Whether it’s continuing to provide short-term project funding, requiring onerous proposals and reports, or holding too tightly to their sense of control and expertise, too many foundations are approaching their grantmaking with old frameworks that are barely helping nonprofits — especially those working on a grassroots level — to keep their heads above water as they try to address inequities and multi-faceted problems within complex systems.

I know I’m generalizing here. I know how much nuance there is in the foundation and nonprofit worlds, and how many foundations and nonprofits are exceptions to what I’m saying. But still, can we at least acknowledge how many nonprofit staff are feeling stressed and burned out? How many are worn down by the power dynamics, fundraising grind, and culture of mistrust that permeate our field? How many wish they had the internal capacity to fully execute on their missions and visions, including collaborating with others?

And can we further acknowledge that the combination of these things represents a serious problem now and in the future for the sector we want to support? If so, what might foundations do to improve that picture?

Here are three concrete suggestions (and subsequent questions) foundation staff and boards might explore:

  • Do away with board grant dockets for the next two years. For staff, what were you able to accomplish with the time saved? For boards, what was it like to let go of your gatekeeping role?
  • Whatever your grantmaking budget, double it for the next year to help build responsiveness and resilience in whatever areas you are supporting. How does giving significantly more for a year affect your assumptions about perpetuity and impact?
  • Increase by 25 percent your annual grants to three-year unrestricted grants. If you are looking to make three-year grants, make some five-year commitments. What effect do these commitments have on your grantee partners?

Read the full article about trust-based philanthropy by John Esterle at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.