General News

Changes to post-fellowship grant programs

A top priority from the foundation’s recent strategic review process was to increase the equity and effectiveness of the foundation’s post-fellowship grant programs. These include the Leadership Grant programNetwork Innovation grant program, and Professional Development Fund. We are pleased to share about several changes we are making to those programs with the Switzer Network.

Raising award amounts and awareness 

The numbers of concept letters and proposals submitted to the foundation’s post-fellowship grant programs have declined in recent years. This may be due in part to limited budgets for the programs, including years in which the foundation reduced maximum awards, offered fewer grant cycles, or suspended the program. Maximum awards for the three programs had not been increased for 15-20 years. Therefore, in 2022 we increased maximum award amounts for all grant programs (including the fellowship), to incentivize more applications and better support fellows to improve their leadership capacity and advance their careers. The maximum award amount for Leadership Grants is now $60,000, and the maximum award amount for Professional Development Fund grants is now $2,000. We are committed to reviewing the maximum award amounts at regular intervals to ensure they keep up with inflation and meet fellows’ needs.

We also enhanced outreach and communication to raise awareness of the existing grant programs among the Switzer Network and make successful projects more visible. Our communication efforts included increased listserv, newsletter, and website posts promoting grant program opportunities and highlighting examples of funded projects. We also convened a Leadership and Network Innovation Grants Roundtable event in July 2022, which featured a virtual panel of recent recipients of Leadership and Network Innovation grants to answer questions and provide advice to prospective applicants to the programs. Contact Cora for a link to the recording of this event. We are committed to continuing to offer grant program information sessions on a regular basis.

Leadership Grant program

Several additional changes are being made specifically to the Leadership Grant program, all of which are the result of feedback from working sessions with the Fellows Advisory Committee (FAC), and from fellows who took part in focus groups about their experience with the program. They include:

  • Simplifying and streamlining the guidelines and requirements. We will offer alternative formats for submitting grant concepts (e.g., phone call) and we have removed the firm deadlines for submitting written concept letters and proposals. In addition, we are considering eliminating the concept letter stage altogether. We will revise the grant proposal guidelines to provide clearer guidance based on the proposal evaluation rubric and to better highlight equity and justice issues. Finally, we may recommend reducing the length of grant proposals by creating word limits for proposal sections and/or page limits for overall proposals.
  • Offering more support to fellows during proposal development. We will facilitate connections between applicants and past recipients for advice and support. The intent is to make informal mentoring connections and better support fellows through the proposal process, while also creating community among fellows who receive these unique grants.
  • Empowering fellows through the grant review process. We will provide individualized support to applicants, for example supporting them to negotiate a competitive salary with their partner organizations, encouraging organizations to offer longer-term or permanent positions if desired by the fellow, and encouraging organizations to offer more professional development opportunities to the fellow.
  • Revising the proposal evaluation rubric. The revised version is clearer and more consistent with language in the guidelines.
  • Creating community among Leadership Grant recipients. We will tap the power of the Switzer Network to create cohorts of grantees to meet regularly and participate in professional development and networking activities. This could also include connecting grantees to mentors in the network who share similar expertise or career trajectories.
  • Creating flexible reporting options. We will offer alternative formats for Leadership Grant reports, such as a phone call with foundation staff. We will retain the option of written reports for grantees who prefer that format.

In a more significant change, we modified the Leadership Grant review process and timeline to better match our values for equity and shared leadership. Previously, Leadership Grant award decisions were made by the foundation’s trustees, twice yearly at board meetings. Now, award decisions are made by a six-person review panel consisting of FAC members, staff, and trustees, who will review proposals on a rolling basis (as long as funding is available). We made this change for several reasons: to allow fellows to seek funding when it aligns with their project needs or organizational fiscal year; to streamline grant review so that award decisions can be made more quickly and flexibly; and to provide opportunities for fellows to participate in award decisions. 

Network Innovation grant program

The Network Innovation grant program was originally formed in order to help catalyze the Switzer Network’s collective potential for innovative action and problem solving. It is currently being re-evaluated to determine how it can better support fellows. Although this grant program has resulted in interesting and important collaborations among fellows, it has consistently attracted very few proposals. In addition, staff hear regularly from fellows that they would appreciate grant programs aimed at other aspects of leadership development (e.g., support for justice or advocacy work, rapid response grants, book project grants, career transition grants, sabbatical grants, and support for social movements or small grassroots organizations). Rather than make continual minor adjustments to a program that does not have wide network appeal, we have hit ‘pause’ on this grant program until we can work with fellows to develop a program that better meets their needs. 

Research and feedback

Our process for designing and implementing these changes consisted of several phases of research and feedback from the Switzer Network and peer programs. First, Sarah and Erin participated in the Trust-Based Philanthropy Learning and Action Lab convened by the National Center for Family Philanthropy and The Philanthropy Workshop. Trust-based philanthropy (TBP) is a funder initiative designed to help advance equity, shift power, and build mutually accountable relationships between foundations and the communities they serve. The TBP Learning and Action Lab was a six-month, peer-based learning cohort for senior staff and trustees to address power imbalances, deepen their commitment to trust-based practices, and operationalize a more equity-aware, trust-based culture within their organizations. We learned about many trust-based grantmaking and reporting practices to consider adopting, including simplified application processes, templates for verbal reporting, and ideas for forms of non-monetary support we could offer to grantees.

Second, we convened two focus groups composed of past Leadership Grants and Network Innovation grants recipients. We asked questions about what was helpful or supportive during proposal development and grant review, what was difficult or created barriers, impediments to advancing equity in the grant programs, and ways the foundation could support fellows beyond the actual grant awards. We heard that the most helpful aspects of our process are detailed guidance on the website, communication and support from foundation staff, and advocacy to recipient organizations by the foundation on behalf of fellows. We heard the foundation could further support grant recipients by sharing successful grant proposals, creating community among grantees, and providing opportunities for fellows to promote themselves and their work. 

Finally, we held a working session with the FAC to get their perspectives on potential changes to the grant programs. We held small group discussions with FAC members, first asking them to apply a trust-based philanthropy lens to identify ways to simplify the Leadership Grant proposal process and make the reporting guidelines more accessible. Second, we asked them to consider whether we should continue the Network Innovation grant program, what should change for the program to better meet its objectives, or whether we should consider developing a new grant program in its place. We heard many specific suggestions for changes to the Leadership Grant program guidelines, and some thoughtful perspectives about why the Network Innovation grant program has not been as active. 

We welcome your suggestions or questions about our grant programming. Please contact any staff member with your ideas and questions.