Learning How to Do Grantmaking for Good, Forever

Learning How to Do Grantmaking for Good, Forever

We can all agree that philanthropy, by its very nature, is a good thing. The word philanthropy comes from the Latin philanthropia, which means kindliness, humanity, benevolence, and love to mankind–all very good things. However, after working in the philanthropic sector for several years and having an opportunity to learn from some of the smartest and hardest working philanthropic professionals in the country (many of whom are right here in Mississippi), I have come to understand that while making grants is inherently good, the process through which we make those grants ultimately determines how effective and sustainable our grantmaking will be.

In 2017, a group of nine nonprofit leaders published an open letter to philanthropy that discussed how grantmakers can support nonprofits in meaningful ways. The letter emphasized our collective ability to “create greater outcomes” by looking for ways to “push the boundaries of what it means to partner.” Any good partnership is built on communication, which is critical to effective grantmaking. Communicating regularly with grantees, partners, other funds, and partners is key to truly understanding the issues we are addressing and the challenges we may be facing in our efforts to craft inclusive and sustainable solutions.

When we communicate with grantees more frequently, we will also better understand what they need to succeed. Oftentimes, nonprofit organizations and their leadership need funding that will help them build capacity and plan for the future. The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) champions these long-term commitments because they enable us to “solve complex and difficult issues that many nonprofits and foundations are grappling with.” These long-term commitments also help grantmakers focus on nonprofit’s ability to their work in the most efficient and effective manner in the future, which Pete Tulipana, president and CEO of the Iowa West Foundation, noted in a recent op-ed. When nonprofits have more long-term financial stability, they are better positioned to pursue unforeseen opportunities, adapt to the times, and adjust programmatic priorities, according to NCRP.

One of the ways the Community Foundation encourages long-term planning is through the development of endowments–nearly half of the funds we manage are endowed–for philanthropists and for nonprofits. The Mississippi Symphony Orchestra’s is a long-term funding source for the organization. These donations are invested over time, with five percent of the fund balance providing an annual revenue source. The ability to identify approaches like this is rooted in “deep listening” that can help us “mitigate perceived risks in exploring new strategies.”

Kris Putnam Walkerly highlights creating a culture of innovation as a key aspect of good grantmaking and says “extraordinary funders cultivate conditions necessary to support innovation in organizations.” Over the past several years, we have been working with the Mississippi Association of Grantmakers and Mississippi Center for Nonprofits as they have explored ways to jumpstart innovation and encourage deeper collaboration between nonprofits and philanthropy. Later this year, these organizations will officially launch the Mississippi Alliance for Nonprofits and Philanthropy, with a focus on increasing the effectiveness of nonprofits and increasing the impact of grantmaking in Mississippi.

Finally, as the nonprofit executives make plain in their open letter, good grantmaking must “raise up the voices and leadership of women, people of color, LGBTQ people, rural people, and others who have been marginalized in our world and in our work and create more representative, open, and welcoming environments for our employees, volunteers, clients, and program participants.” Inviting more people into the room also invites more ideas and innovation into the room–something we desperately need to unlock all of the possibilities in our communities.

We are excited about the opportunity to learn and grow with other funders and our nonprofit partners as we seek to make our grantmaking for good, for Mississippi, forever.