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Giving “Beyond the Grant:” Q&A with Vera de Vera, Director, Leadership for Movements

Vera de Vera

At the Weingart Foundation, we are committed to continuously listen to nonprofit organizations and incorporate this feedback to improve our grantmaking practices. As part of this effort, we partner with the Center for Effective Philanthropy (C.E.P.) in conducting ongoing grantee and applicant perception surveys.

Responses from the most recent C.E.P. survey highlighted organizations’ desire for us to continue to provide support “beyond the grant” —a strategy by which we can help nonprofits strengthen their effectiveness through access to technical assistance, learning communities and other activities.

Vera de Vera, Director, Leadership for Movements, is integrally involved in several of the Foundation’s “beyond the grant” initiatives. She shares her insights on the subject below.

How does “beyond the grant” support fit into the Weingart Foundation’s overall strategy?

Vera: Our core grantmaking strategy is to provide unrestricted funding to organizations and collaboratives advancing racial, social and economic equity in order to strengthen their effectiveness. We think unrestricted operating support is one of the best ways to build strong organizations. However, “beyond the grant” opportunities go further to provide targeted and direct capacity building support. This support includes trainings, workshops and other resources to help improve an organization’s ability to meet its mission.

We’ve learned in recent case studies that unrestricted support coupled with additional, targeted capacity building can be a powerful approach to strengthening organizations. In addition, recent grantee and applicant perception surveys affirm the desire from nonprofits for “beyond the grant” support. We take this input seriously and have expanded these efforts in response.

What are some examples of “beyond the grant” initiatives at the Foundation?

Vera: We provide this type of support in a number of ways:

Full Cost Initiative

It’s an ongoing issue in our sector that many funders don’t want to look at what it takes to fully capitalize effective nonprofits, especially those in communities of color. The full cost approach accounts for nonprofits’ day-to-day operating expenses plus a range of costs for short- and long-term needs. In 2015, we partnered with the California Community Foundation and Nonprofit Finance Fund (N.F.F.) to implement a pilot project to train foundation and nonprofit staff on a full-cost approach to financial planning and analysis.

We then joined Philanthropy California (Southern California Grantmakers, Northern California Grantmakers and San Diego Grantmakers), CalNonprofits and N.F.F. to provide trainings for nonprofits and funders across the state. An independent evaluation showed that 94% of participating nonprofits increased their skills and knowledge about full-cost, and 56% of funders and 79% of nonprofits were taking action to shift their organizational practices to incorporate a full cost approach. This consortium continues its efforts to incorporate full cost practices by offering funder and grantee tools, resources and trainings.

Capacity Building and Talent Matching

We recently joined the Annenberg Foundation and Catchafire, an online platform that matches professionals who want to donate their time and talent with nonprofits, in the Southern California Capacity Building Collaborative. Existing Weingart Foundation grantees are provided with free, one-year subscriptions to the online portal. Projects include support for graphic design, website development, social media strategy, and executive coaching. Support is also available for longer-term, strategic efforts such as organizational development, leadership training, and financial management—all critical components to nonprofit effectiveness. These are often costly services for which organizations typically have to pay.

Activity over the first three months of the initiative is encouraging. Nearly 100 projects have been posted, and grantees have received close to 1,400 volunteer hours, providing a combined savings of more than $275,000.

Board Diversity

Given the Foundation’s commitment to racial and socio-economic justice, our grantmaking process involves looking for applicants that advance equity both in their community work as well as internally within the organization. Diverse organizations have also been shown to be more effective overall. Most nonprofits that apply for our grants demonstrate racial and cultural diversity in their staffing. However, diversity in leadership/management—and particularly on boards—remains a challenge for many. About 20 percent of our current grantees listed “increased board diversity” as one of their top goals during their grant period.

To help nonprofits achieve their board diversity goals, the Foundation launched the Board Diversity Project in partnership with the African American Board Leadership Institute. In September 2019, we selected 10 grantees for a pilot project that will provide training for executive directors and board members on diversity, equity and inclusion. The effort will also include technical assistance for developing action plans to increase diversity among board membership. We plan to share lessons learned from this project later in 2020.

Shared Space LA

The last thing I’ll mention here is that in the fall of 2019 we launched Shared Space L.A. in partnership with the James Irvine Foundation. Shared Space L.A. is a free meeting venue for nonprofits. Groups should feel free to take a look at what types of events we are able to host and sign up to reserve space.

What do you see as next steps for “beyond the grant” support at the Foundation?

Vera: We have the opportunity and responsibility to share what we’re learning about this type of support with public and private funder colleagues. For example, over the past several years, the Foundation has taken a leadership role in helping local government funders better understand the importance of full cost support. We are also sharing what we’re learning with funders in other areas of the country. In fact, our leadership recently met with government agencies and private foundations in New York City, who are initiating a full cost approach to government grants. We hope to continue to work with other funders locally and beyond to strengthen the work of nonprofits.