Hello, we are Katie Murray, Jenny Pereira, and Inés Merchan from the Rhode Island Foundation’s Grants and Community Investments team. Our community foundation was founded in 1916 with a gift of $10,000. Last year, gifts totaled $75 million and grants equaled $84 million to 2,000 organizations.
In our two largest discretionary programs – funding 140 organizations with $8.4 million in 2022 – we practice best practices that, we hope, help to generate better individual and community outcomes, build stronger organizations, and ideally contribute to trusting relationships.
For example, 40% of the $8.4 million awarded was for flexible general operating support. Program officers are available to meet with organizations before an application is submitted and during the grant period to answer questions and learn about progress and challenges. Every final report is read by multiple staff to inform our work and sector knowledge more generally. In applications and final reports, organizations self-identify what success will look like during the grant period, including the interim outcomes they want to share. They are quantitative or qualitative, and we encourage organizations to give us the same data they provide to other funders, streamlining and alleviating reporting burdens.
Knowing we can do more, in 2021 we joined with a cohort of peers in the Equitable Evaluation Initiative. We are exploring the Equitable Evaluation Framework™ (EEF), its principles, and its call to challenge the orthodoxies about evaluation within philanthropy generally and our processes in particular.
What does challenging orthodoxies look like? Accepted orthodoxies include:
- Credible evidence comes from quantitative data and experimental research.
- Grantees and strategies are the focus of the evaluation, but not the foundation.
- The foundation defines what “success” looks like.
- Trust/relationships come from doing the work, but are not the starting point.
In our practices we rely on local organizations – we trust them – to know the people and communities they serve, the assets, challenges, the best responses and use of grant dollars that we can make available.
And we can do more.
EEF is also exploring the mindsets at play affecting how we interpret and respond to scenarios. As EEF explains, shifting mindsets offers opportunities for innovation and opens up pathways toward change. Our conversations have included discussion of directionality in changing mindsets.
A few that resonate with us:
from Doing toward Being
- How can we pause, reflect, and question urgency?
from Extraction toward Offering
- How can we transform ways of engaging, so there is more reciprocity?
from Participatory toward Reciprocity
- How can we enter into conversations that acknowledge interdependence?
In the coming months our foundation will be engaging in strategic planning, grantee surveying, and other efforts. As new opportunities, they present ideally as moments to pause, consider communication, the relationship, the interdependency. And we also recognize that we don’t need new opportunities to create change; on a daily basis we are presented with occasions to take the time to question urgency, reflect, practice reciprocity.
We are proud of the work of the Rhode Island Foundation, to our demonstrated commitment to helping communities across our state, and to the thoughtful approach of our colleagues in Grants and Community Investments and throughout the organization. And we know we can do more so have welcomed the conversations that are happening within and outside the organization actively putting trust into practice.
Check out the Equitable Evaluation Initiative website for the full Equitable Evaluation Framework and to learn more about the work – including recent expanded thinking to include consultants, nonprofits, public/government agencies, and philanthropic serving organizations.
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