Our Vision for Smarter Grantmaking

Strong nonprofits are indispensable to our success as grantmakers. The GEO community is united in this understanding, and is constantly striving to help nonprofits grow stronger and achieve more.

Driven by this desire to improve, the GEO community has worked together for 20 years to cut through the noise and find clarity on which improvements actually make a difference for our grantees. We have identified a set of core smarter grantmaking approaches that provide a place to start and also continually revisit. This list of core smarter grantmaking approaches is not exhaustive. Our community is always exploring new ways to provide the support nonprofits need to achieve results. It is our vision that all grantmakers focus on and adopt these practices that matter most to nonprofits.

That’s why we are also working together to identify what makes it possible for our organizations to change and adapt to the needs of the nonprofits we support. Our early work suggests that a productive grantmaker culture helps to create the conditions for nonprofit success. We also recognize that we need to make equity a critical element of our work in order to create positive results for the communities we serve. Our institutions were built to advantage some but not all. Race is the most persistent predictor of inequity, and we, as grantmakers, must address the historic, emerging, dynamic and collective forces that suppress racial justice. In order to make faster change possible, these elements are incorporated throughout GEO’s core smarter grantmaking approaches.

Strengthening relationships with nonprofits and other community leaders

When we build trust with and tap the knowledge of nonprofits and community members, we amplify each other’s strengths and arrive at better solutions. In order to build these relationships, we need to recognize how our power can create hesitation and tension in our partners — and own the responsibility of creating authentic connections. Nonprofits grow stronger when grantmakers:

Create an internal culture that helps build relationships

  • Actively work to bridge your knowledge gaps about the communities you serve
  • Build and implement a culture that results in a staff that treats each other and nonprofits with respect by prioritizing collaboration, inclusion, humility, flexibility, responsiveness, transparency and learning
  • Empower organizational leaders to continually tend to culture
  • Recognize and work to address your unconscious biases
  • Recruit nonprofit and community leaders to serve on your board and staff
  • Commit to staff and board diversity
  • Create the space necessary for board and staff to focus on relationship building

Use your leadership position to help nonprofits build bridges

  • Use your role as a convener to foster collaboration and learning among nonprofits in the community
  • Open doors for nonprofits to other sources of funding and resources, particularly for leaders from communities of color and other marginalized groups who may lack access

Recognize and share your power

  • Proactively reach out to communities you serve to ensure your grantmaker processes are clear and accessible to community leaders
  • Solicit and act on anonymous feedback from grantees, declined applicants and beneficiaries
  • Enable nonprofit and community leaders to help craft your grantmaking strategy and other key decisions
  • Include representatives of nonprofits or recipient communities in funding decisions, because they have valuable knowledge that helps create well-rounded grantmaking practices

Flexible, reliable funding

We are able to change our communities for the better when we find mission-aligned organizations and let them tell us what their greatest needs are. Long-term, unrestricted support is not only an indicator of trust, it helps nonprofits adapt to the changing conditions around them. Nonprofits grow stronger when grantmakers:

Employ a funding strategy that strengthens organizations and communities

  • Give increased levels of general operating support
  • Give more multiyear support
  • Make larger average grants
  • When there are roadblocks to operating support, fund the full cost of projects by not setting caps on overhead
  • Operate on the knowledge that systemic racism has led to inequitable distribution of resources — and ensure that organizations led by and serving people of color receive an equitable share of grant dollars
  • Support advocacy and policy work

Set realistic and appropriate expectations for internal and external stakeholders

  • Be realistic about what results can reasonably be achieved for grants of different sizes and types
  • Ensure your staff and board understand nonprofit finance, governance, leadership, infrastructure and vision.
  • Rethink your administrative requirements — and explore aligning with other funders — to minimize the burden on nonprofits
  • Be patient and prioritize long-term outcomes over short-term results

