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Evaluation Report: Centering Equity in Grantmaking

Background

In 2021, we partnered with the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust on a Request for Proposals (RFP) to support organizations led by and serving Black, Latino, American Indian, and people of color communities to advance early childhood system and policy changes. This was the first time in several years that we released an open funding opportunity and the first time we designed a funding opportunity specifically for Black, Latino, American Indian, and people of color-led organizations. This funding opportunity also reflected an enhanced focus on centering equity and being intentional about making decisions in its design and implementation to reflect principles of equity including a focus on clarity, transparency, accessibility, and learning.

Understanding the significance of this endeavor and recognizing its potential implication on our approach to future funding opportunities, we partnered with ETR Services, LLC (ETR Services) to conduct a comprehensive third-party evaluation to document the procedures and impact of the Foundation’s RFP process. The evaluation explored and answered questions related to our efforts to center equity and to design a grantmaking process that is inclusive and accessible.

Approach

ETR Services used a mixed methods design including a review of initiative-related documents; interviews with applicants, external reviewers, and Foundation staff; a survey focused on applicant experience; and listening sessions with applicants and external review partners to check the credibility of the findings. Additionally, ETR Services facilitated several learning sessions with Foundation staff to help elevate assumptions and make sense of the data. Collectively, this approach enabled the Foundation to surface and tests its assumptions and establish a roadmap to a more exceptional and equitable grantmaking experience.

 

What We Learned

In general, the evaluation found that applicants had a positive experience with the RFP process and felt that it was clear and transparent. Some of the contributing factors to a positive experience included built-in opportunities, such as the informational webinar and 1:1 consultations with Foundation staff ahead of crafting a proposal. Additionally, applicants liked the shorter than average Letter of Intent (five questions) that preceded a virtual site visit for those selected to advance in the process. The Foundation’s commitment to equity - within its own processes and as an intended outcome of the funded projects - was also appreciated by applicants and external reviewers.

The evaluation also elevated several opportunities for continuous improvement that we are carrying forward. For instance, while the Foundation has taken steps to increase its transparency, we recognize that there is more we can do to provide insight into our thinking, decisions, and actions. Additionally, we are continuing to explore and expand our efforts to broaden relationships with organizations across the state, including a specific focus on rural communities. We also learned that it is essential to build a shared understanding of concepts and terminology. What something is or what a word means can vary person to person and group to group as many factors including social networks, environments, educational experiences, etc. inform these perceptions. Misalignment and confusion can be lessened with shared understanding.

 

Why It Matters

This RFP reflected a shift in the Foundation’s grantmaking process to more intentionally and explicitly consider principles of equity including clarity, transparency, accessibility, and learning. With this shift, it was important to take the time to assess and understand what worked and what didn’t work in order to inform our ongoing efforts.

Since the time of this evaluation, we have released more than 10 other funding opportunities. Staff have integrated lessons learned from this experience and have continued to identify additional opportunities to create a more exceptional and equitable experience for grantees - an ongoing pursuit to improve how we function as an organization.

We hope that sharing this report can spark further conversation with our grantees and partners about continued advancements to our grantmaking practices. We also hope other funders might find opportunity in what we’ve learned to change how they approach their work, as well as see the benefit in employing evaluation to reflect on their own practices and processes and share what they are learning with others in the field.

Want to Know More?

See Director of Learning and Evaluation Sarah Smith’s Q&A with Teresita Maz, Vice President, Operations and Rob Thompson, Director, Early Childhood for their perspectives on developing and evaluating this RFP. Read the Q&A.

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EVALUATION REPORT

Centering Equity in Grantmaking

While we believe we have developed a deeper understanding of focusing on equity within our work, we have also come to better understand that there is no shortcut or manual for equitable grantmaking. In the spring of 2021, we began working with ETR Services to serve as a learning partner and external evaluator in our efforts to advance our grantmaking practices. The evaluation explored and answered questions related to our efforts to center equity and to design a grantmaking process that is inclusive and accessible.

Download the report to learn more.