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PEAK Grantmaking

CONNECTing on Responsive Grantmaking for Current Events

In our CONNECT online community, PEAK Grantmaking members generously share their approaches to grantmaking, providing a forum for continuous learning among colleagues. In recent CONNECT threads, members weighed in on grantmaking shifts and foundation practices to be responsive to current events. With their permission, we’re sharing some of those insights here. 

Between the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest due to racial injustice, and a polarizing presidential election, the way the philanthropic sector worked changed significantly and swiftly in the past year. Funders adjusted grantmaking practices, guidelines, and funding areas. In PEAK’s CONNECT online community, members discussed some of these changes.  

Funders shifted internally for COVID flexibility 

Foundations made multiple changes in their internal operations in response to the pandemic and social unrest. As organizations shifted to remote work, many funders began to think about other ways to offer flexibility and accommodation for the challenging life circumstances.  

In CONNECT, Pallavi Bharadwaj, program manager at the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), shared that the organization made some amazing accommodations. They still work 40 hours a week, but have flexibility in choosing what that configuration looks like for them,including the option of a four-day work week. This arrangement was a boon to many employees, particularly those who had to juggle work with care and remote learning for their children. Megan Bell, director of grants and programs at the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, adds that shifting to a four-day workweek has been a huge benefit to staff to help them manage their lives and cope with stressors. What’s more, she reported that there have been no issues with productivity or workloads, and that staff trust one another that the work will get done. “It is a relief to have the flexibility to budget one’s own time, and that culture of trust is transferring into our grantmaking ideology as well,” she says.

Pallavi also shared about SEG’s remote full-time flexibility, and the freedom it provides staff to work in various locations across different time zones. This accommodation is especially helpful for those who have to adapt to shifting life dynamics. 

Other office accommodations discussed included no-meeting Fridays, half-days on Fridays, and flexible work hours. Many members encouraged others to simply ask for these accommodations, as some organizations have expanded the ways in which they support staff during the past year. 

Read more about the four-day workweek here

Funders shifted externally for COVID flexibility 

In addition to internal operational shifts in philanthropy, funders’ grantmaking processes changed significantly. Many foundations offered flexibility in their reporting requirements, decision-making, grant dissemination, turnaround times, site visit options, maintaining grantee relationships, and other facets of the grant life cycle. Grantmakers flocked to CONNECT to get insights on some of these changes.  

Patrick Taylor, grants manager at The Zellerbach Family Foundation, shared quite a few of these changes that they made.

“We’ve allowed most of our grantees to report verbally rather than submitting a written report, and have recently allowed renewal applications to count as the narrative report for renewal grants,” he writes. “We simplified how grantees need to report and track outcomes. We’ve also moved a greater percentage of our grants to general operating support [GOS]. We defaulted to GOS for returning grantees whose work is closely aligned with our strategies and geographic focus, and we moved almost all of our arts grantmaking, which used to be all project-based, to GOS. Thirty-one percent of our grantmaking dollars were for general operating support in 2019, and in 2020 that number went up to 56 percent. In general, we’ve used COVID, as well as conversations around equity and trust-based philanthropy, as an opportunity to make our processes friendlier to grantees.” 

CONNECT members also discussed money dissemination technology and resources, including automatic clearing house payments, wire transfers, cybersecurity concerns, and data management. Robert Mendoza, grants and data manager at the Community Foundation for Monterey County, shared their approach. They used Gravity Forms, a premium WordPress plugin, to collect bank information with a password protected webform, which is saved to a SharePoint document that only their Finance department has access to. Members also discussed DocuSign, Adobe Sign, Bill.com, and Verifyle as other tools they are using to effectively adapt their grantmaking processes without sacrificing security.  

Ultimately, these shifts in practices have proven that the traditionally arduous requirements for grant applications are not necessary for good grantmaking. Permanently adopting these emergency response measures as standard best practices can help to narrow the power gap between funders and grantseekers.  

Learn more by reading PEAK’s Narrow the Power Gap materials.  

Grantmaking priorities shifted to address diversity, equity, and inclusion concerns  

With the social unrest and political uprisings, funders have prioritized diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their grantmaking strategies and procedures. Grantmakers are shifting toward funding new programs and supporting activities that they are not as familiar with, such as racial equity training. They are also looking to make sure that they are not unintentionally funding organizations or practices that intentionally support prejudice and inequity, such as hate groups.  

In discussing policies against grants to hate groups, particularly for donor-advised funds (DAFs), John Bateman, executive director at Starkville Area Arts Council, shared The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Map” as a good resource. For grants from donor-advised funds (DAFs), John reminded members that the sponsoring organization has legal control over DAF funds and that any policies prohibiting grants to hate groups should be specific on how far the prohibition goes. He expressed concern over making grants to organizations that are not classified as hate groups but still accept support from designated hate groups. 

In another discussion around DEI practices, PEAK members discussed community foundations and racial justice. In response to an external argument that community foundations shouldn’t explicitly focus on racial justice because they need to serve everyone, Angela Brown, vice president of CFLeads, shares that recent research shows a growing number of community foundations are insisting on racial equity. Addressing structural racism—the policies, practices, and norms that limit the ability of people of color from fully participating economically and socially—is foundational to the well-being of all communities.

With the recent violent hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, Laia Grino, director of data discovery at Candid, shared that her organization prioritizes tracking both grants and pledges made in response to anti-AAPI violence. Laia shared a racial equity map, which is part of Candid’s suite of materials on special issues around racial equity

Learn more by reading PEAK’s Drive Equity materials

These discussions show that grantmaking should reflect f the changing dynamics of the world around us and respond to current events. And no matter what the future may bring, grantmakers can rely on the PEAK community to aid in the decision-making process to advance grantmaking in an equitable and efficient way.  

Join the conversation 

Participate in the CONNECT online communityopen to all PEAK members—to share your advice and offer solutions for challenges that so many funders are facing. 

Not a member? Explore the benefits of joining PEAK’s powerful network of grants management professionals as a contributing Organization Member, or through a complimentary Individual Membership.