Let’s Talk about Smarter Grantmaking and Doing
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Thoughts from inside a donor collaborative on conversation starters for grantee organizations to raise with funders

Let’s talk about smarter grantmaking and doing. Photo Credit: TAI

Let’s talk about smarter grantmaking and doing. Photo Credit: TAI

When I started my work with Transparency and Accountability Initiative, I did a double take when reading our 2017-2019 strategy. This strategy emphasized the practices of mutual learning, collaboration, and adaptive practice, reflecting the fruits of the Secretariat’s efforts and that of our funders. This was a new way of working for me that contradicted the typical grantseeker-grantmaker relationship, which I had experienced as driven mainly by compliance and accountability. Moving beyond these practices opens up new ways for grantee organizations to engage with funders.

Drawing on funder and grantee organization experiences, TAI’s funder members have generated a list of smarter grantmaking conversation starters grantee organizations might raise with funders.

TAI’s funder members invite grantee-driven conversations, requests, and feedback to help them provide the most meaningful support possible to grantee organizations. Our members recognize the mutual responsibility they share with grantees to have these conversations. They also recognize the responsibility of funders to listen and respond to such questions, even when the answers might be tough to deliver.

TAI sits at a unique crossroads: we are simultaneously a grantee organization, a thought partner, and advisor to grantmakers. We bridge the worlds of smarter grantmaking and doing. From this perspective, I’ve come to appreciate the potential for grantseekers to help grantmakers optimize not only what they fund but also how they can best apply the grantmaking tools at their disposal.

As a grantee, TAI has tested out some of these tips, and here are some of my favorite conversation starters across the grantmaking/seeking cycle:

  • Work with your Program Officer to strengthen the linkages between your strategy, resourcing, and implementation

During the proposal process, rather than assume that entirely new content is required, have a conversation with a potential funder around ways to leverage existing knowledge and documents in English or other languages. This also might include content on your strategy document, website content, or the possibility of repurposing already-crafted proposals.

  • Do your part to eliminate unnecessary and unused narrative reporting

Congratulations! Your proposal was successful; time to start preparing for yet another set of donor reporting timelines and formats, right? Not necessarily. Dare to ask questions about reporting requirements. Both grantmakers and seekers can benefit from reflecting on which of these practices are in fact necessary and which are simply “the way we’ve always done things.”

  • Program officers are responsible to give out money, and more, so help them do this

Many funders offer project or core support grants and have other mechanisms to provide supplemental support – to existing grantee organizations. Don’t assume that your organization is not eligible for different types of financial or technical support from the same funder.

We invite you to read and use the full list of smarter grantmaking conversation starters. This list is not exhaustive and certainly not meant to be prescriptive. We recommend that grantseekers approach these topics with curiosity and explore alternative practices that may be more appropriate to their contexts.