Grantee Voice: Provide More Assistance Beyond the Grant

Naomi Orensten

This is the fourth post in a six-part series on what nonprofit leaders think foundation funders could improve upon in their work. Findings are based on survey responses from 244 nonprofit leaders who have agreed to be a part of CEP’s Grantee Voice Panel a nationally representative sample of leaders of U.S. nonprofits across a broad range of geographies, fields/issues, and sizes who confidentially provide CEP with their perspectives working with foundations.

The value of philanthropy goes well beyond that of dollars and cents. Non-financial assistance can impact nonprofits in profound ways. 

The third most common suggestion from nonprofit leaders — from 15 percent of respondents — is a desire for even more of these types of support. Nonprofit CEOs speak to the value of funder-provided support beyond the grant — also known as nonmonetary assistance — noting that “the most valued funders are those who work with us to increase our capacity and impact.”

These suggestions aren’t new. They align with suggestions we commonly see from foundation grantees responding to CEP’s Grantee Perception Reports. They align with findings from CEP’s field-wide research: when funders provide more intensive patterns of non-monetary supports to grantees — more than a smattering of support here or there — it is associated with substantially more positive perceptions of foundation impact on grantees’ experiences, and, importantly, more positive perceptions of funder impact on grantees’ organizations.

Further, in our recent research report, Strengthening Grantees, we find that nonprofits desire help from their funders to strengthen their organization, especially their fundraising, staffing, and communications capacities.

We also know from Strengthening Grantees that foundation leaders care about strengthening the overall health of their grantees, yet there is a lot of room for foundations to provide support in areas where nonprofit CEOs say they need it, such as information technology, fundraising, strategic planning, and communications.

Yet, when we look at the data from first-time GPR users, for example, we don’t see much change over time in the proportion of grantees receiving these valuable intensive patterns of nonmonetary support from their funders. Indeed, only 29 percent of foundation leaders say their foundation provides assistance beyond the grant to the majority of its grantees. 

Respondents see particular opportunity for funders to play a role in facilitating collaborations and connecting grantees to each other. In their eyes, this support helps nonprofits better “collectively address needs,” and are also “a service to the community as a whole.” One nonprofit CEO asks foundations to “help make connections to other organizations they fund with similar missions and interests,” another would like funders to “share information [so grantees can] get to know each other,” and another requests that funders “host opportunities for grantees within a designated subject area to communicate with each other to discuss broader topics about their particular area of interest.”

Fundraising support and connections are hugely valuable to nonprofits. One nonprofit leader would like funders to “connect us to other potential funders and supporters. It’s important for their investment to be impactful. Leveraging with others can help them achieve their goals while helping us attract resources to get the work done.” Another asks funders to “broker connections — whether that is to other funders that invest in the work we are doing or other organizations that we can learn from or help advance the work.” Speaking more broadly, another nonprofit leader would like to see foundations “take pride in our collaborative work and talk it up with others.”

Finally, there is interest in a broad range of other types of support: communications, board development, staff professional development, evaluation/assessment, and information technology (IT). One nonprofit leader requests “management supports, like professional development, technology upgrades, and board training.” Another would like to see “support of capacity building around outcomes measurement, performance management, and evaluation.” Another CEO requests that foundations “set aside support for professional development for CEOs/executive directors” because “I work at a nonprofit with very little unrestricted funding and I feel guilty using our limited dollars for myself.”

Additionally, while these types of support can strengthen grantee organizations and help funders and nonprofits achieve shared goals, providing effective support beyond the grant calls for a significant investment of foundation time, resources, and staff. Funders should thoughtfully consider where and when it makes sense to offer grantees more and better support beyond the grant.  And, as noted above, given that these supports are most effective when grantees receive more than a smattering of them, funders should be intentional about providing high levels of non-monetary assistance (rather than a few types of assistance to many grantees).

To staff at foundations, here are some discussion questions to consider as you reflect on these suggestions:

  • How does your foundation determine which types of nonmonetary support to provide — and to whom — and how does the provision of this support contribute to your programmatic goals?
  • What are you doing to make grantees comfortable sharing their capacity needs with you? Are you asking grantees directly about what supports they need most?
  • What nonmonetary support might you provide to grantees to help them — and you — achieve shared goals? How do you assess this work to ensure that these types of support are useful for grantees?
  • In light of this frequent request from grantees, where might there be opportunity to facilitate connections between your grantees?

See all posts in the series here.

Naomi Orensten is director, research, at CEP. Matthew H Leiwant is a former associate manager, research, at CEP.

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