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Small Steps to Great Impact in Trust-Based Philanthropy

As we settle into 2023, we know that many funders are determining how to best implement some of their lessons learned from last year, while looking for jumping off points for where and how they can go deeper in their work. Some of the questions we hear are: How can we improve our grantmaking to be in more line with trust-based philanthropy?  How can we view and implement our work through a social impact lens?  How can we ensure that community voices and needs are driving our funding agenda? And how can we strengthen and deepen the funder/grantee relationship?

At TCC Group, we applaud these efforts; as a learning organization we know that change and innovation require a dynamic understanding of the sometimes-rapid societal shifts and trends as well community challenges and needs. Small steps and incremental change can lead to great transformation, and we encourage funders to embrace curiosity by trying new ideas in the pursuit of continuous improvement and more responsive grantmaking. Below, we share some practices and resources to inspire and animate your grantmaking, relationships with grantees, and impact in communities.

Practice #1:
Consider incorporating or increasing general operating support

Investing in the overall health of an organization has long-term benefits for the programs that you find most compelling, and that are most impactful in communities. With unrestricted support, organizations are able to maintain and improve key resources and assets, including staff compensation and wellness, technology and infrastructure. General operating support is also a demonstration of trust and can be a powerful tool in advancing relationships between grantees and their funders while also allowing organizations to be more responsive to community needs as they arise.

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  • Dip your toe in: Structure grants as fully general support or include an extra 15-20% general operating support allocation within program support grants.
  • Dive deeper: Engage in conversations with grantees about their organizational and programmatic needs and adjust the structure of their grants accordingly—some may like matching opportunities, while others may see broad benefits from seed funding for a project you would not have otherwise considered.
  • Did you know? TCC has developed a comprehensive outcomes framework that maps out four key dimensions of General Operating Support, which you can learn more about here.

Practice #2:
Embrace participatory grantmaking

Seeking insights and understanding in order to foster collaboration and action in community is a foundational element in ensuring responsive, equitable and impactful grantmaking.  Community listening invites deep insights borne out of lived experiences, and offers key perspectives on the social and structural determinants of people’s lives and knowledge around barriers, concerns, potential collaborations, and priorities for resource distribution.

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  • Dip your toe in: Meet with your grantees one-on-one to learn more about their work in the community and the realities they are seeing on the ground. Use their feedback to develop more effective and cooperative processes. Consider adding affected community members to your staff and board, and/or engage them through grantmaking advisory committees to ensure that their role is meaningful and significant.
  • Dive deeper:  Design a series of community listening sessions intended to engage a wider range of thought leaders, community leaders and individuals around honest conversations to gain a deep understanding of the nuances of each community, its people, issues and opportunities.
  • Did you know? Community engagement and cultural responsiveness can be designed and implemented through various aspects of a program. TCC has developed four strategies that program managers can adopt.

Practice #3:
Extend the length of funding commitments

Like general operating support grants, longer-term investments are a demonstration of trust to both the organization itself and to other funders considering a grant, with the added benefit of improving the organization’s ability to focus on strategic organization and programmatic priorities. More importantly, we know from grantee organizations that funders help drive transformation and sustainability when they allow the time and space for organizations to be strategic. Longer grant terms are the mechanism that create an environment where collaborative partners can develop, implement and refine their work, allowing for the breathing room to think and respond holistically to community.

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  • Dip your toe in: Extend the grant terms for grantees you fund on a regular basis—this can have the added benefit of reducing the foundation’s annual administrative burden.
  • Dive deeper: Tailor grant terms to suit grantee timelines and needs. Engage in conversation with grantees about grant terms that would make sense for their expected milestones and outcomes.
  • Did you know? According to Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, flexible grants awarded over longer periods of time can create a more generative ethos, helping both nonprofits and grantmakers achieve their vision for a better world.

Practice #4:
Encourage organizational wellness
and sustainable growth

Healthy organizations are better equipped to deliver stronger and more consistent programming, and to recruit, retain and incentivize staff to commit to the organization over the long-term.  Organizations are consistently evolving to meet the needs of their stakeholders, which takes tremendous energy and investment, and funders can a play a pivotal role in bolstering an organization’s capacity for this.

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  • Dip your toe in: Make explicit in grant agreements that funding can be used for non-programmatic expenses, including activities like staff retreats, conferences, and learning. Consider adding an additional percentage to the grant specifically for this purpose.
  • Dive deeper: Fund and administer learning communities where grantees can learn together, foster connections, share resources, and troubleshoot in a communal setting. Learning communities can be virtual or in person and can be designed to help individual participants, organizations, or an entire cohort address their capacity strengths and/or challenges.
  • Did you know? TCC has developed statistically validated Core Capacity Assessment tools that can help nonprofits and foundations assess their institutional capacity strengths and challenges.

Practice #5:
Reimagine reporting tools and requirements

A critical way that funders can embed equity in their grantmaking is by reducing the burden put on grantees throughout the application and reporting processes. Decreasing the amount of data required, streamlining tools, and offering innovative ways in which organizations can apply for and report out on grants goes a long way in strengthening the funder/grantee relationship. In addition, this provides information that is relevant and important to the field and moves the needle on important social issues.

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  • Dip your toe in: Look at your templates. What data do you use to make funding decisions and what is “nice to have”? What do you actually need and use? Consider getting rid of the rest. Spend some time thinking about out of the box ways to collect data, like attending an organization’s event, scheduling a call, video submissions, or other creative outputs in place of traditional proposals and reports.
  • Dive deeper: Solicit feedback from grantees about what data would be helpful from a field perspective and structure your materials in such a way that the data can be shared as a community resource.
  • Did you know? Often the questions funders ask in applications are already answered in the organization’s public documents, but you need to know where to look.

With over 40 years of experience working with private and corporate funders, TCC Group has a depth of knowledge to help guide foundations and nonprofits accelerate social change.

To learn how TCC Group can support your organization in creating maximum impact, reach out to Erica Weinberg, Director of Grantmaking Services.

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