How to Support Grantees Beyond a Check

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There’s an old African proverb that states, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” But that wisdom doesn’t just apply to child rearing; it also reflects how we solve social problems.

Fortunately, thousands of foundations issue grants to organizations working to better the world. In fact, according to the Urban Institute’s most recent report, foundations gave grants totaling $55.3 billion in 2013, up 44.2 percent from 2003.

But more often than not, grantees have big dreams that can’t be reached with money alone. Just as it seems no adult can raise a child without help, the same appears to ring true for grantees: They can’t drive change without the knowledge and networks of foundation professionals.

By becoming a partner to a grantee — rather than simply a grantor — you can do more than your dollars can alone. For instance, one of my foundation’s grantees was planning a summer reading program, so we connected that grantee to another grantee who’d previously led reading programs. Together, they were able to workshop problems, discuss the project’s scope, and — in essence — make the foundation’s money go further.

Money talks, but knowledge does, too.

Partnerships require time and patience. But your foundation’s commitment will help grantees reach goals that once seem farfetched. Here’s how to give beyond writing a check:

1. Engage prior to the application process.
Support grantees before and during the application process to build rapport and solicit higher-quality proposals. Try requiring a letter of intent or pre-approval process to ensure applicants’ ideas match with your giving priorities. Community partners can also help: My foundation calls on local nutrition experts, for instance, when a grantee has an idea about promoting healthy eating.

2. Build a road map together.
Once you’ve chosen a grantee, be sure you agree on desired outcomes. Define how you’ll measure success with an official agreement, signed by both parties. In that document, spell out reporting requirements, a timeline for implementation, and available resources.

3. Help grantees build capacity.
Every organization has gaps between their desired accomplishments and their actual capabilities. For grantees, those gaps are often financial, but there are also experience and knowledge gaps to address. My organization even divides up tasks with grantees, taking ownership over certain technical aspects of the grants. Help grantees become self-sustaining by connecting them to partners to continue the program after a grant ends.

For grantees, money isn’t everything. Not only does knowledge-based support reinforce your commitment to grantees’ missions, but it also increases their own capacity to improve communities. And isn’t that the true purpose of grants?

Tim Barry has served since 2006 as executive director of Horizon Housing Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in St. Louis that provides affordable housing and social services for low-income families and seniors across the nation to improve their health, education, and quality of life. Tim previously served as president of St. Louis Equity Fund, Inc. and Housing Missouri, Inc.

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