How shifting grantmaking practices leads to better results
Authors: Kara Shibiya and Brittany Speed
The philanthropic sector is well-positioned to lead and support an equitable recovery in our country; however, redesigning systems amid a pandemic requires rethinking how communities are accessing the resources they need, as well as the role funders can play as a trusted partner. At StriveTogether, we’ve shifted our role as an intermediary grant-maker to deepen relationships with our network partnerships, rooted in transparency, dialogue and mutual learning.
Leading grant-making efforts through the cascading crises of 2020 presented an organic opportunity to evaluate our processes and identify ways to reduce the burden of our grantees, allowing them to focus their energy on what matters most: transforming systems for youth and families across the country. As a result, we pivoted our approach to look at each grantee both individually and as part of a holistic portfolio, enabling us to tailor investments that address specific needs and challenges across the Cradle to Career Network.
To recover, sustain and advance the work of systems transformation and a commitment to racial equity, we prioritized 51 network communities in 2020 with the greatest financial need and those serving significant populations of children and families of color, awarding $20 million in new grants and accelerated grant payments, with plans to award another $12 million in funds by the end of 2021.
These investments reflect StriveTogether’s ongoing commitment to develop purpose-built relationships with communities and highlight valuable learnings from our grantmaking shifts in service of supporting a stronger network of cross-sector partnerships as they work to put children and families on a path toward economic mobility.
What We’ve Learned
- Multi-year commitments from several long-time investors helped make these shifts possible, providing the flexibility for StriveTogether to plan scenarios with partnerships in real-time and deepen the capacity of our network in the long term.
- Communication is key. Investing in and sustaining change requires authentic and sustained relationship building. Throughout 2020, we streamlined our funding process to eliminate application and reporting forms, prioritizing calls and virtual meetings to document partnerships needs and make funding recommendations focused on mission-critical work. We used data to connect offerings, coaching and resources alongside our financial investments in a way that creates a ‘portfolio’ for each partnership. This simple shift has not only increased margin in our partnerships’ capacity to serve their communities but has deepened their trust in StriveTogether as a partner in their work.
- Build a feedback loop. Transparency is a lynchpin in sustaining trust-based funding partnerships. StriveTogether created feedback loops with each partnership receiving a grant, allowing communities to share openly their lived experience, prioritized needs and learnings as part of the funding conversation, while also helping shape deliverables tied to their work. This process also allows for partnerships to easily request modifications and amendments to their grants, streamlining communication and allowing for communities to utilize funding in the most efficient way possible.
Through operationalizing multiple iterations of these shifts over the past year, we’ve seen an increase in our partnerships’ ability to leverage additional financial resources, both public and private dollars, a key factor in building and sustaining systems transformation in communities over time. Additionally, our streamlined and flexible approach to funding has provided reinforcement to our partnerships during an extremely volatile time, allowing us to ‘get in the trenches’ to understand the landscape of our network and be responsive to their needs. This has ultimately enabled StriveTogether to plan for the ideal allocation and timing of resources alongside our grantees, leading to a stronger impact of investment, greater transparency and deeper trust held by both parties
Kara Shibiya is the senior manager of grantmaking at StriveTogether and deploys financial resources to network partnerships to help transform systems.
Brittany Speed serves as vice president of finance and administration, providing strategic leadership to ensure the financial health, integrity and growth of StriveTogether.