Giving Compass’ Take:
• Lisa Pilar Cowan from the New York-based Robert Sterling Clark Foundation explains the benefits of accepting grant proposals that were intended for other funders. For one thing, it cuts down on tedious paperwork!
• This strategy may not work for all grantmakers, but the idea of being more open to ideas and getting out into the field has undeniable appeal for everyone.
About two years ago, the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation had a chance to rethink both what we do and how we do it. We adjusted our giving programs — painfully letting go of important issues and organizations with the belief that we could do more for New York City with a more focused giving strategy.
The foundation was interested in finding a way to contribute and make an impact in a city as large as New York, and we decided to leverage our resources by investing in city leaders, the organizations that develop them, and the networks of which they are part. Our board of directors took on the challenge of funding leadership development programs for civic leaders in NYC.
As soon as we determined the “what,” we started to rethink the “how” of our approach to grantmaking …
We want to be out in the field, meeting with potential grantees, observing programs, talking to leaders, and learning about the state of the art of leadership development. We feel restless and detached when we spend too much time at our desks, poring over proposals, attachments, and reports.
With the consent of our adventurous board, we shifted our grantmaking process to ask for proposals that potential grantees had already written for other funders.
We have an open submission policy, and, if after reading about us, an organization can apply at any time. We ask for a document that describes their leadership development work, but we don’t even require them to do a search and replace to insert “Robert Sterling Clark” where “Foundation X” used to be.
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Some applicants are skeptical — they are smart and savvy professionals who have spent a career figuring out what foundations (really) want. It will take a while for us to build the reputation and trust in the field so that people can believe what we say at first reading. But we insist on it — and many organizations are more than happy to comply.
We find that the proposals they have written for other funders work just fine for us. They give us the info we need to get started, and then we can google their 990s, talk to colleagues in the field, and, most importantly, meet with them and observe their programs.
Read the full article about accepting proposals intended for other funders by Lisa Pilar Cowan at Exponent Philanthropy.
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