Perhaps our biggest insight in recent years has been this: We the funders, are often part of the problem if not THE problem.
What we fund, how we fund, how we engage, how we evaluate, what we evaluate, how we build relationships, who we build relationships with, where we get our information from – all of those and more impact the end results. We realized, that in order for our Foundation to be effective in our desire to make a difference we needed to begin by changing ourselves. What followed was a journey to redevelop our granting process and practices. Here we wanted to share what this new granting practice looks like.
RLCF’s Shaken + Stirred Granting Practice:
- Deep Learning. We combine top-down and bottom-up research to help us understand the underlying conditions and root causes. We focus in on the needs of the end user (groups). What are the needs of people and group(s) we hope our funding touches in some way, how are those needs (not) being met at the moment? For example, we learned that a great need for youth in BC was, in fact, a mental health space that was separate from the adult infrastructure, one that carried a message of hope, not hopelessness. Because of this feedback and insight, we invested in Foundry, an integrated healthcare service for youth.
- Positive Goal Statement = Theme. Borrowed from “human-centred design”, we aim to specify a group(s) we want to benefit from our funding and the change we wish to see. This becomes the broad strokes that frame our decision making. For example, our current granting theme is: Bettering the lives of children and youth in BC. We spend 2 years immersed in deep learning and theme exploration before moving on to the granting phase.
- Greater Focus. There is a saying that carried from industrial design into other aspects of life – Less but better. Greater focus allows us to go deeper and truly get to the essence. We aim to be part of a solution not just perpetuating the problem or maintaining a status quo. We focus on one priority theme in a given cycle. About 80% of our funding goes to half a dozen organizations within the corresponding theme. Each theme is championed by one of Conconi Family or board members. Our next granting theme is Improving the quality of life for BC’s aging population.
- 7-Year Cycle. The Mother Nature has taught us that everything has its life-cycle. As much effort humanity has invested in transcending that fact – it still remains true today. We feel our work also has its own cycle and thus we will be more or less effective depending on where we find ourselves. Therefore, we have a responsibility to actively manage through the cycle and eventually move on to the next impact opportunity. Currently, we are in a year 6 of our 7-year cycle focusing on children and youth in BC. This means we are planning for our exit, collecting lessons learned and shedding those things that will not serve us in the future.
- Grants used as funding vehicles, not contract deliverables. Grants, much like (debt and equity) capital in the corporate world should be in service of creating value for the organization and its clients. It should not dictate what business is the organization in and how they go about delivering on their day to day operations as long as they are done responsibly and in line with the mission. We have three types of grants: Conconi Challenge (one-time matching campaign), Legacy Grant (multi-year commitment), Discretionary Grant (one-time no strings attached). In discussion with our grantees, we strategically pick the appropriate granting vehicle to meet their needs.
- Better Alignment. We believe granting and funding mechanisms carry a great deal of influence on the alignment of interests. This new (shaken+stirred) approach opened up opportunities for greater alignment. Warren Buffet, the legendary value investor, is noted for saying that he only invests in businesses he understands well. We work to get to know the organizations we wish to fund, their clients and everything in between, then we decide on the appropriate form of funding.
We believe that granting process should not be static but rather a continuous iterative loop, reflecting the context and time in which we operate. We will continue to re-evaluate and evolve our granting practices as we learn more. So stay tuned and if you have helpful insights from your own experiences feel free to share those with us.