A scan of funder leadership beyond grantmaking

Flowers with bee, near Tamga
“Flowers with bee, near Tamga” by Trina Isakson is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

  • What value can and do funders provide beyond grant making?
  • What are emerging promising practices?
  • What other levers are funders using to positively impact the broader community?
  • What are the intended outcomes of these activities?
  • Where have funders found impact in getting out of the way?
  • What opportunities exist for smaller funders like community foundations and small private family foundations?
  • What opportunities exist for funders with more constraints, like government agencies?

While I contemplate the potential value of conducting Canadian research on these question, I’ve reached out to my philanthropic network to learn about existing research. I want to make sure any research I take on adds value and doesn’t replicate existing research.

In the meantime, here are related existing resources that my network has shared with me.

Here are some areas in which funders are demonstrating influence beyond grantmaking:

  • conducting advocacy, influencing public policy, other relationships with government
  • communications: shifting narratives/attitudes, using social capital and reach to share important stories/news
  • programming (rather than through/with/via grantees)
  • mission-related investing, impact investing, solutions finance
  • providing grants for things other than project/program support (e.g. research, evaluation, policy work)
  • offering capacity building support (e.g. operational support/advice, strategic planning, communications/marketing, HR, temporary staff support, professional development, restructuring support)
  • removing barriers to accessing funding
  • investing in leaders/individuals
  • offering physical space
  • acting as an administrative backbone for other smaller charities
  • acting as a backbone for collective impact initiatives
  • acting as seed tenants for community organization hubs
  • convening (e.g. conversations on important/tough issues)
  • modelling behaviours they wish to see more broadly (e.g. equity/anti-oppression/anti-racist practices)
  • supporting networks and building connections between systems, sectors and organizations
  • funding accreditation/standards programs to increase reputational capital
  • funding work to increase diversity on boards of directors
  • adopting open licensing/open licensing policies
  • adopting an entrepreneurial/venture philanthropy approach
  • supporting youth and acting as mentors, youth allies
  • championing grantees to other funders
  • field building, movement building
  • thought leadership, conducting and commissioning research and development (in-house or through/with grantees)
  • documenting and sharing internal different tools and approaches
  • compiling/sharing community data (e.g. Vital Signs)
  • allowing staff to act as board members on “company time”
  • sharing and using ‘SMIRF‘ capital: social, moral, intellectual, reputational and financial capital

These activities can be viewed / categorized a few different ways. Here’s a draft matrix that maps activities based on their intended outcomes vs. type of resource (financial or not). This is a 30 minute rough draft, and comments are welcome.

Funder leadership matrix draft 17-08-01
“Funder leadership matrix draft 17-08-01” by Trina Isakson is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

There are some deeper dives into these specific topics if you search resources and publications from groups like FSG, GEOCEP,and CEI. Some related Canadian resources are available through Philanthropic Foundations Canada, Community Foundations Canada, and UQAM’s PhiLab.

Thank you to Tina Barton, Bruce Davies, Blair Dimock, Derek Gent, Juniper Glass, Vani Jain, Sara Lyons, Kevin McCort, Laurence Miall, Dara Parker, Hilary Pearson, Darcy Ridell, Lee Rose, and Jillian Witt for your commentary and contributions so far.