Working with Grantees

The Keys to Success and Five Program Officers Who Exemplify Them

2010, 24 pages, The Center for Effective Philanthropy, 675 Massachusetts Avenue, 7th Floor, Cambridge, MA, 02139, 617-492-0800

Foundations seek to achieve positive impact on some of our toughest social challenges: global climate change, education, homelessness, inequality. But foundations have impact primarily through others – the nonprofits they fund. Without their grantees, foundations would achieve little.

Knowing this, foundation leaders have long embraced, at least rhetorically, the notion that the foundation-grantee relationship is a vital one. Over the past decade, this attention has only increased, as foundations seek new kinds of feedback and make changes in an effort to strengthen these ties. Paul Beaudet, associate director of the Wilburforce Foundation, explains why strong relationships with grantees matter in the context of Wilburforce’s strategy for achieving impact:

At the very basic level, solid relationships with grantees are critically important because grantees are a very good source of information for us. They are the ones doing the on-the-ground work. They’re likely to have a much more nuanced and deeper understanding of the context for the work that needs to be done in the particular places that we care about. If we have high-quality, long-term, trust-based relationships with grantees, we believe that we’ll have better knowledge around which we can make smart investments in their organizational and programmatic capacity, helping them to achieve their outcomes more efficiently and effectively. Since our investments are initially predicated on a clear alignment between grantees’ programmatic outcomes and our own, if they can achieve their outcomes, we are confident that we will see the kind of sustained change that is consistent with our mission.

Different foundations will articulate the importance of the foundation-grantee relationship in different ways. But, to the extent that a foundation seeks to achieve impact through grantmaking—recognizing that there are, of course, other ways for a foundation to achieve impact—the strength of foundation-grantee relationships is paramount.


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