8 Tools Grantmakers Frequently Forget to Use


toolboxWhen most people think about philanthropy, it’s all about the money. But cold, hard cash is just one of many tools in a grantmaker’s tool belt. And some of those non-cash tools are far more effective when it comes to addressing grantee needs and community challenges. Here are eight tools grantmakers can – and should – use more often:

  1. Connections – Who are the people you know, and how could you make introductions or referrals for your grantees? If you’re like most people, you probably have a broader list of contacts than you realize. Don’t be afraid to use it. Think about the other funders, accountants, attorneys, consultants, government employees, and nonprofit leaders you’ve met. How could these people help your grantees or partners? Once you get started, I think you’ll be amazed at the connections you can make.
  2. Knowledge and Intellectual Capital – What do you know about your community, about local politics, about other funders, about the issues? How and when can you share that information in ways that can support your grantees? For example, the Community Foundation of Lorain County recently used its knowledge of the area and its knowledge of board leadership to conduct a series of board trainings for boards and CEOs from nonprofits throughout the county. The Cleveland Foundation, after learning a great deal about quality after school programs, created an online database of high quality after-school programs to help parents find programs for their kids.
  3. Experience – Chances are, you have specific experience in certain areas that can translate to advice and guidance for grantees. Perhaps earlier in your career you led a scale up of a nonprofit to reach new markets. Maybe you led an advocacy charge to change public policy. Perhaps your organization merged with another organization. When you started your job as a funder, you didn’t wipe the slate clean — you brought your entire past experience with you, and you can use it to help your grantees. Just be sure to offer it with humility, and only when a grantee seems willing. No one wants to be forced to learn from your experience against his or her will!
  4. Reputation – As a funder, your reputation, both personal and professional, individual and organizational, can help open doors for grantees. Speaking up for grantees and endorsing their work to other funders can help leverage further investments. Advocating on their behalf can help ensure better policies and regulations. And calling attention to their successes can encourage others to replicate it.
  5. Physical space – Your board room, country club, even your house can provide valuable meeting space for a grantee’s staff retreat. Or, use your space to host an event, sans rental fee. Even providing a small space for a quiet conversation between diverse community stakeholders can help solve shared challenges and move everyone forward.
  6. Convening power – As a funder, you have an unmatched ability to bring together either disagreeing factions or would-be partners in a safe, neutral and controlled environment. You can also provide facilitators or mediators to help move their conversations forward and enhance their outcomes. For example, the Packard Foundation convened local county leaders quarterly to discuss insurance outreach and enrollment strategies soon after the Children’s Health Insurance Program was created. And the Blue Shield of California Foundation brought domestic violence shelter staff together from across the state so that they could create a new, mutually supportive network.
  7. Investments – The choices you make about where you invest in can have a huge impact on grantees. Program related investments in local organizations can provide much-needed capital that’s truly seen as a vote of confidence rather than a handout. Rather than making a grant to a bakery that provides job training, become a shareholder in the business. Mission investing can align your foundation’s stewardship of its corpus with its stated values in a way that helps shift large-scale practices and policies. The simplest example of mission investing an environmental foundation that invests its assets in green energy companies. Practices like program-related investing and mission investing boost the capacity and confidence of individual organizations, conscientious companies or even entire fields.
  8. Ability to take risks – Foundations are often hesitant to try new ideas and learn from them, because they seem to operate under the assumption that failure will somehow discredit them. But as one of my favorite foundation CEOs says, “If this doesn’t work, are people going to stop coming to us for money?” You have broad latitude in which to take risks. Use it.

Ready to do more than make grants? Here’s a suggestion to help you get started: Set aside time in your next eight staff or team meetings to discuss each of these tools and how you can deploy them at multiple levels in your organization. Then, either pick one or two and document how you’re using them, or choose one particular grantmaking initiative and see how you can deploy all eight. Keep a record of what you do and the outcomes you see, and I guarantee you’ll never go back to a “grantmaking only” mindset again!


Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a global philanthropy advisor and was recently named one of “America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers.” Her clients include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, among dozens of others. Learn more at putnam-consulting.com.

“Today, everyone is trying to do more with less. You need consultants who are a quick study, who already have broad experience, and who can work with a variety of people. Putnam Consulting Group has all these qualities. We will definitely work with them in the future.”
~Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and CEO, PolicyLink

© 2016 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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