Pioneering Grantmakers are Seeking New Ways to Engage Nonprofits

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Grantmakers for Effective Organizations Launches Change Incubator, a New Program Designed to Help Grantmakers Tackle Complex Challenges

Authentic partner engagement is important in structuring effective solutions, so Change Incubator will help foundations weave relationships with grantees into the fabric of their organizations.

Four foundations from across the country are joining forces to learn together and help strengthen relationships with their grantees and communities. The cohort, part of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ (GEO) inaugural Change Incubator, will help grantmakers tackle complex challenges and accelerate the pace of change within their own organizations.

GEO members Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, in Durham, N.C., Episcopal Health Foundation, in Houston, The Heinz Endowments, in Pittsburgh, and The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, in Little Rock, Ark., will focus on strengthening relationships with their grantees because authentic partner engagement leads to better results.

“Authentic partner engagement is important in structuring effective solutions, but most foundations struggle with how to do it well. And changing grantmaker practice can be hard,” said Kathleen Enright, president and CEO at GEO. “Change Incubator will help four participating foundations weave relationships with grantees into the fabric of their organizations. We are excited about this program not only for the transformative experience it will provide the participants but also because of what we will learn about making productive change.”

Consensus continues to build that better solutions emerge when grantmakers build relationships with grantees based on trust, and tap the knowledge and perspective of grantees and community members. According to Is Grantmaking Getting Smarter?, GEO’s recent field-wide survey, a majority of grantmakers now ask grantees for feedback (53 percent) and seek external input on foundation strategy from grantees and representatives of recipient communities (63 percent).

There are, however, barriers that prevent grantmakers from building productive and authentic relationships with grantees. To help address those barriers, Change Incubator participants will:

  •     Gain a deeper understanding of a tough challenge and look at it through a new lens;
  •     Create and experiment with new and fresh ideas to tackle a key challenge;
  •     Build a habit of reflective practice to learn from those experiments what works and what doesn’t;
  •     Through leadership development and building the skills to secure buy-in, bring promising ideas back to their organizations that help transform their relationships with grantees; and
  •     Build a community of peers and identify opportunities for continued learning and support.

GEO is partnering with leadership development expert Cambridge Leadership Associates (CLA) to co-create and facilitate the program. CLA has deep expertise in building the capacity of teams to navigate complex, adaptive organizational challenges and identify new ways of working in response to these challenges.

Change Incubator is an 18-month program that launches in September 2015 and continues through early 2017, with a mix of online and in-person gatherings. The four selected organizations will send three team members to participate in the program.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (BCBSNCF) wants to find a useful way to collect data and information about its work and the work of its grantees. BCBSNCF seeks to build its knowledge base by creating a system that allows for timely, actionable information exchange that benefits its grantees, the foundation and the broader field of philanthropy.

Episcopal Health Foundation (EHF), created in January 2014, is in the early stages of development and believes that community-identified solutions are critical to the success of its programs. EHF is engaging its grantees, congregations and community partners in helping to identify the community’s needs and direct the foundations’ investments.

The Heinz Endowments has a reputation for building strong grantee relationships but is interested in engaging grantees in a deeper way than it has ever done. Within its Transformative Arts Process (TAP) initiative, the Endowments created an 18-person advisory panel to inform TAP’s grantmaking strategy and better understand the impact of grantee engagement, so it can be a model for all of the Endowments’ programs.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF) wants to refine its evaluation framework to ensure that it is collecting beneficial data for both the foundation and its grantees. By making sure evaluation elements fit cohesively together into a grantee-focused assessment system, its grantees will receive data that are useful to their programs, and WRF will be able to share data that encourage broader community change.

For more information about Change Incubator, please contact Blake Jones at bjones(at) or 202.898.0219.


Grantmakers for Effective Organizations is a diverse community of more than 500 grantmakers working to reshape the way philanthropy operates. We are committed to advancing smarter grantmaking practices that enable nonprofits to grow stronger and achieve better results. The GEO community provides grantmakers with the resources and connections to build knowledge and improve practice in areas that are most critical to nonprofit success. We help grantmakers strengthen relationships with grantees, support nonprofit resilience, use learning for improvement and collaborate for greater impact. For more information and resources for grantmakers, visit

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