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PEAK Grantmaking

A reflection about philanthropy, power, and change – could grants work be the change we are wanting to see?

I remember the first time I heard the word philanthropy. It was as a child watching the Wizard of Oz. The Wizard, we find out later in the movie is an ordinary man with a lot of social media, just trying to do the work of being the wizard everyone wants. In the scene I am thinking of, the wizard is explaining what a philanthropist is and he says it means a “good deed doer.”

Those of us who work in the world of philanthropy are called to be about “doing good.” However, once I was employed inside the field of philanthropy, I quickly realized that many of us are often doing other “stuff” that doesn’t feel very actively connected to the “doing good.” That realization made me wonder how I could be more connected to doing good in my day-to-day work in philanthropy.

I wondered where equity could live in the process of grantmaking, where so many of those in the field of philanthropy spend their time. I understand that equity isn’t always on everyone’s radar and many foundations may not even have equity as a part of the vision, mission, or operations. Yet, I believe that the desire for equity can’t just remain in our individual hearts. Even if equity is not the focus of our organizations or if our foundations are just starting their change efforts, there are ways that grants personnel can begin to embed equity in grant process.

What if grant process could be a path to change itself, a way of shifting who has information and who gets heard? What could happen if we looked at the steps of grantmaking as a shared knowledge process that was an avenue for building relationships and fostering deeper understandings of community? What if grants personnel could create paths for prompting change through the questions we ask, the data we collect, and the relationships that we build in our daily work?

There are key concepts that we need to transform to embed equity in the grant process. The shift that is possible begins — not with elaborate tools or models — but with opening-up these core concepts and asking ourselves how to build power with others through our work. Making these shifts is the focus of an upcoming webinar about finding ways to do good through the grant process itself.

Grants managers sit at the core of knowledge practice and are in a key role to help foundations ask the right questions and hear and see information in ways that matter for impact and social change. View this article’s accompanying webinar recording, Embedding Equity Inside and Out: How Grantmaking Process and Change Go Hand-in-Hand (when available), and others!