In March of 2019, I started my first job in philanthropy as the program officer for the Edward W. Hazen Foundation after working 12 years as a community organizer. I was nervous but tried to show confidence. I had been on the grantseeker side of the table my whole life and would now be a grantmaker.

First, I “inherited” grants from my predecessor and dove into learning the foundation’s grantmaking strategy through grants we made previously. I was lucky. The Hazen Foundation had just completed a year of strategic planning and focus groups with grantees to collect their input on our funding priorities, the funder-grantee relationship, and capacity building. The depth of their knowledge became my blueprint for my new job as a grantmaker. I sought to implement our five-year strategic plan to spend down, following the leadership of the communities our grants serve.

The pressures I had previously endured from philanthropy about being an “accountable grantee” taught me a lot about how important it is to subvert this power dynamic, and instead be an accountable grantmaker. Having sat on both sides, I know how important it is to flip the table and consider, “How is my foundation accountable to the community for how we manage funds in the public interest?”

I admit I have stumbled every step of the way. There are grants I’ve made that I regret and other grants I haven’t made yet that I should make. I have faced the inconvenient truth of philanthropy that grants alone aren’t a magical solution to everything. Money doesn’t equal impact. In fact, grants can never be guaranteed to have intended outcomes. Because of this, it is easy for grantmakers to feel shame or guilt about “making a bad grant” and the tensions that often do arise with grantees to figure out what went wrong and what to do about it.

Read the full article about good versus bad grants by Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez at PEAK Grantmaking.