Now Tell Us What You Really Think: How Grantee Insights Are Getting Us Closer to Impact
I have been a grantmaker for 15 years, and I believe that one of the most important parts of being a good grantmaker is building authentic, trusting relationships with nonprofits that are grantee partners. It’s nearly impossible to overcome the inherent power imbalance between the entity that holds the purse-strings and the entity that seeks support. But when there is mutual trust and respect, more effective and honest ways of working start to emerge, and we can abandon the roles we’re supposed to play and create something more useful to us all.
In that light, our team at Brooklyn Community Foundation is striving to build honest and meaningful partnerships with our grantees and community stakeholders by including them in the co-creation of our work as a foundation. This means that when we wanted to assess how we could better serve the community, we talked with 1,000 members of our community through our Brooklyn Insights project. And it means that when we wanted to understand how we are collectively working to build a “fair and just” Brooklyn, we talked with our grantees about how to develop goals and outcomes together.
At Brooklyn Community Foundation, we consider ourselves to be a “learning institution.” In everything we do, we want to start from a position of learning and listening, always making sure to engage our communities in some substantive way. This approach guided the development of our new strategy through Brooklyn Insights, and carries on in our new Neighborhood Strength resident-led grantmaking model and Brooklyn Youth Fellowship, our youth-led grantmaking program.
It also extends to our more traditional areas of grantmaking. This past May, we gathered grantees from our Invest in Youth initiative—the Foundation’s largest grant portfolio—to seek their insights on our “theory of change” and what it means for our three grantmaking areas: Youth Development and Leadership, Youth Justice, and Immigrant Youth and Families.
Over 60 youth-serving organizations across Brooklyn received Invest in Youth grants in the first year of the initiative. Their partnership is vital to our long-term success as we commit to increasing equity of opportunities and outcomes for Brooklyn’s most vulnerable youth. Key to this partnership is their honest input as we refine our goals and clearly define the outcomes we are working toward.
Over the course of four meetings, representatives from nearly all of our Invest in Youth grantees gathered to share their feedback. With so much energy in the room, the conversation touched on inputs like hope and outputs like transformation. Everyone expressed the utmost desire to learn more about each other’s work and to be partners for systemic change.
Thanks to these meetings and our grantees’ invaluable insights, going forward we are committed to combining the power of storytelling and data, viewing our grantees as a multi-year cohort, and bringing them together twice a year to discuss systemic change efforts and how they can support one another and how the Foundation can support them collectively. Additionally, at their request, all information gathered will inform the collective conversation—not just the Foundation. They also urged us to involve youth in our decision-making, so that starting this fall our Brooklyn Youth Fellows will be accompanying us on grantee site visits.
We’re excited to implement their suggestions and so grateful for their honesty and openness, as we hope to be honest and open with them.
At Brooklyn Community Foundation, it’s our firm belief that those closest to the challenge are closest to its solution. Our success in realizing our vision for a fair and just Brooklyn is fully dependent upon our partnerships with grantees, community members, and donors. Bringing together all of our collective resources, we hope to be the spark that ignites lasting change.