I recently visited with Sue Gillespie, CEO of Pathways to Education, and her team in Toronto. We are in the midst of a five-year grant agreement with Pathways, which is unfolding as we had hoped. Pathways asked for the meeting so that it could give us an update and discuss some longer term strategic issues that it is facing.
Over the last couple of months we have been spending a lot of time with Foundation grantees and potential grantees. This spring we attended ceremonies honoring students at the 10 schools in our Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County program, took our part in Achieve Palm Beach County, participated in the graduating activities of the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars in Gainesville, and travelled to the west coast to visit Sonoma State University, Gonzaga University, Heritage University and Northwest Indian College. We visited SUNY Ulster in upstate New York and Nativity Preparatory School in Boston and convened a meeting with the Florida Board of Governors office and the 12 universities in the State University System of Florida. Further sites visits are planned for this summer.
Two of this spring’s site visits were to investigate new grant making opportunities. The rest were visits to existing grantees with long-term grant agreements. These visits have nothing to do with funding. Nor were they prompted by performance issues. The purpose for spending time with these grantees is to support and get closer to them.
One of the ways that we support our grantees is by showing up at events and meeting and talking with their students. We have learned that students are usually encouraged and energized by this contact. Our visits also offer grantee organizations the opportunity to discuss important issues that they face. For the most part, our grantees are not afraid to speak freely because their funding is not at risk. We tend to make multi-year grants and future funding is defined by a grant agreement. We listen and respond. Our grantees know their business better than we do but occasionally we can offer helpful counsel or help them to connect with an organization facing similar issues or with another funder.
Getting closer to our grantees also helps the Foundation to be a better investor. Most of what the Foundation has learned over the last 27 years has come from its grantees. These visits help us better understand what our grantees are doing and why it is working or why it isn’t. As the Foundation’s experience and exposure becomes broader its grant making ability increases.
Spending time with grantees also builds trust, which provides the base for honest dialogue. Our grantees are glad to see us and welcome our visits. They know that we will be businesslike and respectful of their time. They know that we share the same goals and admire their work in pursuing those goals. We aren’t going to look over their shoulders or tell them how to run their programs. They can be honest about problems and challenges.
Spending time with grantees and potential grantees is an essential ingredient of good grant making.
Malcolm Macleod is the President and CEO of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. Since joining the Foundation as President in 2001, he has spent the past 15 years working with the Board, staff and grantees to ensure that JSF is a Foundation that makes quality grants serving as catalysts for effective change. Prior to his work with the Foundation, Malcolm had a 26 year career in law and is currently a member of the Bar.