Celebrating 25 Years of Exploring Effective Grantmaking Practices

  • By Marcus Walton (ex officio), February 28, 2023

Over the past 25 years, contributors to the GEO community have remained steadfast in our commitment to exploring the principles and practices that drive philanthropic effectiveness. In my three years of service within GEO’s leadership, I am honored to partner with a growing community of grantmakers who are having critical conversations and facilitating changes needed to foster the most meaningful conditions for our partners to thrive. Our collective interpretations of what “effectiveness” entails is always evolving and it is essential that our shared vision for effectiveness evolve with our practices.

The first 25 years of learning alongside our peers shows us that being effective in our philanthropic endeavors starts with acknowledging the ecosystems in which we live. Increasingly, grantmakers are entering vulnerable dialogues about the persistent impacts of philanthropy’s beginnings and the origins of this abundance of resources. Equipped with historical and contemporary context, and authentic relationships with impacted communities, grantmakers are more prepared than ever to support transformational change. But this awareness is not something new to those of us who contribute to the GEO community. Indeed, I think back to the 2018 National Conference in San Francisco, remembering with fondness how GEO declared that “effective equals equitable” and noticing the vulnerability demonstrated by participants in various plenaries and workshops that featured the integration of racial equity grantmaking practices.

As I reflect on where GEO has been as well as where we seek to go, I realize that transformation is a common feature of the culture for generations of GEO members and partners. While the conversations continue to shift as new leaders, insights and data emerge, my commitment is to ensure that the courageous pursuits of leaders of change within the philanthropic sector enduringly fuels this expansive community of practice and learning.

The GEO community knows and teaches us that effective grantmaking requires grantmakers to challenge “business as usual” frameworks that prioritize secrecy over transparency, paternalism over collaboration, homogeny over honoring the full range of experiences that exist across the global diaspora. To recouple principles and practice, GEO made a commitment to focus on racial equity in grantmaking including the broadest range of intersections spanning the human experience such as ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and disabilities as we move further along in this work. If the goal of contemporary grantmaking is to help nonprofits grow stronger and be more impactful, then the fullest expression of our effectiveness demands that we support the collective forces tackling societal injustices. GEO continues to provide a unique forum for grantmakers to experiment with new practices that yield better results while centering the diverse array of experiences within our communities.

The fullest expression of our effectiveness demands that we support the collective forces tackling societal injustices.

The GEO community is rooted in the idea that knowing better is not enough to do better. Effectiveness requires strengthened connections that are made in service of collective philanthropic action. We, therefore, challenge ourselves to cultivate and leverage cooperative trusting relationships with each other to counteract inequitable power dynamics. We prioritize moving out of isolation and into community with peers, partners and movements who are working towards shared goals. Spaces such as GEO’s peer learning opportunities and more continue to interrogate the organizational systems required for lasting change in our field and beyond. It teaches us that trust, accountability and mutual support are among the central conditions needed for collective change.

Because of GEO’s history as a convener, we are well positioned to provide space for practitioners and the communities we serve to slow down, decompress, listen to each other and gain exposure to a range of perspectives. In doing these things, grantmakers can reconnect with and clarify our voice – the fullest expression of our inherent power to affect change.

As we continue this exploration of philanthropic effectiveness, I invite you to share how GEO has impacted your philanthropic culture and practices. Throughout our 25th anniversary year, we will be sharing your stories and reflecting on our evolving, unending work. Thank you to all who have supported the GEO Community with your investments of time, energy and financial resources. We look forward to the next 25 years of collective efforts in creating a just, inclusive and connected society.



Since 1998 GEO has been a community that has challenged itself to think critically, focused intently on what matters most to nonprofits’ success, and supported participants to implement smarter grantmaking practices. This year, the GEO community celebrates 25 years of exploring what effective grantmaking practice looks like in service of nonprofits and communities. Over the next few months, we invite GEO members, grantmaking practitioners, and other partners to share stories of how GEO has impacted your perspectives on effectiveness.

Marcus Walton (ex officio)

President & CEO


Marcus F. Walton joins GEO with over a decade of practice in both nonprofit management and the ontological learning model. He specializes in operationalizing conceptual frameworks; racial equity facilitation and training; leadership and management strategy; stakeholder engagement; program development and navigating philanthropy.

In his previous role as Director of Racial Equity Initiatives for Borealis Philanthropy, Marcus lead the Racial Equity Initiatives team and worked in partnership with 18 nationally-networked, philanthropy-serving grantee organizations to move past the “transactional” nature of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to a unified movement which prioritizes strategies that close gaps in access to opportunity, resources and well-being (across all categories of gender, identity, sexual orientation, class and ability).

Before that, Marcus served as Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), where he oversaw its operations, HR and staff development functions, including the overall strategy, conceptualization and administration of racial equity programming. Prior to ABFE, he combined his organizing experience and passion for public service in the role of Program Officer of Community Responsive Grantmaking with the Cleveland Foundation and Sr. Program Officer with Neighborhood Progress, Inc.

Marcus is a Newfield Network-trained ontological coach, with additional training in the Action Learning systems coaching model. He promotes coaching as a tool for personal mastery, racial equity & systems change, social sector excellence and transformation within marginalized communities.

Marcus received a Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science from Bowling Green State University and has continued graduate studies in public administration at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Public Policy as well as Rutgers University’s School of Public Affairs and Administration.