A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Grantmaking for Equity: Essential, Fundamental Practices

Advancing racial equity requires doing our own work as funders. All lean funders should embrace this set of fundamental practices. Some funders have begun. These actions complement a continual journey of learning about systemic racism. Exponent’s community can support and guide you along the way.

Eliminate barriers to entry.

Don’t impose minimum organizational size or budget in your grant guidelines. Consider all organizations including the smallest ones.

Streamline your application and reporting requirements.

Many funders design overly complex processes, burdening nonprofits with time and labor that undermines effectiveness. Question what hoops you put your grantees through, and your own standards of elaborate perfectionism you expect in grantees’ financials and documents. You might also consider accepting proposals written for other funders.

Know the minimum legal requirements for making grants to public charities. Survey your grantees, and use a cost–benefit approach in designing your process, asking yourself what you really need to make grants decisions.

Immerse yourself in your chosen community or issue and get knowledgeable before moving forward.

Funders have unique perspective across organizations. They also have unique access to people with knowledge. Make use of these powers. Invest in learning about your chosen issue or community. A prudent entrepreneur will do a market analysis of the landscape and competition before opening for business.

Engage your family and board in the learning process. The knowledge you develop will help you pinpoint ways to make impact. And, as you learn and engage people, you will cultivate valuable relationships.

Expand your circle and go beyond your comfort zone of acquired knowledge.

Push yourself to go beyond familiar people and organizations. Get to know the work of smaller, grassroots organizations and groups led by people of color. Fund more groups led by people of color.

Get to know your grantees.

Carve out time to listen and learn about your grantees’ real needs, and the field they work in. Often grantees won’t put essential things they need in proposals. Build open, trusting relationships with grantees. You will learn much more and be able to partner, not just fund.

Rethink your data collection.

Ask for data that allows you to identify racial disparities at work in your chosen community or issue. Disaggregate your data by race and gender.

Consider the time horizon for your goals.

Think about how long it will take for you and your grantee partners to fulfill your desired goals. For many funders, desired impact takes several years, a decade, or more. Offer general operating support, capacity building support, and multiyear grants. Impact and change depend on strong, sustainable organizations. Results take time.

Know the stresses on your grantees.

Make it a practice to understand grantees’ income streams. Many funders aren’t aware that the top two revenue sources for nonprofits are earned income and government payments and grants. Knowing if key grantees are facing shortfalls and asking how you can help allows you to be proactive—e.g., by offering funding for cash reserves or capacity building, or by doing advocacy.

Save time and labor for you and applicants.

Make your grant guidelines as specific and clear as possible to maximize the relevancy of proposals you receive. Use web-based questionnaires and letters of inquiry to efficiently determine whether an organization’s work is aligned with your mission, saving nonprofits valuable time.

These are a beginning, not an end. For guidance and support in implementing these practices, join us for programs such as Laying the Groundwork for Catalytic Philanthropy.  Exponent will also offer programs exploring equity over the next months.


  1. fran sykes

    Good article.

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