What does racial justice look like in the outreach stage of grantmaking? That is the question Iris Garcia and her colleagues at the Akonadi Foundation, a racial justice funder based in Oakland, asked themselves. While they had a thoughtful grant application, there was a belief that just as much intentionality should be given to the outreach and dissemination of grant opportunities. They began a journey to incorporate outreach practices that both attracted well-suited applicants, but also drew hard-to-reach applicants into the process.
Iris is part of the current cohort of the Harmony Initiative, a leadership development program of the Bay Area Justice Funders Network. She reflected that a key takeaway during the program has been being intentional about learning, and critically examining current practices: “As an organization, we have to keep challenging ourselves to be more accountable in asking questions and conducting outreach in the right way. We are a learning organization, and the Harmony program reiterates the importance of self-reflection. We want the application process to be empowering for applicants, and it is important to get the right organizations to apply.”
The team at Akonadi wanted to push themselves beyond the standard practices of application outreach, which included publishing opportunities on their website and sharing information with existing grantees and other funders. They believe that the outreach stage is ground zero for establishing equitable philanthropic processes. As Iris states, “For Akonadi Foundation, we are all about reducing the barriers to entry for our grant partners. We know that it may be hard for artists and organizations to proactively find funding opportunities. At Akonadi Foundation, we actively reach out to communities on the margins, because we should be the ones finding people that could benefit from our support. For one of our grant programs, we hold regular information sessions out in the community to share about the grant program and be accessible to the community.”
Iris described one example of an intentional outreach effort, but she also explained that it must be part of a shift towards accountability and transparency with grant partners. Akonadi uses key criteria to assess incoming applications, and the foundation made those assessment topics publicly visible in an application guide on their website. Iris states, “We want applicants to know what to expect in the application and what they are being assessed on so that they can put together the strongest proposals possible.”
Towards more racially just outreach practices, Akonadi Foundation implemented a new set of practices. This required a lot of internal communication to ensure that all staff could effectively answer questions from potential applicants. It also required strong communication with applicants to ensure they felt adequately supported. In particular, Akonadi’s practices included:
- Conducting information sessions both at the foundation office as well as within community-based organizations to reach out to new applicants
- Developing an accessible rapid response grant application of three questions, which could be submitted in writing online or communicated verbally during a phone call with a staff member
- Offering technical assistance phone calls to potential grantees to discuss how best to frame and tell the story within a grant application.
Akonadi Foundation uses their grant outreach process as a way to build authentic and supportive relationships with grant partners. This represents an organizational value that drives the outreach process. Describing their outreach framework, Iris notes, “Our focus is on reaching marginalized communities, and we need an outreach process that supports that. We need to be accessible to applicants who may not speak fluent English, or elders who cannot easily navigate a website. Our outreach process helps us encourage grant applicants to include information they may not think is important, but that we as a racial justice funder want to see.”
As a field, funders are seeing the value of an outreach process centered on justice and equity. With a values-based grantmaking process, funders are likely to get a diverse applicant pool. Funders can uncover groups doing important work that may not have surfaced in a typical outreach process. An inclusive outreach process may take more effort on the part of funders, but the rewards are well worth the extra work.
Now we want to hear from you. What are some practices that your organization has used to create an effective outreach process? How does this affect your organization and your grantee partners? What other values-aligned practices are working for you? Please send us an email and share what you are seeing and learning and how we might break bad philanthropic habits together.