By Pia Infante
January 31, 2018
Last year, The Whitman Institute joined a group of foundations from around the country in a collaborative rapid response fund: Defending the Dream. While we were already doing our own rapid response grantmaking, we knew that teaming up with other funder partners would allow us to work more swiftly and effectively without reinventing the wheel. So we joined Hill-Snowdon Foundation, General Service Foundation, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, Hyams Foundation, and other partners to pool our resources to uphold the dream of a thriving, inclusive democracy, and a strong public sector. This cohort of funders had never partnered in grantmaking before, but the urgency of communities being targeted by the Trump Administration fueled our desire to work collectively to support multi-issue, community-based organizing and power-building at the state and national levels.
Now in its second year, with a third RFP cycle coming this spring, the Defending the Dream Fund prioritizes support for groups that tend to be overlooked by larger funders, especially organizations with budgets under $1M and that are located in typically underfunded areas like the South, Midwest, and rural communities.
Collaborative work is never easy — especially when it involves moving funds quickly — but throughout the process, we and our funding partners have been in constant communication, which has allowed us to build a foundation of trust. First and foremost, we invested some time at the front-end to establish clear systems, roles, and processes. Hill-Snowdon provided the facilitative leadership, staffing, and communications infrastructure, Solidaire provided an online portal, and once determinations were made, each participating foundation executed a subset of grants directly so that the fund did not need to create a third fiscal entity. This structure enabled us to move relatively swiftly, using existing staffing, systems, and infrastructures. Ultimately, the second round cohort was determined within about 2 months time, with 31 awards of $10,000 to $25,000 in size totaling nearly half a million dollars.
After two rounds of grants, we and our funding partners have taken the time to collectively reflect on what we’ve learned as we prepare for a third cycle later this year. So far, this collaboration has yielded 8 key lessons:
Funders often encourage grantees to collaborate with each other, and it was humbling to try collaboration on for ourselves. While the process was obviously more clunky between multiple institutions that it might have been had we stayed with conducting all of our rapid response grantmaking individually, it brought unexpected joy and no doubt more lessons to be revealed. Ultimately, what we saw was that working together at the speed of trust built more trust in the decisions, the process, each other, and ultimately the incredible groups the fund supported.
Pia Infante is executive director of The Whitman Institute.
Article posted to The Whitman Institute Blog: