Grant Making Tips

Tip #1 – Effective Grant Making

Over the years, FACT developed a range of practices that guided our grant making and helped us operate more effectively.

Provide general support: Organizations need to pay salaries and electricity. With only project support, they cannot operate the organization to pursue their overall objectives.

Commit to long-term funding: Social change work takes many years. Organizations have short and long term objectives. Knowing they have stable funding allows them to plan their work better and be strategic about what goals to pursue and when.

Give additional funds for strengthening internal management and financial practices: Organizations need strong internal processes. Funders can help support best practices by helping groups pay for management consultants to help develop and implement those skills within organizations.

Invest in grantee coalitions: Encourage, but don’t force, your grantees to work together by funding coalitions as well as the member groups. Coalitions are good vehicles for encouraging organizations to combine their strengths, thus increasing their chances of getting to scale. Coalitions also enable funders to leverage their investment and broaden their impact.

Start with a smaller number of groups and a tight focus: By keeping a tight program focus and funding a smaller number of groups, funders can deepen their knowledge of a particular field and develop stronger relationships with their grantees.

Develop clear criteria for the kinds of groups you fund and articulate them on your website: Grantees appreciate clear communication about foundation objectives. This also includes clear guidelines and grant making practices.

Tip #2 – Giving More: Giving More Strategically, More Leadership and More Money

Over the past 20 years, FACT has supported community-led organizing and advocacy that created public policies to benefit low-income and people of color. As we prepare to exit the field, we have crystallized our approach to grant making as “Giving more.”

Giving more strategically: We chose to support community-led organizations that lift up the voices of those who are most in need of being heard. Whatever foundations choose to fund, we encourage them to develop a theory of change, short-term tactics and long-term objectives. We also believe that if all foundations supported some community-led organizations, our society would be more equitable and experience a greater sense of well-being.

Giving more money: We chose to spend out our entire endowment in a short 20 years. This path is not for everyone. We believe foundations should increase their giving overall, especially in tough economic times. In addition, we encourage all boards of foundations to have a conversation about years of existence and to consider a finite lifespan.

Giving more of your leadership: Organizations need champions. Program officers can share what they are learning with colleagues and encourage other foundations to come to the table. We believe foundations can play a critical role by highlighting the work of their grantees and opening doors for them in the funding community.

Tip # 3 – Strengthening Organizations: Lessons Learned from FACT’s Management Assistance Program

  • Participation should be voluntary and initiated by the grantee.
  • Offer a simple application and approval process.
  • Confidentiality between the consultant and the grantee is key.
  • Choice in selection of the consultant is important to ensure the success of the relationship.
  • Flexibility is essential, as the external and internal landscape is always shifting.
  • Engage the executive director throughout to keep him/her in the loop and committed.
  • Employ a whole systems approach to the work, remembering that any change in one aspect of an organization’s operations will affect all other areas.
  • Link consultant work with other resources, like discretionary grants that will enable groups to make the most of the opportunity.
  • Build a learning team of consultant ambassadors to build the field of capacity building.
  • Evaluate at two levels – assess the individual projects with the consultant and grantee; and evaluate the strengths, challenges and effectiveness of the program overall.

Tip #4 – Mistakes We Made

FACT started out without any grant making experience, so we learned on the job and made our share of mistakes along the way. We believe in transparency and being honest about one’s mistakes.

  • We had a hard time cutting groups loose: we funded some groups longer than we should have.
  • We did not prioritize highly enough the systematic evaluation or learning component of our own grant making prior to exiting the field. We could have used existing evaluation processes to create more substantive quantitative data and to better communicate the qualitative information about our impact.
  • We convened our core grantees twice a year for three years. These gatherings provided a forum for productive conversations and helped build relationships among grantees, but it was probably one year too many for all involved.
  • We didn’t create a system for documenting the victories achieved by our grantees that we could easily reference. Too much of that information was only in our heads.
  • We organized a training on new media, which was modestly successful and was probably something we should have contracted out since foundations should stick to funding.