GrantAdvisor.org, a site for reviewing foundations, and why all the cool people are using it

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[Image description: Four dogs wearing sunglasses, lined up, all facing right. The one in foreground is a chihuahua wearing black sunglasses and a black shirt, looking totally badass. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. I’ve been involved with a few awesome projects on the side, and one of those projects has now been launched. No, it is not the puppet show on the importance of general operating funds; that will come later. No, it is not Nonprofit Fight Club, because there is NO Nonprofit Fight Club, so stop asking about Nonprofit Fight Club, OK?

I’m talking about GrantAdvisor.org, a new website that allows all of us to anonymously review foundations. This has been a critical missing piece in the funder-grantee dynamics. Let’s face it, because of power differentials, we nonprofits do not always give honest feedback to foundations. And a common complaint I get from foundations is that they can never tell if we nonprofits are being open and transparent about what they could be doing better. Even when foundations solicit feedback, reassure grantees that they can be truthful, and give us each a basket of mini-muffins and a puppy, it is still difficult for us nonprofits to open up.

Which led to things like the one time I had to write a proposal that required a six-page narrative, ten attachments, including a budget tailored to this funder, and the kicker—a page of labels for the attachments, to be printed out and each label had to be literally cut and pasted onto the ten attachments. It was a grant for $4,000. Eight months later, we got awarded $1,000. Yeah, we should not have even applied, but we were in start-up mode and four-grand was a lot of money. Now, wouldn’t be nice if this funder got some honest feedback from dozens of people that their grantmaking process was so horrible that the agony and frustration created by it threaten to unleash the demon-god Cthulhu upon the world?

[Image description: The GrantAdvisor logo. It’s two penguins in grey standing back to back, the right one with a wing down, the left with a wing up. They are enclosed by two curved arrows, the one on top being green and the one on the bottom yellow.]

Thus, GrantAdvisor.org was born. It’s like TripAdvisor or Yelp, but for reviewing foundations. Anyone can provide a review, and when a foundation has five reviews, its profile will go live so everyone can see all the reviews. It’s anonymous, so you can be honest. It’ll help foundations to get no-BS feedback and advice that they might not be able to get otherwise. And it’ll help us nonprofits not waste our time with foundations that have consistently horrible reviews; we have important things to do, like saving the world.

Here are some FAQs. I am on the National Leadership Panel and have been involved with helping to design this project for the past two years. What is really exciting about this is that GrantAdvisor is a joint effort between nonprofits and foundations, as you can tell by this page of brilliant, highly-attractive, and modest leaders in the sector. This is a pilot project, and it’s already been going really well, with over 450 reviews written in just a month, 30 foundations going live, 132 foundations with at least one review, and 76 foundations appointing key contacts to provide responses to each review on their profile.

But to make this work, we need everyone in the sector involved:

Nonprofit colleagues: Please go to GrantAdvisor.org and write reviews today if you have worked with foundations. We designed the form to be simple and user-friendly and not take up too much time, knowing how busy you all are. Please share this blog post or GrantAdvisor.org and encourage your networks to write reviews. The more reviews we have on this site, the more useful it will be for all of us.

Foundation colleagues: You may be feeling a little hesitant, but I hope you’ll embrace this tool as a way to get genuine and helpful feedback. Please peruse the site, then send out an email to your grantees asking them to review you on GrantAdvisor. If you encourage them to do it, it’ll make it easier for grantees to do so, and the more reviews you have, the better and more accurate the aggregated feedback will be for you. Also, assign a Key Contact whose job is to regularly check reviews, respond to them, and bring back information to your leadership team. Also, ask other funders to check it out.

Associations of Funders: Many of you have been helping funders to examine power dynamics and be more intentional about getting feedback. Thank you for continuing to do that. Please encourage your funding partners to look into GrantAdvisor as a tool for getting unvarnished truth.

Donors, volunteers, consultants, and other leaders in the sector: Please check out GrantAdvisor and ask the organizations and foundations you work with to get involved. If you’ve worked with foundations before, write reviews.

GrantAdvisor is still in its pilot phase, so there may likely be a glitch here and there. Please test it out and contact admin with any feedback you have about how to make the site better and more helpful to everyone in the field. Right now, marketing efforts are focused on Minnesota and California, but anyone in the US can write reviews, and any foundation with five reviews in any state will go live. 

And with that, I am off. The script for this puppet show about the importance of general operating funds is not going to write itself. See you next week. Or sooner…if you know what I mean (wink).

Seriously, though, go write some reviews.

[Update: I was just reading the news about the devastation caused by Harvey. I hope everyone in Houston/Texas is doing OK. Thinking of you all.]

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Donate, or give a grant, to Vu’s organizationRainier Valley Corps, which has the mission of bringing more leaders of color into the nonprofit sector and getting diverse communities to work together to address systemic issues.

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  • Peggy

    This looks like a seriously amazing resource! Thanks for spearheading such a great project. I’m going to start right away. That said – I would want to encourage better representation on the leadership. At quick glance (so I may be mistaken), where are the black funding community leaders? And can there be more representatives/perspectives from grassroots or community-driven philanthropy?

    • Thanks, Peggy. That’s important feedback. I’ll be sure the leadership team knows.

    • Andrea Sanow

      Hi Peggy, I am the GrantAdvisor Coordinator (housed at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits). Thank you for feedback and kind words. We agree that there needs to be more representation on our National Leadership Panel. Jon, Perla, and Jan, the partners on this project, are currently working toward recruiting folks from the communities mentioned in your comment! We’ll have more news to share soon. Thanks again!

  • Ann Tydeman-Solomon

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Sue Green

    Please present this at the Grant Professionals Association conference in San Diego in November!

  • Kimery Wiltshire

    Vu, you are (at least for today) my most favorite person in the whole wide world. Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked “both sides” of the grantee/foundation fence. I do have a few things to add.

  • Anonymous11

    Questions: For those of us concerned about hacking to identify reviewers, I don’t see that we can post reviews using a Tor browser. Can you look into that please? Can we review a United Way agency? Will the funder be notified they have a review, even if they never get 5 so it’s not published? (I’m thinking of the very small ones).

    • Andrea Sanow

      Greetings, and thank you for your questions. 1) The reviews we collect are entirely anonymous, and reviewers are registered individually so they won’t affiliated with a specific nonprofit. You can also write a review without registering, though you will not be notified if a foundation has responded to your review if you go that route. Additionally, we have never had a comment tracked down. Our site is structurally designed to support candid and honest feedback while ensuring the identity of our reviewers remains anonymous. 2) Yes, you can review United Way agencies; if there is a funder you want to review who is not searchable on the site, please contact us through our “contact” page and let us know who you’d like to review. 3) Yes, foundations with less than five reviews will be notified. Thank you again for your questions!

      • Andrea Sanow

        Hi, me again! I followed up with our engineers and you are able to leave comments via a Tor browser. You will need to allow Javascript, at least temporarily, to submit the review. Thanks!