Early Learnings from the Reframing Washington Empowerment Fund: Part 2

Posted on March 26, 2018 | Corinne Goudreault and Hanh Le, Weissberg Foundation

Feedback from Applicants on Our Grantmaking Process

Last fall, the Weissberg Foundation issued a request for proposals (RFP) for our inaugural Reframing Washington Empowerment Fund. Two weeks ago, in the first of this two-part blog series, we shared insights gained from community-based organizations, peer funders, philanthropy support organizations, and community members as we developed and rolled out this new program. This second post in our series focuses on feedback we received about our grantmaking process – both what worked and what could be improved.

For context, we offered a two-way feedback call to everyone who applied for but did not receive an Empowerment Fund grant. 34 out of 56 applicants accepted our invitation. In addition to sharing feedback to the applicant on strengths of their application, why they were not selected for a grant, and how they might approach other funding opportunities, we solicited feedback on how we as a foundation and philanthropy in general could improve our grantmaking processes. Continuing to refine our processes will help us get the information we need to make good grant decisions in the most respectful way from our nonprofit partners.

Key takeaways from the feedback on our grantmaking process:

  • Get the RFP as right as possible. As this was new grant program for us, we were building the whole program at the same time we were writing the RFP, and even after the RFP had been issued. This means that criteria we ultimately used to assess submitted applications were more nuanced and specific than what we included in the RFP. When we shared the assessment criteria with applicants on the feedback calls, some said they wished they had been as explicitly shared in the RFP.
  • Keep the grant process right-sized and streamlined. People generally felt our online application system, Foundant, was easy to use and allowed for a simple application experience. Applicants felt the three-step application process was generally straightforward – the quick eligibility quiz helped them determine whether they should even apply for a grant; the letter of intent (LOI) and the full proposal phases requested a reasonable amount of information. A few applicants did perceive an overlap in information requested for the LOI and full proposal. Since that wasn’t our intention, we want to be even more thoughtful in how we frame our questions.
  • Keep offering informational calls. Many applicants expressed appreciation for the informational conference call we held shortly after issuing the RFP. On the call, we covered key points from the RFP, such as program goals, eligibility criteria, how to apply, and selection criteria, and fielded questions from participants (some of which we used to expand the RFP FAQ section on our website). We also recorded the call, so that those unable to join could easily access the conversation afterwards. Applicants felt that the call, and the ability to ask questions, offered clarity around our priorities, expectations, and technical process.
  • Share the learning. We received several requests to share learnings from our grantee partners throughout the grant year to facilitate organizations working to advance racial justice learning with and from each other.
  • Help force the conversation on racial equity. A few applicants mentioned that our feedback would allow them backing they needed to return to their boards and senior leadership and say that funders are looking for organizations to advance racial equity not just through programming, but through their operations and governance as well.
  • Make feedback calls the norm. Nearly everyone we spoke with encouraged us to continue offering two-way feedback calls with grant applicants and to encourage other funders to do the same. Not only do these conversations offer support to grant seekers, but they provide invaluable insights and advice on how to make our programs and our foundation more equitable, inclusive, and efficient.

Thanks to all the organizations that took the time to submit applications to the Empowerment Fund. The fact that we couldn’t fund everyone is more an indication of limited resources than of the importance and impact of the work so many organizations are doing to advance racial equity in our region.

Check out the ten 2018 Reframing Washington Empowerment Fund grantees! Stay tuned (and follow us on Twitter @WeissbergFdn) for more updates on the Empowerment Fund. Please reach out to us if you want more information about any of these topics, want to offer more feedback on our process, or are initiating a similar program at your organization.

Corinne Goudreault is the Program Associate at the Weissberg Foundation, where she provides a wide variety of administrative and programmatic support, including working on the Reframing Washington program area. She has been with the foundation for over two and a half years, prior to which she worked with several nonprofits in her home state of North Carolina.

Hanh Le is the executive director of the Weissberg Foundation, where she oversees strategy development, stakeholder engagement, grantmaking, and operations. Prior to joining the foundation, she was the chief program officer at Exponent Philanthropy, where she led educational programming, content development, and internal learning efforts. Hanh has directed training, grant, and technical assistance programs for KaBOOM!, Community Technology Centers’ Network, and the Peace Corps.

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