GrantAdvisor: Bridging Communication Between Foundations and Nonprofits
Guest Blog by Elise Saltzberg, Saltzberg Consulting
Grantmakers and nonprofits share a vision for improving their communities. Both are essential, yet there exists an underlying tension between the two. A lack of transparency in the funding process can be frustrating for nonprofits who waste precious resources pursuing mismatched funders, and it’s challenging for funders when nonprofits don’t understand the best way to approach them. There is also a very real power differential that gives foundations and other big donors the ability to literally shape the future of the organizations they fund.
As a fundraising consultant, I work closely with amazing individuals at nonprofits and foundations and I’m well aware of the tensions that exist. That’s why I was excited to learn about an important new resource for the philanthropy sector called GrantAdvisor – which is improving communication between grantmakers and grantees and putting them on a more even footing.
Much like TripAdvisor, where people rate hotels and restaurants, GrantAdvisor reviewers anonymously share their experience of working with funders and include suggestions for how best to navigate each individual process. Before a comment is posted, the funder has the opportunity to write a response, which is published with the review.
To present a fair and well-rounded portrait of funders and avoid potential bias, GrantAdvisor waits until foundations receive at least five reviews before they are listed online. There are strict community guidelines in place to foster productive conversations, and a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to guarantee a safe space for constructive criticism. To date, 84% of reviewers have said they have a good relationship with the foundation they are reviewing. But negative reviews are welcome, as long as they are constructive. You can see some sample reviews here.
Many funders have welcomed this new avenue for communication. They appreciate the feedback and some even suggest to their grantees that they write reviews. Others were initially concerned that responding to reviews would be burdensome or feared unwanted negative publicity, but since GrantAdvisor has been up and running, most grantmakers have come to see the value of the site.
Last month, I spoke with GrantAdvisor’s Coordinator Andrea Sanow and Development Manager Kari Aanestad, (both on staff at Minnesota Council of Nonprofits) to learn more about the organization.
The seed for GrantAdvisor was planted when the Executive Directors of three organization, (including two of Maryland Nonprofits’ counterparts) – California Association of Nonprofits, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, and GreatNonprofits – came up with the same idea around the same time, and agreed to work together to make it a reality.
In July 2017, GrantAdvisor initiated the “proof of concept” phase, to determine whether there would be sufficient interest for this service. They needed to meet year-end metrics in order to green-light the project. When we spoke in December, Andrea told me that they had effectively reached their end-of-year goals. GrantAdvisor had received at least five reviews for 50 foundations, identified key contacts at 150 foundations, registered over 1,000 reviewers, received 950 reviews and had an average of 20,000 unique website page views per month. Project Coordinators in Minnesota and California read every review to ensure that it meets GrantAdvisor’s standards before it is published online.
The organization, which is currently funded by donations and maintained by staff from the founding organizations, will begin exploring income models in 2018, including paid advertising, membership levels, and subscriptions.
If you’re thinking that the sector already has many great resources, you’re right. But what GrantAdvisor offers is unique. GuideStar and similar services provide a wealth of valuable information that the nonprofit sector relies on. However, this information is “static,” in the sense that it’s updated relatively infrequently.
By contrast, GrantAdvisor was created to be a dynamic resource that fosters ongoing discourse between foundations and nonprofits. It improves communication and adds transparency to the funding process. I see it as a much-needed complement to existing resources.
HELP SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT
So far, most of the comments on the website are for funders in Minnesota and California, where the founding nonprofit associations are located. GrantAdvisor has received comments from reviewers in all 50 states but won’t post comments on funders until they have received at least five reviews of them.
I’ve written reviews of funders in Maryland and am encouraging other
Here’s how you can help:
- Visit GrantAdvisor and read some of the posted reviews.
- Register as a reviewer. You’ll need to provide your name and email, but this information is kept confidential. All your interactions on the site are posted anonymously.
- Write a review of a foundation. The process is simple and the form is easy to follow. You can also write a review without registering.
- Become a GrantAdvisor Ambassador. If you really want to see GrantAdvisor grow, get your network involved. Introduce colleagues to GrantAdvisor and encourage them to write reviews. The easiest way to do that is to share this blog post!
- Follow GrantAdvisor on Twitter @Grant_Advisor.
- Contact GrantAdvisor at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can get more involved.