Grantmaking for Equity: Essential, Fundamental Practices - Exponent Philanthropy
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Grantmaking for Equity: Essential, Fundamental Practices

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Grantmakers must be intentional about equity and inclusion within their boards, governance, and funding efforts to make an outsized and lasting impact in their communities and issue areas.

Equitable Grantmaking Practices

This fundamental set of practices is an excellent place for funders to start advancing racial equity in philanthropy. That said, these actions are just the beginning. They complement a continual journey of learning about systemic racism.

Eliminate Barriers to Entry

Don’t impose a minimum organizational size or budget in your grant guidelines. Instead, 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, which undermines effectiveness. Question what hoops you put your grantees through. Similarly, consider the elaborate perfectionism you expect in grantees’ financials and documents. By contrast, you might 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 Learn Before Moving Forward

Funders have unique perspectives 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 does a market analysis of the landscape and competition before opening for business.

Engage your family and board in the learning process. The knowledge you gain will help you pinpoint ways to make an 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. For example, 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 fields they work in. Often, grantees won’t put essential things they need in proposals. Build open, trusting relationships with them. 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, the 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—for example, by offering to fund cash reserves or capacity-building, or by engaging in 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. To save nonprofits valuable time, use Web-based questionnaires and letters of inquiry to efficiently determine whether an organization’s work is aligned with your mission.

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About the Author

Andy Carroll advises staff, trustees, and donors of leanly staffed foundations in leadership, advocacy, and catalytic philanthropy. He works to empower more small foundations to leverage their unique position and assets to catalyze change on important issues. Andy has an MBA from the University of Michigan Business School and 30 years of experience in management, training, and program development for nonprofit organizations. Follow him on Twitter @andycarrollexpo, and check out his Catalytic Philanthropy Podcast. 


  1. fran sykes

    Good article.

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