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ENRI Week: A Trust-Based Philanthropy Journey by Adama Brown

My name is Adama Brown, and I’m the Director of Research and Data Analytics at United Way of Rhode Island (UWRI). I lead a team that is interested in reimagining impact and the ways that data and narrative inform philanthropic work, acting as a catalyst for systems change.

In recent years, UWRI has embraced the tenets of trust-based philanthropy (TBP), this style of philanthropic engagement involves building partnerships between funders, nonprofit organizations, practitioners, and communities while acknowledging the needs and capacities of all stakeholders involved. Trust-based philanthropy is seen as a movement that acknowledges the power balances inherent to the funder-nonprofit relationship and challenges funders to rethink how they can play a part in fostering more equitable communities.

Beginning in 2021, the Community Impact & Equity (CIE) team at United Way of Rhode Island marked its commitment to trust-based philanthropy by beginning to think deeply about what these practices and principles could mean for our grantmaking as well as our data, evaluation and learning efforts. The CIE UWRI Team made the following efforts in order to realize greater trust-based partnerships in the Rhode Island nonprofit sector:

Multi-year, unrestricted funding

In 2021, the CIE team launched a two-year funding opportunity that offered potential grantees either operating grant or programmatic support, depending on grantee need. Through thought-partnership with grantee partners, grant reviewers and UWRI staff, it was determined that the process was laborious. In 2023, a shift was made to offer a 3-year, multi-year funding to grantee partners.

Do the Homework

More than 230 applicants applied for the UWRI Community Impact Fund 2023 – 2026. We funded 45 organizations and disbursed just over $3 million dollars based on our homework and research on the organizations that applied for funding.

Streamlined Application Process

The grantee partners spoke and we listened. For the 2023 funding cycle, we streamlined the process into a single application and fewer questions. The application also included a question about potential grantee needs so that UWRI can provide support beyond the check.

Reporting processes were also streamlined to involve a conversation between grantee partners and program officers at mid-year and a short annual report on grantee organization perceived impact.

Transparency and Responsiveness

We made the process transparent by offering Zoom sessions during the application period to answer any questions about the application, made the scoring rubric available, and restate our intentions to center racial equity in United Way of RI’s mission as well as in our grantmaking, data, evaluation, and learning processes.

Seek and Act on feedback

UWRI’s CIE Team sought feedback from grantees through focus groups and feedback related to the grant making processes. Forty-five organizations were funded and discussions about the grantee process took place with any organization that did not receive funding.

Offer Support Beyond the Check

Many grantee partners expressed an interest in collaborating with other grantee partners who are doing similar or related work in the community. The funding cycle kick-off provided an opportunity for grantee partners to do just that and engage with members of the grantee cohort about shared interests and ways that they can be supportive of each other’s activities and events.

Centering Racial Equity and Collaborative Learning and Evaluation

In addition to embracing the six practices of trust-based philanthropy, UWRI’s CIE team is committed to centering racial equity and supporting BIPOC-led/BIPOC-serving organizations. Grantee applicant data is used to provide grantee support in the areas of data, program funding, and JEDI.

Evaluation strategies include collaborative learning involving Ripple Effect Mapping and the analysis of grantee impact stories that demonstrate transformation in the lives of individuals and families in Rhode Island.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Evaluation Network of Rhode Island (ENRI) Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from ENRI Affiliate members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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