Reflecting on the Grantee Engagement Team’s First Year 

This was the first year for the Grantee Engagement Team (GET). Learning was one of our major goals, and we learned a lot! GET was formed to develop relationships with WaWF grantees in alignment with our grantmaking and community outreach strategies. Supporting grantees is a key part of relationship building, so we started this year focused on finding out what kind of support our grantees needed and exploring how we could provide that support. 

We began with the following guiding questions: 

  1. How can we continue to build relationships with our grantees?  
  1. If our goal is to support our grantees beyond the grant, what does support mean?  
  1. Is WaWF able to provide the support that our grantees request?  
  1. How do we share opportunities to connect with and support grantees with the broader WaWF membership?  
  1. How do we use what we’ve learned to improve the grantmaking process? 
Shifting from Assessment to Engagement 

While it was challenging to try something different, most GET members enjoyed the new approach. During the year, small teams met with 14 grantees.  In order to minimize the burden of these meetings the frequency and type of meeting were determined by the grantee. With a less demanding structure and more flexible reporting requirements, we found more opportunities for collaboration and relationship building. Many GET members said that their engagement with grantees felt more meaningful. We learned about Trust-Based Philanthropy and put the concept of “support beyond the check” into action.  

Grantee Support 

Through regular check-ins and a grantee survey, we learned about the kinds of support our grantees need. Four themes emerged. 

  1. Training/learning  

Grantees wanted information on where they could access training or learn about specific topics relevant to their work. Our grantees asked for support in identifying opportunities ranging from program management to professional development to coaching.  We are working to develop a Resource Bank, so we have a good list of ideas for GET members to use when responding to these requests. 

  1. Connections/introductions  

Grantees were interested in fundraising support and introductions to potential funders or sponsors. Many GET members tapped into their personal networks to make connections, and WaWF staff also assisted with these requests.  We made several connections between grantees, for example between organizations doing similar work, or those embarking on a new project and looking for insight from peers who had done similar work. This included a grantee beginning a capital campaign and seeking advice from peers who had successfully navigated a major campaign as a smaller, rural organization.  

  1. Networking/information sharing  

Grantees frequently shared information with GET members for broader dissemination including calls for volunteers, board members, or invitations to events. Isabelle created a communications guidelines document, outlining all the different communications formats we have at WaWF, and the best way to share information using those tools. For more complex requests, GET members worked with Isabelle to craft specific calls to action to include in the WaWF newsletter.  

  1. Direct action 

Grantees also requested support in the form of direct action – simple requests like following on social media, joining the newsletter, or supporting a specific campaign. One of the direct action requests that we heard from a grantee was for the formation of a BIPOC ED support group.  We are continuing to explore this possibility at the staff level.  

Challenges 

Of course, we encountered roadblocks along the way. We had to adjust our expectations about how often grantees would want to connect. Some were interested in quarterly calls, and some didn’t want to meet at all. We reminded ourselves that our goal was to support grantees in the way that was most useful to them, not to require a certain type of engagement with us.  

Since this was our first year, we were uncertain about what help WaWF could provide. We had no pre-determined list of ways to support grantees and so we asked, “How can we help?” so that we could learn what was needed and figure out how to meet those needs. We are now working to get a better sense of what our capacity is as an organization and as individual members. Members – stay tuned for a survey to help us learn more about the skills you have to offer our grantees! 

Trying something new isn’t easy for everyone. Applying a trust-based approach was uncomfortable for some GET members. We worked together to help each other learn the benefits of our new approach to engagement with grantees.  

To address some of the challenges we encountered we developed a framework to help us assess the different types of support we can provide and enable GET members to act more effectively. We learned that we cannot meet all grantee requests, nor should we try. We do not have the resources to do so- either staff time or money. What we can do is be responsive to some of the requests and then build our capacity for the future. 

Final Thoughts 

Change is a challenge – and it is also how we stay the forward-thinking organization we pride ourselves on being.  We have worked as a team to move forward, informed by our community.   We eagerly anticipate next year, when we will implement changes informed by what we learned this year. We both are proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish and are confident that we have built a strong foundation for the future work of this team. Members – we invite you to join us next year!  
 

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