work.

Senior Program Officer Kate Clavijo reflects, "Honestly, I think if I looked back at Pasadena Community Foundation's funding history, these nonprofits might have been less likely to have received our traditional capital grant in the past." Clavijo continued, "What we've learned and what we'll incorporate is an appreciation for these smaller, grassroots, low budget organizations that we saw become the true champions of serving the community."

Adjusting Grant Applications

Adding Equity-related Questions 

Seeking to institutionalize this increased accessibility for smaller, grassroots organizations, Pasadena Community Foundation plans to adjust a question about population served on its new Racial Equity Grant Program application. Instead of asking an open-ended question that is difficult to measure and summarize, they will also include a quantitative question to better ensure they are reaching the communities with the greatest needs.

Other organizations reported adding equity-related questions to their grant applications. Kim Konikow, Executive Director at North Dakota Council on the Arts, explains, "We now ask more established applicants how they address diversity equity, and inclusion as part of their strategic plan." 

Foundations Community Partnership (FCP) in Newtown, Pennsylvania, has added a question about whether a nonprofit's programs and services match the clients they serve, and whether the nonprofit's clients have input about types of programming they are offering. While FCP does not score the question, they hope it helps raise awareness among grantseekers, particularly small and medium-sized organizations, about the importance of equity, inclusion, and justice so that they can be more successful in any grant application process.

Simplifying Grant Applications 

Smaller organizations without professional grant writers or with fewer staff don't have time to prepare long, complex grant applications. Therefore, removing unnecessary questions can also help make grant applications more accessible. 

Ann Kvach shares, "As a community foundation, we sit in that role where we are both applying for and awarding grants. We understand the challenges of the process and want to make sure that we are being intentional in not causing hurdles for our nonprofits."

Kim Konikow agrees that complex or undefined language a be a barrier for grantseekers. While the National Endowment for the Arts requires North Dakota Council on the Arts to ask specific questions that are not necessarily essential to the evaluation process, Konikow sees an opportunity to move these from its grant applications to grantees' final reports to avoid overwhelming potential applicants on the front end of the process.

Offer Grant Writing Training 

Also seeking to extend their reach and connect with organizations that may not have dedicated grant writing staff, Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville staff offered a webinar focused on the "Top 10 Things To Know" about grant writing. The session, based on knowledge staff had gained while participating in grants committee meetings, was so popular that CFGH had to increase their Zoom license. 

Funders can use a variety of strategies to increase access and address equity in the grantmaking process. Look for opportunities to include members of the community you are seeking to serve in the process. Identify nonprofits that are addressing the inequities your organization is seeking to address, or even establish your own equity grants. Getting started on this journey can be as simple as reviewing your grant applications. Is there an opportunity to ask a question that will help address equity and inclusion, or are there unnecessary questions you can remove to simplify the process and make it more accessible for smaller, grassroots organizations? Also consider how you can support grantseekers by sharing tips to make the process more accessible for organizations with limited resources.

Additional Resources

Read the other posts in this series:

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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