Capacity Building

Capacity building is an investment in effectiveness and sustainability for organizations. Strong programs exist in strong organizations. The strongest nonprofits are adaptable and resilient, and capacity building allows nonprofits to build their skills and expertise to tackle important issues and achieve their mission. Nonprofits grow stronger when grantmakers:

Develop your own capacity to fulfill your mission effectively

  • Ensure staff and trustees understand how capacity- building efforts advance your strategy
  • Develop trusting relationships that allow for honest conversations about nonprofit needs
  • Understand the landscape of other capacity-building offerings and how you are positioned to best contribute given your resources, skills and relationships

Acknowledge grantee’s capacity-building needs and provide support that is contextual, continuous and collective

  • Be aware of the diversity of capacity needs and adjust expectations and approach according to the specific needs of individuals, organizations, networks, systems and communities
  • Provide long-term capacity-building support that covers the full cost of the change and growth taking place
  • Invest in nonprofit leaders at multiple levels, with particular attention paid to leaders of color and populations of historically marginalized groups
  • Ensure nonprofits have access to quality, culturally-competent capacity-building providers, and invest in these providers
  • Coordinate capacity building with other funders to streamline processes and maximize resources

Learning and evaluation

Continuous improvement is at the heart of effective evaluation. Collecting the right information — including both quantitative and qualitative data — we can learn from what’s working and what isn’t. Grantmakers are in a unique position to create conditions for learning in our organizations and in our communities. Nonprofits grow stronger when grantmakers:

Invest in evaluation

  • Build the evaluative capacity of nonprofits
  • Pay for learning work that includes evaluations and other kinds of activities

Embed learning in your internal culture

  • Build an internal culture that supports learning and create structures to institutionalize the time and resources needed for learning
  • Use evaluation as a real time practice to guide decisions
  • Share what you are learning and invite nonprofits, community leaders and other funders to learn together
  • Embrace risk and reward learning from failures
  • Adjust application, reporting and evaluation requirements to the size and scope of the grant
  • Take on the responsibility of collecting data that are valuable to your grantees
  • Encourage your peers to discuss what is needed in evaluation to result in more streamlined reporting

Create the space for nonprofits and other community members to shape what success looks like

  • Make sure decisions about how success will be measured take into account the complexity of the work and how long it will take to create results
  • Acknowledge that everything won’t go exactly as planned for grantees and create opportunities for long-term learning and course corrections
  • Be attentive to whether your definition of success unintentionally leaves out organizations led by people from the community — especially people of color
  • Ensure evaluation requests are as useful to nonprofits as they are to you
  • Work with other funders, nonprofits and communities to better understand the presence of disparity by collecting and making meaning of community-level data, disaggregated by race and other important characteristics, together


Making progress on many of the intractable issues our communities face requires us to work together. We will only be successful if we work with others, follow more than we lead, and put the needs of our communities ahead of our own. When we fit the right approach to the right situation, collaboration can be effective tool to amplify results. Nonprofits grow stronger when grantmakers:

Understand your role in collaboration

  • Identify the areas where collaboration can produce positive results to achieve your goals
  • Examine your landscape to understand whether your role in the system might require relinquishing control or being willing to follow
  • Build your competency for cross-cultural collaboration
  • Work closely with other funders and nonprofits (as well as other key actors like government, businesses, etc.) addressing the same issue or in the same region
  • Listen to your partners more than you talk
  • Provide adequate staff time to build trust and navigate partnerships
  • Realistically manage the time commitment of collaborations
  • Ensure people affected by the work have a seat at the table and a voice in the collaborative effort

Set the stage for nonprofits to successfully collaborate

  • Respectfully use your role as a grantmaker to create the conditions for collaboration to succeed without forcing collaborations
  • Pay the full cost of grantee collaboration, including staff time as well as direct costs
  • Support nonprofits to develop their own collaborative skills
  • Ensure your grant processes enable collaboratives to apply and access funding

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