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8 Tools Grantmakers Frequently Forget to Use

July 07, 2016

Photodune-9895775-toolbox-mWhen most people think about philanthropy, they usually think about money. But cold, hard cash is just one tool in the grantmaker's tool box. And some of those non-cash tools are far more effective when it comes to addressing grantee needs and community challenges. Here are eight tools grantmakers can — and should — use more often:

1. Connections. Who are the people you know, and how can you introduce or refer your grantees to them? If you're like most people, you probably have a broader list of contacts than you realize. Don't be afraid to use it. Think about the other funders, accountants, attorneys, consultants, government employees, and nonprofit leaders you've met. How could these people help your grantees or partners? Once you get started, you'll be amazed at the connections you can make.

2. Knowledge and intellectual capital. What do you know about your community, about local politics, about other funders, about the issues? How and when can you share that information in ways that can support your grantees? For example, the Community Foundation of Lorain County recently used its knowledge of the area and of board leadership to conduct a series of board trainings for board members and CEOs from nonprofits across the county. And the Cleveland Foundation, after learning a great deal about quality afterschool programs, created an online database of high-quality afterschool programs to help parents find programs for their kids.

3. Experience. Chances are, you have specific experience in certain areas that can translate to advice and guidance for grantees. Perhaps earlier in your career you led a scale-up of a nonprofit enabling it to reach new markets. Maybe you led an advocacy campaign aimed at changing public policy. Perhaps your organization merged with another organization. When you started your job as a funder, you didn't wipe the slate clean — you brought your past experience with you, and you can use it now to help your grantees. Just be sure to offer your advice with humility, and only when a grantee is in a mood to listen. No one wants to be forced to learn from your experience against his or her will!

4. Reputation. As a funder, your reputation, both personal and professional, individual and organizational, can help open doors for grantees. Speaking up for grantees and endorsing their work to other funders can help leverage further investments. Advocating on their behalf can help ensure better policies and regulations. And calling attention to their successes can encourage others to replicate it.

5. Physical space. Your board room, country club, even your house can provide valuable meeting space for a grantee's staff retreat. Or, you can use your own space to host an event, sans rental fee. Even providing a small space for a quiet conversation between diverse community stakeholders can help solve a shared challenge and move everyone forward.

6. Convening power.  As a funder, you have an unmatched ability to bring together potential partners or groups who disagree in a safe, neutral environment. You can also provide facilitators or mediators to help move those conversations forward and strengthen their outcomes. For example, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation convened county leaders in California on a quarterly basis to discuss insurance outreach and enrollment strategies shortly after the Children's Health Insurance Program was created. And the Blue Shield of California Foundation brought domestic violence shelter staff together from across the state to create a new, mutually supportive network.

7. Investments. The choices you make about where you invest can have a huge impact on grantees. Program-related investments in local organizations can provide much-needed capital that's truly seen as a vote of confidence rather than a handout. Rather than making a grant to a bakery that provides job training, become a shareholder in the business. Mission investing can align your foundation's stewardship of its corpus with its stated values in a way that helps shift large-scale practices and policies. The simplest example of mission investing is an environmental foundation that invests its assets in green energy companies and advocacy. Practices like program-related investing and mission investing can boost the capacity and confidence of individual organizations, socially conscientious companies, and even entire fields.

8. A tolerance for risk. Foundations are often hesitant to support new ideas and learn from their failures, in part because they seem to operate under the assumption that admitting failure somehow discredits them. But as one of my favorite foundation CEOs says, "If this doesn't work, are people going to stop coming to us for money?" As a grantmaker, you have broad latitude in the risks you choose to take. Don't be afraid to use it.

Ready to do more than make grants? Here's a suggestion to help you get started: Set aside time in your next half dozen or so staff or team meetings to discuss each of the tools mentioned above and how you can deploy them at multiple levels in your organization. Then, pick one (or two) and put it to use, or choose a specific grantmaking initiative and try to deploy all eight of them to advance the initiative. Keep a record of what you do and the outcomes that result, and I guarantee you'll never go back to a "grantmaking only" mindset again.

Headshot_putnam-walkerley Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a global philanthropy advisor and recently was named one of "America's Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers." This post originally appeared on Kris's Philanthropy 411 blog. ©2016 Kris Putnam-Walkerly, Putnam Consulting Group, putnam-consulting.com.

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Posted by The Devil Corp  |   July 07, 2016 at 05:16 PM

Good post.

Posted by Don Crocker  |   July 08, 2016 at 08:03 AM

Great article Kris! So often we narrow our focus and forget about these other resources and how valuable they can be in making "change for the better" in our world! I particularly think the "tolerance for risk" concept is critical, as we know that many nonprofits live on government grants and government is traditionally slow to change and risk averse. Innovation and success is fueled by planned and thoughtful risk - so critical in our increasingly complex world! Thanks! Don Crocker - Senior Fellow @ Support Center; Board Member @ GEO

Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly  |   July 08, 2016 at 10:03 AM

Thanks Don! I agree, risk tolerance is a great tool of funders (and I wish it was used more often!!).

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