Posted on March 4, 2020 | Leni Dworkis, Weissberg Foundation
Last September, the Weissberg Foundation issued a request for proposals (RFP) for our inaugural Disrupt, Move, Voice Power (DMV Power) program area. The DMV Power fund invests in communities of color building power in the District, suburban Maryland, and Virginia to advance more racially equitable outcomes.
In January, we offered two-way feedback calls to all who applied for but did not receive funding. Of these 82 applicants, 47 accepted our invitation. On each call, in addition to providing context around how and why decisions were made, we solicited feedback on how both we as foundation and philanthropy in general can improve grantmaking processes. This critical feedback helps hold us accountable in being increasingly equitable and accessible to organizations working to advance racial equity and working to build power in communities of color.
What Worked Well
The following themes emerged around particular elements of the application process that were appreciated:
- The process felt more human. People appreciated the informational webinar as a touch point to become more familiar with the Foundation’s work and the program area specifically. Applicants felt like staff was very accessible throughout the application process and highlighted that the two-way feedback calls added to a sense of dignity.
- We were transparent. People liked not only that our values were so clearly presented in the program design, but that we took time to have honest and reflective conversations with applicants. They felt the feedback we gave, for the most part, was on par with what they had expected to hear and appreciated our willingness to answer questions or respond to comments about the process.
- Our LOI questions helped them reflect critically about their work. Applicants repeatedly stated that questions were thoughtfully designed and made them think critically about what they are doing to build power and how their work centers and works toward advancing racial equity. Our questions also helped to de-center metrics when thinking about racial justice work and instead promoted the use of narrative to bolster organizational impact.
- The process was thorough and streamlined. The information presented was clear and the directions were helpful. It felt less onerous than other processes because of the amount of detail that was provided, which left less room for ambiguity in the submission process.
- We centered experience. People appreciated hearing about the diversity of our review team and that we included community reviewers in our processes, all of whom were people of color with ties to advocacy and organizing in the region.
Recommendations for Improvement
The following suggestions emerged around ways for us to improve our application processes going forward:
- Be even more detailed. Some applicants wanted more guidance in responding to questions, particularly those who were submitting proposed projects or applying in partnership with other organizations. They felt unclear about how to delineate roles, responsibilities, impacts, and outcomes in a more meaningful way. They suggested we may want to make the questions even more specific and be even more explicit about what we are looking for.
- Identify an overall page limit for the application and allow attachments. Many of those we spoke with thought that we should have had overall page limits instead of the very large character count limits for each question. People also suggested that having an option to add attachments would help paint a more complete picture for the review team.
- Make RFP information centralized and consistent. Some applicants noticed differing deadlines in our materials and felt like a closer eye should have been paid to these details. They also felt like information was spread across the RFP and the website, and that it would’ve been helpful to have it more compactly presented.
- Streamline with care. We had a consolidated application process for our Reframing Empowerment Fund grantee partners, and some felt it did not allow them to fully depict their work. They suggested that we make filling out the full application an option for them.
- Share the rubric. A few applicants expressed that having access to our scoring system might have allowed them to think about their answers in a different way. While the scoring rubric was devised using the key criteria we laid out in the RFP, knowing the details around evaluation are still helpful when framing their work.
One of the core values listed in our strategic plan is listening and learning. As a foundation, we are deeply committed to actively soliciting and intentionally integrating applicant and grantee partner feedback into our practices. These recommendations will greatly inform our approaches to grantmaking, application processes and materials, grantee communications, grant reporting, and so much more.
We deeply appreciate all the organizations that submitted applications for DMV Power and are so grateful for the invaluable feedback that was provided. We want to recognize all the incredible work being done across the District, suburban Maryland, and Virginia raising critical questions about the systems and institutions that drive inequities, working to change narratives, and shifting power dynamics to ultimately dismantle structural racism. We welcome any questions about our findings or additional feedback on our processes!
Leni Dworkis is the program manager at the Weissberg Foundation, where she provides robust programmatic support to Grantee partners seeking to advance social, racial, and criminal justice. Prior to joining the foundation in 2019, she served in research and programmatic capacities at the Vera Institute of Justice where she contributed to strategic development initiatives, measurement and evaluation efforts, and exploratory investigation around reaching and serving under-resourced and marginalized crime victims. Her long-standing passion for working with and giving voice to underserved populations has fueled her interests in breaking down oppressive barriers and rebuilding social structures to better meet the needs of all individuals.