We have come to think of our grants as investments, similar to those we make in the financial markets. When we invest in a new organization or idea we are, in effect, venture investors. Like our counterparts in the financial marketplace, we can usually add value by giving our grantee something in addition to money. We might provide specialized knowledge. Sometimes we connect a grantee with another organization or person. We regularly convene meetings of grantee partners so that they can learn from each other and others in their field of endeavor. Often we just show up to meet students or help our grantees raise money.
The idea of adding value seems good. But there are at least two competing policy considerations. First, at JSF
we pride ourselves on being “lean and mean.” We have a small staff and our expense to size ratio is about 35% lower than the median. Second, we do not want to undertake work that someone else can do better. So we have to be selective about the activities in which we involve ourselves. As the Foundation matures and gains experience, its ability to add value to grants increases. Here are some practical examples of how we do this:
The funders network of both philanthropic and organizational leaders can be valuable assets to grantee partners. Funders can use their networks to leverage financial support,
connect similar causes, increase awareness, and educate. On numerous occasions, JSF has been happy to write letters of recommendation for grantee partners to help them leverage support. On other occasions we have purposefully convened meetings with different grantees so that they might learn from one another. In any case, a funders network is an asset and a valuable tool in the hands of grantee partners, and should be utilized as beyond the grant support to maximize the value and impact of the grant.
Most of the grants made by JSF have a matching grant component. We do this to maximize the support for the grant-funded program, and to ensure sustainability after the grant ends. A match ratio quite literally increases the value of the grant and creates an
opportunity to raise awareness. Fundraising support is an opportunity to invest in the program by putting your mouth where your money is. Persuading a consortium of potential funders is difficult, and often times foundations lack staff resources to do this, but it is necessary if we are to support the sustainability of our funded programs.
Perhaps one of the most gratifying things that we get to do at JSF is participate in grantee events, honoring the success of the programs we support. Not only are these events fun, they are opportunities for us to show our appreciation for the partnership and personally invest in the program. The presence and participation of funders in these types of celebratory events inspire and ensure support.
Adding value to our grant investments will continue to increase in importance. More activity comes at a cost, however, and in a time of skinny or negative investment returns, the discussions and decisions on how we add value will also be important.