In an effort to be more open, we would like to explain how we developed our grantmaking process including the timing, grant amounts, types of grants, grant durations and geography. In addition, we are sharing the information that has most influenced our thinking to date as it relates to this collaborative funding effort. The following is a brief recap of the conversations and decisions the initial funders for the Fund for Shared Insight have held thus far. We look forward to hearing from you about whether posting this kind of information is helpful to grantee organizations.

Background and Decisions

In the first year of our initiative, we considered several options for how we might approach our collective grantmaking. The variables included:

Process: Open vs. Closed 

We discussed whether to hold an open grant process involving letters of inquiry followed by requests for proposals versus a closed process targeting a select respondent list for each of the three categories of funding.

  • An open process would model the openness we desire in our work and would likely mean more grant proposals and competition for funding. It would also be a lengthier process and more time-consuming for all involved. 
  • A closed process would be a shorter process and less time-consuming; however, we might miss unique funding opportunities.

Decisions:

  • To hold an open grantmaking process for all three categories of funding in order to benefit from the widest variety of possible grantees that may be pursuing this work and model the openness we seek to support. 

  • We decided to ask for a single straightforward proposal in response to a tightly written request for proposal instead of a two-stage letter of interest and proposal process to minimize the work required for applicants.

Process: Timing 

We discussed whether to cluster grantmaking decisions into one of our Fund for Shared Insight advisory committee meetings out of the three we hold each year or spread out the grantmaking across the three meetings.

Decision:

  • We decided we will aim to make all our 2014-15 grants (year 1) at our November 2014 meeting. Based on the kinds of proposals we receive and fund and what we learn in this first round, we will remain open to additional funding opportunities in subsequent meetings.

Grants:  Amounts, Types, Duration, Grantee Experience, and Geography

We discussed the right size of grants for each of the three categories given the approximately $5.5M we have to give out each year.  We agreed to devote approximately 80% of our funding for feedback practice and feedback research and approximately 20% to support efforts to increase foundation openness. We also discussed whether to provide general operating support or project support; one-year or multi-year support; whether we would fund more established versus start-up organizations; and whether we had any preferences or limitations around geography (U.S. vs. international).

Decisions:

Grantmaking Categories: I. Feedback Practice
II. Feedback Research
III. Increasing Foundation Openness
Amounts

Minimum grant size $300K. We will also consider making 1-2 larger, multi-year investments

We recognize engaging in this work may require significant financial resources.

Grant size range $100K - $300K, with a desire to make fewer large grants as opposed to many smaller grants

We thought at first about funding a lot of small grants to many different philanthropy infrastructure organizations, using this as a “political pot of money.” After brief discussion, we decided that along with making this category an open grantmaking process, we want to use these funds to support the best ideas and activities from organizations that are already working to advance openness in the philanthropic sector.

Types

Make general operating support grants where we can

We believe providing unrestricted funding builds strong organizations and gives them the much needed flexibility to invest in their own success.

Make general operating support grants where we can

We believe providing unrestricted funding builds strong organizations and gives them the much needed flexibility to invest in their own success.

Durations

Consider 1-3 year grants (with longer timelines for larger grants)

We recognize this work is difficult and will take time (likely more than three years) to be successful.

Make 1-year grants

This is a relatively smaller pool of funding that is primarily intended to support existing efforts to increase foundation openness. However, we will try to match the size of the grants to the purpose.

Grantee Experience

Preference for organizations that are at least two years old (ideally not start-up organizations) in Year 1

Given we are an early stage funder collaborative launching a new initiative, we are starting our first year of grantmaking together more conservatively by focusing primarily on more established nonprofit organizations with track records of at least two years. We recognize that start-ups typically take more time to manage and support and as we are in “start-up” mode ourselves, we have limited capacity to support fledgling organizations, especially in our first year.

As our experience as a funder collaborative matures, we hope to expand support beyond more established nonprofit organizations.

Preference for organizations that are at least two years old (ideally not start-up organizations) in Year 1

Our intention in this funding area is to support the innovation, expansion and/or evaluation of the work organizations are doing to influence foundation practice. Based on our assumption that most later-stage organizations have had more time to establish strong relationships with foundations and are therefore more influential, our priority will be on funding more established organizations in this work rather than start-up organizations.

Geography

The overall portfolio of funded work will be more domestically focused in Year 1, though some international/ global projects may be funded

Given we are an early stage funder collaborative launching a new initiative, we are starting our first year of grantmaking together more conservatively by focusing primarily on funding U.S.-based 501c3 organizations. In Year 1, we anticipate a large majority of funded work will be domestically focused.

This issue may be revisited over the life of the Fund as we learn more together about the grantees and their work and other possible opportunities for funding internationally.

U.S. based organizations

In this category of funding we seek to support U.S. efforts to increase foundation openness in service of effectiveness; therefore, our target geography is U.S.-based foundations.

NOTE: Organizations may apply for and receive funding in one, two, or all three categories of funding:

I. Feedback Practice
II. Feedback Research
III. Increasing Foundation Openness

Other ways we thought about our emergent grantmaking process:

We thought for a bit about posting all the proposals on our website on an opt-in basis in the spirit of openness. But, we had significant concerns about intellectual property in the proposals and wondered whether we were placing the burden of being open on our potential grantees and instead should be focusing on us as the funder being more open. We checked this idea out with a few nonprofit partners and received overwhelming feedback that we should not pursue this path.