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Lessons to Share with Other Grantmakers

Arm in ArmArm in ArmA study Cherokee Preservation Foundation commissioned several years ago has been very helpful to us and we are happy to share what we learned with other grantmakers, especially those working in communities of First Nations, Native American and Aboriginal Peoples, rural areas and developing countries.

The study, Arm in Arm: Engaged Grantmaking in Local Communities, focuses on challenges and strategies for grantmakers whose mission requires them to make grants over many years in communities that have a limited number of nonprofit organizations appropriate for grant support and a limited number of individuals with the experience and skill required to lead those organizations. Thirty grantmakers were interviewed during the project, and the communities in which they work proved to have the following similarities:

  • Limited choice of potential grantees.
  • Limited number of potential leaders for community organizations.
  • Few philanthropic resources.
  • Long-term relationship between grantmaking institution and community.
  • A sense that the community is entitled to the grantmaking resources.
  • A culture that differs significantly from the mainstream.

What are the implications of these characteristics for grantmaking practice? First, it means that the grantmaker’s legitimacy comes from serving the needs of the community. To gain and maintain legitimacy, the grantmaker must be a steward for the community’s endowment. This is not the case in many other settings, where the grantmaker’s legitimacy derives from adherence to the will of the benefactor.

For the grantmaker, it also means that development of local capacity is as important as achieving specific program goals. The grantmaking process must develop individual leaders for both the staff and boards of local organizations. It also must develop the capacities of the organizations themselves.

Finally, it means that the grantmaker needs to be an engaged partner with its grantees. In many other settings, most of the work of the grantmaking staff is devoted to choosing grantees and structuring grants. Such staff spend little time with grantees after the grant is awarded. In these settings, in contrast, staff spend a significant proportion of time with grantees in coaching, supporting, and learning.

These four strategies—being a steward for the community, developing leaders, developing organizations, and being an engaged partner—are at the core of successful grantmaking in these challenging settings.

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