Issues worth watching and trends from a community of reviewers

By: The GrantAdvisor Team

The GrantAdvisor team invites you to look forward to 2020, which we aim to make the Year of Clear Vision.  But first, a quick look back – over two years ago three nonprofit organizations partnered to launch GrantAdvisor, a free and anonymous review site of foundations. Since then:

  • Hundreds of you have written 2,100 reviews about more than 700 foundations nationwide
  • Dozens of foundations have responded
  • and the GrantAdvisor team has used this input to dissect key issues raised in reviews from online forms to asset-based language.

Together we’re a growing coalition working to share frank information and build better systems for effective grantmaking. The GrantAdvisor team listens to what our community is saying and elevates the perspective of grantseekers in public conversations about philanthropy. Here’s what you can look forward to from the GrantAdvisor team in 2020:

More uplifting of the issues you identify in reviews: We read every review you write, analyze for trends, and spot opportunities to call attention to issues that impact our work. We recently ran a campaign in Minnesota asking reviewers to identify GreatFoundations in order to: celebrate community-identified best practices; encourage effective working relationships between nonprofits and foundations; and highlight the vibrancy of our sector and see where improvements can be made together. Key themes emerged among the Top 10 Foundations: Staff are accessible; the foundation aligns values with process (such as valuing effective work and then creating a user-friendly application process), and the foundation asks for feedback (and uses it!).

Facilitating productive conversations in reviews and beyond: We’ll be featuring guest blogposts from writers identifying how the trends we’ve noticed are showing up in their communities. Subscribe to our newsletter and look forward to insights on working with program officers, the nuances in rural philanthropy, and more! We’ll also be representing your feedback at national conferences such as the Collective Impact Forum May 6-8 in Minneapolis, where GrantAdvisor co-director Kari Aanestad and Kara Carlisle (Vice President of Programs at McKnight Foundation) will the presenting at on how the website can be and is used to support collective impact work in communities (“Not Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows: Rebalancing the Nonprofit-Foundation Power Dynamic”).

Expansion to new regional hubs: We’ve focused our efforts on two states in the projects first two years (MN and CA). As we look to year three we will be reaching out to partners in new geographies to expand awareness and use of the site. Interested in supporting this work in your state? Please reach out to us at

What else is on the horizon for grantseeking? Here’s what the GrantAdvisor team will be engaging in 2020:

Role of demographic information in equity work: Foundations have been requesting this information from nonprofits in grant proposals for years. There’s untapped potential, and broader questions remained unanswered such as: how is this information being used? What are the research opportunities if it were standardized and aggregated across organizations? What are best practices for and risks in collecting and storing the information? Whose taxonomy/terms/categories should be used? What supplements are needed (such as equity narrative statements) so numbers alone aren’t used to tokenize or perpetuate tokenization?

Aligning values with practice: It is human nature to trust those who walk the talk. And the flip is true – something doesn’t sit right with us when words don’t align with actions. Groups such as PEAK Grantmaking are leading some great work on how foundations can better align their values with practices, particularly ensuring funding priorities are consonant with the grantmaking processes they design. The community of GrantAdvisor reviewers have identified instances when funders’ priorities and practices are in alignment – Reviewer 415’s review of Headwaters Foundation for Justice on 4/4/19:

“Check out Headwaters website. They offer webinars and in person grant info sessions. Take advantage of those. You get a chance at better understanding what they want to fund, who they have funded in the past, and other important info. And when you think you are a good fit, call them! They will meet with you and talk through your project. They are all very helpful and want to see you succeed.”

and when they diverge – A review of the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation on 5/3/19:

“Although the grant officer we worked with was personable and did a site visit, the application and reporting process as well as the amount of influence over programming and strategy the foundation expected in return was excessive. We elected to pursue more trusting partners.”

Critical reexamination of the power of decision-making: Whether it be the distribution of financial resources, investment or people’s time and energy, or the definition of “success” for an organization or strategy – the field is grappling with who holds power and how resources get invested. We are seeing the critical examinations of the historical origins of wealth and a push for greater participatory processes – all instances of the field tackling how to ensure the community impacted by the work shares power in decisionmaking in an effort to reduce disparities and best position/resource communities for justice.

And finally, a sister experiment in the United Kingdom, GrantAdvisorUK continues full speed ahead with a good level of interest with 142 reviews of 15 currently active funders on the site, and further inquiries about joining. Publicity has been secured for the pilot on various third sector sites: UK Fundraising, NAVCA, NIVCA and SCVO.

Thanks for being a part of this growing community, and we look forward to another great year!