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Call to Action: PEAK Grantmaking Conference 2019

April 10, 2019 - By Shermane Bilal and Liz Donohue

“Call to Action” was the theme of PEAK Grantmaking’s 14th Annual Conference held in Denver, Colorado last month. As part of our commitment to learning, we were eager to join over 850 grants management professionals for three days packed with conversation, networking, and creative thinking to help make our grantmaking more thoughtful and impactful.

PEAK Grantmaking is a leading member-led professional development organization for grants managers. Originally established as a group of New York City-based grantmaking staff who met informally to share challenges and insight gained from their roles, the organization now serves as a thought leader in the space of grants management. Together, the group published “Best Practices in Grants Management” as a benchmark for the policies and processes at grantmaking organizations across the country and by 1996, launched into a national organization of grantmaking professionals.

More than 60 conference sessions called on grantmakers to find ways to streamline practices and policies that build trust with grantees, drive equity, and promote learning and knowledge sharing. Participants discussed creative approaches toward better understanding grantees while enabling them to do their best work instead of saddling them with onerous grant applications and reporting requirements.

#MeToo Takes Center-stage at the Opening Plenary

The conference kicked off with Jessica Ladd, founder and CEO of Callisto, a non-profit that empowers sexual assault survivors on college campuses to report their assault and connect with resources through an app. As a grantee partner of the New York State Health Foundation, she had three main asks of philanthropy: 1. Diversify the funding landscape by looking at underfunded areas, 2. Take risks on projects that can make a huge impact only if they are implemented at scale, and 3. Give grantees the flexibility to adjust their strategy. She explained how the individuals closest to a solution are the ones most affected by an issue, but closed funding policies of many foundations restrict those types of organizations from ever applying for funding.

Ladd gave a TEDTalk in 2016, a year after the launch of the campus-based app, describing Callisto’s platform and mission to ensure survivors get support and justice.

Future of Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs)

Shermane Bilal, Senior Manager of Grants and Funds and Liz Donohue, Grants Manager at RPA were invited to participate on a panel entitled “The Future of DAFs” with grantmaking staff from the New York Community Trust, the San Francisco Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Pittsburgh. The panelists shared strategies for working productively with donor advisors, explained the benefits of DAF giving in different ways, the current statistics of DAFs, ideas around DAF reforms, and how to educate and engage with DAF clients. Around 50 attendees participated in breakout discussions around their own ideas for how to strengthen the work and transparency around DAFs, but what we found most surprising was that nearly half of the attendees did not work for a DAF organization, they simply wanted to learn more about them.

Equity and Inclusion through Participatory Grantmaking and Decolonizing Wealth

For the second year in a row, Edgar Villanueva, the Vice President of Programs and Advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education and the author of Decolonizing Wealth, gave a talk during lunch on Tuesday. Decolonizing Wealth analyzes colonial dynamics in philanthropy and finance and provides solutions to address the continued inequality in the sector, drawn from Native traditions. We were challenged to recognize the colonial history of wealth accumulation and question who decides how to distribute funding. He shared the stunning statistics that less than 8% of philanthropic dollars go back to communities of color in the United States, and less than 1% of that go to indigenous communities.
In the spirit of finding solutions to shift the power of philanthropic decision-making into the hands of those closest to the affected communities, there was a session based on Grantcraft’s Participatory Grantmaking Guide given by Jen Bokoff of Candid and Arlene Wilson-Grant of the Disability Rights Fund. Attendees learned about how the Disability Rights Fund practices participatory grantmaking and discussed how grantmaking decisions are made at their respective foundations

Overcoming Invisibility: Funding Native Issues

Participants learned about recent findings from the “Reclaiming Native Truth Project,” an unprecedented research campaign designed to increase our understanding of Native Americans while illustrating the path towards change for Native peoples. Of all foundation grants, nationwide, less than 0.03 percent go to Native Americans or Native issues. Of that percent, only one-third go to Native-led organizations serving Native people. Panelists shared strategies for funding Native issues, lessons from that work, and successes engaging with Native partners. A link to the guide can be found here.

Other stimulating conference sessions attended included: Get Woke: Are You Opening or Closing the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Door?; The Power Equation: Equalizing Power for Win/Win Solutions; Let’s Talk General Operating Grants; Process, What Process? Cat-Hearding for Grants Managers; Foundation Support for Nonprofit Advocacy; and Rapid-Response Grantmaking: Creating Nimble Processes to Support Urgent Movements.

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