Washington Women’s Foundation (WaWF) is a learning organization but implementing Collective Grants this year ramped up the learning curve! Implementing a brand new process was invigorating, but we also dealt with many challenges along the way. Preconceived notions about priority granting areas were tested and challenged. Dealing with a new and less structured process meant being flexible, pivoting and adjusting. Members needed to embrace discomfort, ambiguity, and differences. Despite the challenges, it was exciting, and rewarding process with great results and a less intense and overwhelming experience for nonprofits.
Nearly 60 members of the Foundation invested a significant amount of time in the Collective Grants this year. They spent their time learning about and discussing organizations doing work in three priority areas: the School to Prison Pipeline, Mental Health and Housing, and Community Cultural Preservation. “I appreciated doing a ‘deep dive’ into a specific area. I learned a lot, and find that I continue to follow up on the topic,” shared WaWF member Cindy Krueger, who served on the School to Prison Pipeline work group.
Each of the priority areas was led by 2 amazing work group leaders – it’s a big job, but it was an especially big lift this year and they did it with such grace and thoughtfulness. We are so grateful to the entire leadership team for stewarding the process and approaching it with a spirit of flexibility.
We have been reflecting on the many things we learned this year and are happy to share some thoughts below. To learn more about our Grantees and Merit Award Finalists click here.
Letter of Inquiry Phase
The LOI phase was a whirlwind – we hypothesized that our more focused grant areas would mean fewer letters of interest. That was not the case, and we will adjust to accommodate that reality in the future.
The main feedback we received from members about the LOI phase is that we need more time to better understand the topic as a group. We struggled with defining what we meant with our priority areas. How do we want to think about mental health? What part of the school to prison pipeline should we focus our attention on? What do we mean when we say culture? These were rich discussions, and we needed more time to dive in. Many members suggested an additional meeting to discuss the priority area before reviewing LOIs. We also anticipate that having the convening this fall will help us begin our understanding of the issues earlier in our process.
We also had to learn a new grant application software to review all the LOIs. We’re happy to share that 86% of survey respondents were able to use Reviewr effectively, and many noted they enjoyed the accessibility of having everything in one place.
The Research phase was brand new this year. Instead of asking nonprofits to submit lengthy, structured proposals, members researched organizations themselves. Initially, work group members were uncomfortable – we had never done this before, could we find the information? Could we do the nonprofit organizations justice? We are happy to share that the presentations and discussions in this phase were far richer and deeper than our former proposal review. Nonprofits were given the option of sending in materials or links they thought might be helpful for our research. We received a wide variety of materials, from grant proposals written for another funder to recordings of events. We got feedback from organizations that putting together these materials was both useful and fun!
“I joined WaWF to learn about a range of non-profit organizations in our state and how to effectively research and evaluate their work. My experience in the Research phase more than fulfilled this goal. It provided me with a number of valuable tools and resources for doing research independently while also offering the opportunity to hear and share members’ perspectives during our committee discussions. It was a wonderful learning and growth experience” shared Cynthia Putnam, a WaWF member who sat on the Community Cultural Preservation work group.
A big challenge was researching organizations of all different sizes, with a wide variety of publicly available information. Despite that, 92% of survey respondents felt adequately prepared to conduct research and 82% felt they had enough information to make decisions at the end of the process.
Our Conversation phase, while modestly different than previous years virtual site visits, encouraged Foundation members and nonprofit participants to have a conversation and engage with less structure and formality which allowed for more connection and relationship building. The conversations were very meaningful to grant committee members, and the broader membership consistently mentioned how useful the recordings were when voting in their ballots as well.
“Hearing from the members of the organization added a new, welcome element. Really got the sense for how the program worked, the relationship of the staff, the passion, the hopes for the future. Entirely worthwhile. I couldn’t imagine that we could make an informed decision without this phase” said Heidi Sachs, a WaWF member who sat on the School to Prison Pipeline workgroup.
Looking at the feedback, 87% of survey respondents felt adequately prepared for the conversations, and 100% said they would like to continue conducting conversations virtually. Comments noted the increased accessibility for both members and organizations staff and board, and the way a virtual meeting made things more informal and relational.
Overwhelmingly, nonprofits that participated in our new process shared how much they appreciated the changes we made this year. Nonprofits remarked on the transparency and straightforward ease of participating. They called our process innovative, thoughtful, and enjoyable.
In doing our own research, many felt that we were taking on a burden for them. By offering the option to share materials to aid in our research, many felt that they were able to share more information, in a way that was more complete, than in a grant proposal. There was unanimous support for the merit awards given at the Research and Conversation phases, and many organizations talked about how the small grants felt more respectful and helped to recognize the time invested in our process.
Our grantees are universally pushing back against systemic racial and gender inequities that have led to traumas of all varieties. These organizations are all working to address the traumatic impacts of a system built on white patriarchal supremacy.
Every solution offered by our finalists involves connecting individual people to one another, often by reintroducing them to the richness of their own communities and cultural distinctions and to the power of their own selves. Resistance to white supremacy and patriarchy demands connection to and solidarity with other people. The solutions we learned about during the grant process are grounded in the long-standing efforts and strengths of regular people in a community working together.
We aren’t funding brokenness at Washington Women’s Foundation. We fund hope and possibility and the strengths within communities that have always been present, but that have been actively denied access to resources due to laws, customs, and inequitable systems. Hope and possibility are what our finalists all bring to Washington State. And we at Washington Women’s Foundation are here to support that!
Our members are committed to moving resources to these nonprofits precisely because we are working for a better tomorrow. We recognize that the tremendous efforts we celebrated cannot be continued without other people getting involved and caring. And we all know that it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to maintain or expand on this important work without resources.
If we all believe in a better tomorrow, then our faith must be backed up with action! Here are three steps you can take:
- Join or give to Washington Women’s Foundation. All who identify as women are invited to join us as members!
- And finally, join us on Wednesday, September 21st at Town Hall, when we’ll be hosting our First Annual Convening to kick off our 2023 grant cycle! Together we will learn about our next three Big Themes: Healthcare, Education, and Agriculture/Climate Justice. Anyone attending the Convening or viewing the recording can suggest a priority for our 2023 grants, so we strongly encourage the wider community to be part of that conversation. This is your chance to let the Foundation know what issues you think we should focus on next year, so we hope you attend and make your voice heard!