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Unrestricted Operating Support, F.Y. 2021: An Interview with Joanna Jackson, Weingart Foundation’s Vice President, Programs

August 2020

Interview transcript.

VY: Hi everyone, my name is Vy Nguyen, and I am director of special projects and communications here at the Weingart Foundation. With me today is Joanna Jackson, our Vice President of Programs. Hi Joanna.


VY: Joanna is joining me for an interview about the Foundation’s unrestricted grantmaking program and how it’s changed this year. If you’re ready, let’s get right to it.

JOANNA: Yes, let’s do it.

VY: For nearly a decade now the Weingart Foundation has been providing Unrestricted Operating Support grants, or U.O.S. We do this to provide our nonprofit partners with the flexible dollars they need to invest in their organizational infrastructure so they can become stronger and more effective in as they lead the fight for equity and justice for all.

The process really changed this fiscal year, which for us is July 2020 to June 2021. Can you talk about these changes and what prompted them?

JOANNA: Yes, we made several changes in direct response to the impacts of the pandemic and the needs of our nonprofit partners. First, as a responsive grantmaker with an open application process, we always faced high demand for our U.O.S. grants. However the pandemic, understandably, increased demand to incredible levels.

As we looked forward at how we could best support our partners during and beyond this crisis, we knew U.O.S. would remain our primary strategy, which is what our partners were asking for. But we also knew having organizations continue to wait through a two-step letter of inquiry and lengthy application process was not the most efficient or effective way to deliver resources to our partners at this time.

So, we have suspended our normal open letter of inquiry process during this crisis and have moved to a Foundation directed grantmaking process. We will be making funding decisions throughout the fiscal year, five times to be exact and as you said, our first docket was just completed in July.

VY: The new streamlined process also seems aligned with the principles of trust-based philanthropy, and our efforts to decrease burden on applicants even before the pandemic.

JOANNA: Respect, partnership and trust are important core values to this Foundation and living out those values at this moment meant we were also willing to significantly streamline our normal application process including eliminating our traditional lengthy application and replacing it with a short two-item questionnaire and program officers having a virtual meeting or call with the applicant.

VY: As you noted, Weingart has suspended our practice of accepting L.O.I.s, and our process is invite-only for this year. What’s your advice for organizations that understandably want to be invited?

JOANNA: I assume this is probably the question the majority of people viewing this care the most about. I want to be transparent and say, these decisions are being made by our program officers, they are identifying organizations in their regions based on our history and our current priorities. And we are taking this approach to minimize the burden on nonprofit organizations and expedite funding given all nonprofits are doing to respond to this crisis and the opportunities of this moment.

However, it is important for us to continue to hear from nonprofits to inform our work and strategies. We welcome updates and you can contact our program staff with questions. You will find contact information for all our staff on the about us section of the website.

VY: We made our first round of grants under this new process this past July. How did the Foundation and program officers approach grantmaking under this new process?

JOANNA: Program officers are each assigned a defined geographic region within our five-county service area. Working within those regions, program officers are concentrating on organizations that we have recent funding histories with; however, our guidelines and criteria haven’t really changed.

Program officers are identifying organizations that align with our focus on advancing racial, social, and economic justice, that are providing critical services in response to the pandemic within our low-income communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and those engaged in community organizing, advocacy, and movement building to address the structural racism and socioeconomic injustice that has been so clearly exposed at this moment.

VY: This was a big change, and very new, for the Foundation. What were some challenges, if any?

JOANNA: Yes. As always, there are many more organizations out there doing remarkable work than we have the capacity to fund this year. It’s also harder for us to fund organizations that are new to us.

VY: In looking at the July 2020 docket, what strikes you as notable about these grants?

JOANNA: I think our July docket is a strong representation of key partners throughout our five-county region and each Service Planning Area within L.A. county spanning from critical service providers to anchor power building groups.

What I didn’t mention earlier is our Areas of Special Interest which include long-held focuses on housing and homelessness, immigrant and refugee rights and integration and the geographic areas of South L.A. and the cities of Southeast L.A. county. We also have a Youth Organizing Capacity Building Initiative. This docket includes a significant number of partners working in each of those priority areas. Lastly, this docket also includes a significant number of Black and P.O.C.-led organizations that are committed not just to advancing equity through their external work but within their own institutions as well.

VY: We are all of course dealing with the pandemic. Over the past few months the nation has seen amazing uprisings for racial justice and Black lives. How has this impacted Weingart’s grantmaking?

JOANNA: Yes, while this has been such a challenging and trying time, we also recognize we are at an incredible moment that can become the movement that is needed to reach the equity and justice we are striving for. As a Foundation, we made this commitment to advancing racial justice and addressing systemic and structural racism several years ago, so while these demands for racial justice and against anti-Black racism confirm our commitments, it’s also frankly pushing us to ask ourselves if we should do more, if we can be bolder.

So while we remain committed to our existing priorities, we will be looking at how we are helping to leverage this moment for instance by investing more deeply in the Black-led movement building infrastructure in our region.

VY: What can organizations expect from Weingart in terms of unrestricted grantmaking for the rest of the fiscal year and beyond?

JOANNA: We are committed to our unrestricted operating support program now and into the future. As we listen to our grantees, it is universally the most consistent request we get, please keep providing unrestricted support, provide more and encourage your funder colleagues to do the same. Our process has changed for this year, in response to these times, and this process may not remain the same into the future, but our commitment to unrestricted will.

VY: Thank you so much, Joanna. We’re going to have to end it there. I’ll close by directing viewers to our website for more information about our F.Y. 2021 Program Plan, our full list of July grants, and contact information if you want to reach out to us. Thanks and have a good day.