By Suzanne Skees, Skees Family Foundation
It sounds ludicrous—and it is: Often we donors throw roadblocks in front of the very programs we seek to support. Requiring reams of application pages, hours of preliminary meetings, and acrobatics of performance if and when we fund, is crazy-making for the social entrepreneurs and nonprofits we supposedly trust to solve our most entrenched environmental, financial, educational, and social problems.
This is not just theory. It’s not overworked, underpaid employees whining. We’ve gleaned an inside view of this reality through field visits with and story gathering for our partners, some of the world’s smallest grassroots organizations. Because our grants are tiny and our ambitions are mighty, we’ve always approached our work as if the time we give to partners’ communications, strategy, program development, and fundraising matters more than money. Our multifaceted style of partnership allows us to see a lot more than our partners’ websites, fundraising events, and annual reports. We try to work with them and for them, rather than the other way around.
No one engaged in grantmaking or impact investing wants to believe we’re thwarting our partners’ best intentions. I tried for years to convince myself that the power imbalance between the donor and recipient didn’t have to exist, if only we approached people with honesty and humility. But guess what? It does. To change that dynamic, we asked, could we change the structure of how we give?
Seeking Ways to Bring Greater Efficiency to Grantmaking
We wondered, when we undertook a landscape analysis of our own funding area (global access to education and jobs), if nonprofits could operate more effectively if they didn’t need to spend so much time, energy, and yes, even funding, on chasing down the next grant dollar. [Editor’s note: See Project Streamline’s Guide to Streamlining, a set of tools to help funders reduce the burden on grantees and themselves]
Our grantmaking committee and all-family board engaged in some wonderfully deep conversations about our intentions. Since we have such a small budget (~$150,000), we want to direct every dollar for maximum impact. We agreed on some core objectives: