September 7, 2016
From the President

Reflections on “More Than Money” Grantmaking

By Hilary Pearson

Back in 2011 at the PFC conference in Toronto, Tim Brodhead, former CEO of the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation, admonished his grantmaker audience not to forget PINJAM: Philanthropy Is Not Just About Money. By this Tim meant certainly that grantmakers can be more effective if they offer resources beyond their funds, resources such as expertise, time, networking and convening capacity , to name a few.

Today, the discussion about what makes philanthropy more effective goes beyond what grantmakers offer grantees to what grantees can offer their funders. This summer has seen a number of short and long reflections on this two-way relationship, coming out of research and practice in the United States.
For example, a number of foundation officers, nonprofit leaders and researchers/academics in philanthropy have commented on the subject of the relationship with grantees in an August series featured in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

While the whole series is interesting because of the different perspectives from both sides, I found the piece by Katie Eyes, a senior foundation program officer, particularly sensible for tips on learning how to work effectively with grantees. She rightly notes that many foundations think it is “opening Pandora’s box” to open up conversations with grantees. But she suggests that it is essentially a matter of style: being open to listening, learning and adjusting strategies with grantees in an ongoing way. Of course that is much more difficult to do than to say.

This conversational approach is essentially the one discussed in a longer article by Doug Easterling in the Fall 2016 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. He takes on the issue of how “more than money” grantmaking helps grantees to become more effective through an increase in their adaptive capacity. Easterling introduces the term “evocative grantmaking” as a way of distinguishing it from the grantmaking which views grants as a payment for an agreed-upon body of work. In this approach the grantmaker is not engaging in a contract for services delivered but entering into a relationship through which the funder helps the grantee become more adaptive, through critical thinking, learning and organizational development, while incidentally also building and deploying these capacities in itself.

Another more breezily written short piece on the grantor-grantee two-way relationship by Jeff Kutash, a foundation executive director, makes the point that it is not easy to build relationships with grantees, since grantmakers and grantees are essentially playing games as different as soccer and American football. In his view, foundations have to be willing to join their grantees on their own field (soccer) and he does offer some suggestions for how to do so, including much the same advice given by Eyes and Brodhead, to listen, engage in open dialogue, and do things for nonprofits that they can’t do for themselves and that take both risk and money (eg advocacy, knowledge dissemination, convening etc)

It struck me as I read these reflections on aspects of PINJAM that there are good reasons why many foundations are wary of “opening Pandora’s box” as Katie Eyes puts it. Both funders and grantees find it challenging to work together in the ways recommended by these observers. It’s one thing to offer support for some capacity-building or to offer to make some introductions. It’s another to engage in close relationships that can be unpredictable, personal and sometimes critical.

Indeed many grantees (one thinks of large organizations such as health care or education) simply don’t want such dialogue. Easterling acknowledges that a grantmaker who wants to try “evocative” grantmaking will have to check that its own culture is compatible with a flexible, open-ended, learning-oriented approach. And there are implications for foundation strategies, since this approach suggests limiting the number of grantees, and working more in depth and for longer periods of time with a smaller number of partners. It may never be more than a minority that tries to be “evocative grantmakers” or to join their grantees on the soccer field, so to speak. This doesn’t make the contribution of more arms-length grantmakers less important.

I think nonetheless that more foundations in Canada are considering Tim’s exhortation of PINJAM. This is partly because of the track record of impact, and because of the nature of the challenges that foundations are taking on with their partners. It is also in part because of the newer generation coming on board with a keen interest in engagement and creating two-way relationships. What this means for grantees as well as for grantmakers will be interesting to see. But it may indeed make for more effective Canadian philanthropy in the next few years.

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