Last month, we attended and presented at PEAK Grantmaking’s virtual webinar series Narrowing the Power Gap and Implementing Flexible Practices, along with over 100 grantmakers representing diverse segments of philanthropy. The forum offered a blend of core concept learning, plenary and small-group dialogue, and case study examples to help attendees reimagine grantmaking “toward a more equitable, effective, and efficient practice between grantmakers and grantseekers … that values equally the resources each brings to the partnership.”

A joint report from PEAK and Exponent Philanthropy provides evidence of this shift. Surveying over 1,000 respondents, the report found that during the height of the pandemic in 2020, two-thirds of grantmakers reduced application requirements, eliminated or reduced reporting requirements, or altered their typical decision-making processes. Over 75 percent had open and transparent conversations with grantees about their organizational risks and impacts to program delivery and long-term sustainability, and almost half surveyed grantees or their communities to help anticipate emerging needs.

While these are encouraging signs, many funders not yet committed to sustaining needed changes over the long-term. We believe funders should build on the trends from last year and accelerate progress toward transformative grantmaking that narrows the power gap, in order to increase equity within the philanthropic sector and increase impact in communities across the country and around the world.

Reflecting on the PEAK series, we identified three potentially transformative takeaways that funders should consider.

  1. Start with Trust Shaady Salehi, Director of the Trust-based Philanthropy Project, notes how traditional grant making was designed around a paradigm of mistrust. Trust-based philanthropy is fundamentally different. “At its core,” she says, “trust-based philanthropy is about redistributing power—systemically, organizationally, and interpersonally—in service of a healthier and more equitable nonprofit ecosystem.”
  2. Prioritize Feedback and Transparency To galvanize trust, listen intently, proactively seek (and use) grantee feedback, and be transparent about grantmaking priorities, criteria, processes, and decision-making.
  3. Tackle what you can and test your assumptions Many funders want to change their grant making processes and practices but don’t know where to start. Redesigning an entire grant-making program can feel overwhelming and even impossible. Our experience suggests that starting with just one program area, award threshold, or grant type is often an effective way to get going.

Read the full article about reflections on transformative giving by Ryan Ulbrich and Krista Batey at Arabella Advisors.