Trust-Based Philanthropy in Voter Engagement

Practices for trust-based philanthropy in voting

I would encourage foundations to trust the organizations that they’re funding. There’s a lot of hesitation about legality and what’s allowed. Do your due diligence—trust and verify. – Sapelo Foundation 

  • Provide multi-year general operating support grants: Investing for the long run means allowing grantees the flexibility to invest in the programs, systems, and capacities they need to move forward their long-term goals. For voter engagement funders, this often means having a shared vision for the future of democracy and improving representation among key communities, building relationships with grantees, and trusting their knowledge base, the challenges and opportunities they see to engage their community, and their ability to shift their work as necessary to address emerging needs. 
  • Support beyond the grant: Many funders named that providing the grant is just the beginning. Funders offer capacity building support through training and additional grants to help organizations continue to grow their impact. For voter engagement funders, this has included connecting grantees to Nonprofit Vote and Bolder Advocacy resources to understand the ways they can conduct voter engagement work, along with training on voter data and tools. 
  • Be guided by grantee partners: Grantee organizations are on the frontlines of the work and should be part of the information gathering process that informs foundation strategies. Be in conversation with partners to understand the current environment, what’s working and not working, and what approaches or investments are needed. Voter engagement funders use townhalls, convenings, and grantee informed strategic planning processes to be responsive to the needs that emerge from the community in setting the priorities and parameters of their voter engagement programs. 
  • Leverage the foundation’s risk capital: Foundations have unique positioning in their communities to convene leaders, invest in new ideas, and take bold action. Voter engagement funders have leaned into opportunities to convene elected leaders to discuss policy goals, explored ways to activate new funding tools to expand the type of voter engagement funding they can provide, and invest in emergent initiatives to support voter engagement infrastructure. Many foundations report that what allows these explorations to be successful is having board and executive leadership who sees new frontiers as bold opportunities to meet the organization’s mission. 
  • Reduce burden on grantees: Foundations can minimize the application and reporting process for their grantees. For voter engagement funders that might mean having a call with a prospective grantee to understand their priorities for the upcoming election cycle rather than requiring a formal application or allowing grantees to submit a video that breaks down their approach. Some funders have eliminated reporting requirements or have set up convenings for grantees in lieu of reports that enable organizations to learn from each other rather than invest time in reporting that only the funder will see.