We are cultivating curiosity and practicing trust as we continue to make updates to our grantmaking process. Together, we are are finding our way forward with a more authentic generosity and a sustainable, wellness-focused approach as we strive towards racial, economic, and gender justice.
Amidst the challenges of COVID 19 we saw an opportunity to accelerate a number of changes to our grantmaking process at Women’s Foundation California. Our feminist leadership during the pandemic allowed us to usher in a fresh approach to our work with community partners. Through these adaptations, we brought our investment strategy into closer alignment with our values.
I joined the Foundation team as Director of Community Investment just a few weeks before California began to shelter-in-place. The generosity of our community in 2020 allowed us to significantly expand our grantmaking work; over the past year we invested more money out into the community than at any point in the organization’s history. During that time, we cultivated curiosity and practiced trust among and across our network of grant partners and our process and strategy evolved.
The core changes to our grantmaking work can roughly be slotted in the following four categories:
- Ask for What’s Needed, Leave the Rest
- Trust the Experts
- Stay Curious + Connected
Ask for What’s Needed, Leave the Rest
As we expanded our grantmaking, I started to ask myself, “What barriers are we creating for folks and how can we remove those where we can?” We wanted to make the grantmaking process as simple as possible. We removed all unnecessary questions from the grant application and left an open comment space instead.
We make it clear that folks can provide us with as little or as much information as they want to in their responses. When it comes to reporting, grant partners can submit an existing report or they can share information on a phone call. The real opportunity in reporting is around storytelling – we want to be able to uplift the work that our partners are doing and share that out to our broader community of feminists.
Trust the Experts
Because we believe that folks closest to the problems know the most about what’s needed to create solutions, we trust their expertise. Instead of focusing on proven strategies or traditional organizations, we can be open to investing in projects that are new or experimental. We funded several organizations that started in the past year including Feed Black Futures in Los Angeles, Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance, and Black Wellness and Prosperity.
That trust flows in all directions. Our board recently approved Women’s Foundation California staff to sign off on grants up to $50,000 because they trust that our team is doing the work to make those decisions.
Stay Curious + Connected
As we expand our grantmaking beyond our core partners, we strive to remain as open as possible to learning about organizations and groups. We have a lot to learn about people, community, and organizations we don’t know. To that end, we are in regular conversation with board members, grant partners, WPI alum, and other friends and allies asking, “Who should we be funding? Who do we need to know about?” Pretty much everyone who inquires about a grant, we’ll get on a call with them.
This last year we also hosted a series of community calls with our core grant partners- not for a reporting process, but as a space of connection. It’s always (at least) a two way conversation.
One of our goals as a grantmaker is to get our money to our partners as quickly as possible. To that end, we moved to direct deposit instead of checks for issuing funds. We also realized that getting the signed grant agreement was causing a lot of delay in getting the funding out the door. I started asking questions and it turned out there was no legal reason to require a signed letter. So, we shifted to an “award letter” model. There is nothing to sign and the money is simply deposited into their accounts – typically within a 14 day turn around of receiving the grant award letter.
As we build our feminist future together, we will continue to look at our grantmaking from a place of curiosity and improvement. We want to acknowledge our deep privilege and be humble about the process so that we can continue to break down barriers and share the wealth.