Giving Compass' Take:

• Hewlett Foundation discusses how it reevaluated and improved its grant practices in the face of volatile political cycles.

• Among the foundation's lessons: emphasizing shared learning and moving toward longer-term, general support grants. Can your organization perform a targeted, self-evaluation like this one?

• Read about 10 ways to be a better grantmaker.

When we launched the Hewlett Foundation’s Madison Initiative in 2014, we were excited to support nonprofits, advocates, and researchers who shared our audacious goal of improving the US Congress’s effectiveness in a polarized age. But after experiencing some of the all-too-common pitfalls that foundations can stumble into with grantees, we soon decided that we had to reevaluate our grant practices.

Some of these challenges came with the territory: Funders in the democracy field have long emphasized short-term, project-based grants. Funding tends to ebb and flows over the recurring two-year political cycles.
After analyzing this rich array of information, we decided to make two substantial changes: in how we engage grantees in the proposal and reporting processes, and in the type of grants we make:

  • Simplifying Processes and Emphasizing Shared Learning: We recognized early on that we were asking grantees for a lot of information that we didn’t actually use in grantmaking decisions. We also came to appreciate that the budgets and metrics we were getting from our grantees were in effect artificial—created solely for proposing and reporting on our grant. Grantees were not using them in their day-to-day work.
  • Moving to Larger, Longer-term, General Support Grants: In our redesign process, we changed not just how we were engaging with grantees but also the kinds of grants we were making. An analysis revealed that half our grants were funding short-term projects.

We have gotten anecdotal feedback from grantees that they are indeed experiencing these as positive changes. But as this process reminded us, grantees are, for understandable reasons, not always forthcoming in giving their funders constructive feedback.

Read the full article about grant practices by Daniel Stid and Jillian Misrack Galbete from Stanford Social Innovation Review.