We asked Lorraine del Prado to share a reflection from this past year’s Pooled Fund Grant Committee. Lorraine has been a member since 2011 and has served on the Pooled Fund Grant and Diversity Partner Grant Committees. She also served on the Pooled Fund Grant Task Force and the Board’s Resource Development Committee.
I believe that the true strengths and culture of an organization are revealed in times of need, stress and uncertainty much more than in periods of placid normalcy. WA Women’s Foundation certainly demonstrated amazing capabilities and its core values in the Pooled Fund Grant Committee (PFGC) during this unprecedented year.
It was a year when we responded to the COVID-19 challenges with experimentations, pivots, creative adjustments, more inclusiveness and all things Zoom. It was a year that revealed the superpowers of our amazing WA Women’s Foundation staff, especially Aviva Stampfer, our Grant Program Manager. It was a year that reaffirmed the high-quality of our membership – their compassion, adaptability, intelligence and continuous learning and self-examination and their dedication to social justice. And most importantly, it was a year that elevated the incredible work of organizations that are reducing disparities and increasing equity among communities of color across the state.
I’d like to share new and noteworthy aspects of this year’s PFGC process and what may be opportunities for improvement in the future.
What was new or noteworthy in the PFGC this year?
- We added a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) pre-screen process to eliminate LOIs that did not meet all three elements of our grant criteria. This allowed for more robust and meaningful discussions on the qualifications, approaches and merits of remaining organizations during our Work Group meetings.
- The Grant Committee fully embraced and applied our equity-focused criteria. Their work was reinforced by a variety of social justice programming from WA Women’s Foundation (from Intersect and the Book Club to Let’s Talk Thursdays). The disparities we wished to address were especially magnified by COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests and movement, all of which further validated the relevance of our grant criteria.
- Beyond impacting the mechanics of our meetings, COVID-19 also impacted our grant applicant review. As a consequence, communities considered more vulnerable to the catastrophic health and economic consequences of COVID-19 were lifted up in the vote.
- Our pivot to Zoom meetings due to the COVID-19 lockdown worked well for both proposal review and the site visits. The Zoom site visit was less burdensome for nonprofits than an in-person visit, and enabled organizations to involve staff and board members in different locations in the visit. The site visit was more a conversation rather than a show and tell for organization representatives, and we felt more in community.
- We eliminated the Top 25 presentations, which used to occur at the end of Phase 2. This resulted in a welcome reduction in the number of meetings and the workload of the Grant Committee. We gave greater emphasis on the Top 15 presentations (post-Site Visit reports), which were again delivered via Zoom and went exceedingly well.
- The Grant Awards Celebration was a very heartwarming, uplifting and creative virtual event cooked up by WA Women’s Foundation staff. More than 200 people attended the main program and a lot stayed for innovative breakout sessions for meeting grantees, dancing, celebrating or sharing what one has done to be an anti-racist in the previous week.
- Finally, our members strove for more intellectual humility and demonstrated greater respect for and partnership with the nonprofits this year. During the grant discussions, they trusted the expertise of the nonprofits and gave more weight to lived experience and on-the-ground knowledge of nonprofit leaders than they did to degrees and credentials.
Our Pooled Fund Grant process should make all of us proud and we continue to refine it to be more responsive to community needs. What could be improved?
- Our grant categories need to be updated to be more aligned with our criteria of reducing disparities and increasing equity in Washington State. The categories are asymmetrically represented by the number of organizations. There are much fewer organizations meeting our criteria in the Environment category, and less have been applying every year. For Human Services on the other hand, lots of organizations qualify, but they have less chances to be considered because of the vast pool of applicants compared to other categories. Organizations at the intersection of health, human services, education also get lost in our categorization. It is time to take a look at our grant categories.
- We should start funding organizations doing primarily advocacy activities as they are needed to pursue systems change, especially in addressing racial inequities.
- We should look at ways to simplify the proposal process for our grant applicants especially in light of uncertain funding sources due to COVID-19. Asking these organizations to make 3-year projections or share strategic plans in these circumstances is just unrealistic, not to mention burdensome. We may wish to ask them what guides their decisions for prioritizing resources and programs during a time of uncertainty.
- We should consider giving a small grant to the third organization that makes it to the site visits, but is not voted into the final ballot. These organizations are terrific and invested a lot of time to participate in our process. Even a grant of $2,500 would be helpful and show our appreciation and respect for what they do.
Finally, it has been an honor and a terrific learning and growing experience to serve as Chair of the Grant Committee this past year. Next year’s Grant Chair is the unstoppable Aru Chandorkar. She will be joined by Nicole Stellner, who will serve as Vice Chair. Our heartfelt thanks goes to Christine Atkins for her three years of valuable contributions to the Grant Leadership Team. Most importantly, our deepest gratitude goes to all 52 members of the Grant Committee for their inspiring service, commitment and adaptability this year. We hope that all of you and even more members will join us in 2021.