Lessons and Tips – Building a Field of Practice PDF
Lessons and Tips – Engaging Other Funders PDF
In an anonymous grantee perception survey and an external qualitative evaluation of the foundation's work conducted its last year of grant making, a number of grantees indicated they will miss Beldon's non-monetary support – as a sounding board for ideas, strategist, problem-solver and advocate with other foundations – almost as much as its funding.
"There are a lot of organizations that are going to miss the money from Beldon, but there is actually more trepidation about how to replace the role Beldon played in the marketplace. If Beldon cut funding significantly, but still played the other roles that it plays, the anxiety about them leaving would go down."
- Beldon Grantee
As a foundation with an ambitious policy agenda and limited time frame, Beldon needed to be more than a grantmaker. Beldon founder John Hunting strongly believed that marshaling the foundation’s non-financial resources – its expertise and experience, convening power, influence with other funders, and the capacity to broker relationships among grantees – was key to creating lasting change.
What We Did
Building trust with grantees. Beldon worked closely with core grantees to tackle the internal and external challenges they faced. This level of interaction created a sense of trust that many grantees say allowed them to be more open with Beldon about specific problems. Beldon helped broker relationships among different groups and facilitated collaboration among grantees. The foundation also provided formal opportunities for cross-pollination, including an annual two-day grantee retreat. These gatherings helped combat the isolation many advocates experience and allowed them to learn from each other’s work and from skills-building and strategy sessions.
Helping grantees expand their donor base. One of Beldon’s most valued roles among grantees was its help expanding their donor base, both through fundraising training and Beldon’s own outreach to other funders. Five years before its exit, Beldon began offering grantees intensive fundraising training. The foundation also gave followup grants that allowed core groups to develop and implement multi-year strategies to diversify their funding streams. As a result, most are well-positioned to continue their work.
Engaging other funders. A key part of Beldon’s mission was to bring more funders to the table. Its success accomplishing this goal was due in large part to the foundation’s hiring of experienced program officers with good reputations in their fields and the funder community.
In its state-based work, Beldon cultivated local and regional funders by seeking their advice, sharing what the foundation was learning from its grant making , and co-funding some of their projects. However, Beldon carefully avoided pressuring other foundations to support its strategies. The idea was to demonstrate the viability of new approaches and let other funders determine if these programs might be worthwhile investments for them as well.
The role of Beldon’s board. Beldon benefited from a board of directors, handpicked by John Hunting, who were experts in environmental advocacy and philanthropy and shared the foundation’s commitment to bringing change. They were also active practitioners - including several other funders, in particular the executive directors of the Bauman Foundation and John Merck Fund – who became funding partners and helped reach out to other foundations.
Helping to shape the conversation. Above all, Beldon sought to become a useful resource for other foundations. It is widely seen as playing a catalytic role in the funding community – helping to shape the conversation among fellow grant makers about effective strategies, trends in the field, and opportunities to increase the impact of grant making. As a foundation that worked across three different fields – environment, health and nonpartisan civic engagement – Beldon was able to build bridges, share insights, and make connections between people and ideas. And by demonstrating the viability of certain grant making strategies, particularly promoting collaboration among advocates and introducing more sophisticated nonpartisan civic engagement tools and tactics, Beldon inspired some others to test the waters.
Mobilizing support. A number of local and regional funders are now supporting Beldon grantees and several foundations in states where Beldon did not make grants have adopted some of its policy advocacy strategies. Beldon successfully mobilized new support for chemical policy reform campaigns across the country.
Assuming leadership roles. Beldon staff also played a key role building the field of environmental health grant making nationally by helping to strengthen the Health and Environmental Funders Network, which continues to expand its membership. Beldon staff assumed leadership roles in two other peer networks: the Environmental Grantmakers Association and the Funders Committee for Civic Participation.