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Grantee Inclusion: An Adaptive Challenge


Last month, I was fortunate to attend the Grantee Inclusion Workshop in Savannah, GA, made possible by a partnership between SECF and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO). The Mary Black Foundation, like many foundations in the Southeast, has been following the work of GEO and has been particularly interested in best practice research around how to meaningfully engage grantees.

The Grantee Inclusion Workshop was perfectly designed to facilitate thinking about why grantee inclusion is important, what organizational changes might be needed to better engage grantees, and how foundation staff can lead those changes.

The Challenge

According to GEO, 53 percent of staffed foundations solicit feedback from their grantees and use that information to shape their policies, programs and strategies. Yet, surveys of foundation staff and nonprofit leaders demonstrate a disconnect between grantmakers’ view of themselves and how nonprofits perceive grantmakers regarding openness to discussing a variety of topics.

There is a reason for this disconnect and GEO believes foundations can find ways to narrow the gap and begin to cultivate more authentic grantee inclusion. However, because of the power dynamic inherent to foundation-grantee relationships, GEO is urging foundations to take the first step by making changes in how funders interact with grantees.

Change Through Adaptive Leadership

Because the changes that GEO recommends may require shifts in foundation processes and/or culture, the Grantee Inclusion Workshop was presented through a framework of Adaptive Leadership. Adaptive Leadership is the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive. Adaptive challenges can only be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits, and loyalties.

During the Grantee Inclusion Workshop, GEO presented the concept of “Shared Responsibility for Success” through the visual of a triangle with three dependent angles – Results, Process, and Relationships. Each of these three angles affects our success. The workshop encouraged participants to think about their own results, processes, and relationships – which areas were strongest, where there were weaknesses, and organizational changes that could be implemented to improve each area.

We were encouraged to “get off the dance floor” and “onto the balcony” to observe more objectively and to see patterns that could require an intervention. For example, closely examining whether a foundation’s stated values are aligned with how its board and staff behave.

The Mary Black Foundation’s philosophy of grantmaking and community change aligns with GEO’s perspective of “Shared Responsibility for Success.” Without our grantees, the Mary Black Foundation cannot achieve our mission and, without open and honest relationships with our grantees, we are unable to support them fully and most effectively. We have been actively seeking ways to more meaningfully engage with our grantees and participation in the Grantee Inclusion Workshop has given us more tools to feel confident as we move forward.

Molly Talbot-Metz is vice president of programs for the Mary Black Foundation.

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