Our grant process used to be a textbook example of what not to do. We had a really arduous process to access a one-time, $50,000 grant that wouldn’t even fully fund the position for which it was being granted. It was a priority for us in our next strategic plan to redesign our grantmaking, but we didn’t know yet what that was going to look like. Then COVID hit.
The pandemic was a catalyst for us to radically change our grantmaking process overnight. We launched a COVID-19 Response & Recovery Fund in May 2020 because we knew our nonprofit partners needed more access to capital, and we were committed to helping them get it. It was an opportunity to do something totally different from what we had ever done before and accelerate our Trust-Based Philanthropy journey. We explained to our Board that we needed to make a shift to grant unrestricted dollars and give our nonprofit partners the flexibility to use the funds as they needed. We also needed to simplify our application process and eliminate grant reporting.
Our Board is primarily made up of people who are really good at capital investing, and we were basically saying to them, “You know the one thing you’re really good at, and that you’re used to doing a certain way? We’re now going to do it completely differently.” It was a challenge to deliver that message and help them see the value in adopting a more trust-based approach. We reassured them that removing the restrictions on our grants doesn’t mean losing our ability to track impact. We’re still able to see the impact that they’re making in their communities, which our grants are fueling.
Fortunately, we were simultaneously working with members of our Board on a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Task Force discussing issues of power and race. Hearing directly from BIPOC Executive Directors in our network about the damage that our legacy approach to grantmaking had on them as leaders and the burden it placed on their organizations helped fuel the leap of faith required to transition our approach within a matter of weeks.
We have seen powerful shifts in the mindsets of our Board members, who now understand that taking a trust-based approach is how we create equity and justice in philanthropy. This new approach has created opportunities for reciprocal learning and discovery whereas our legacy approach was more of a one-way street where we were the experts sharing our knowledge. Our Board now understands and appreciates the expertise of our nonprofit partners and we have moved to having a dialogue together, recognizing - and respecting - that those closest to the problem are also closest to the solution.