How We Work

How We Make Grants


Our Approach to Shaping, Funding, and Managing Grants

We engage with our grantees and partners in a spirit of trust, with candid communication, and complete transparency. And we encourage our grantees and partners to share any questions or concerns that arise during the course of the grant. We commit to doing the same.


We collaborate with organizations to develop proposals that align with our strategic priorities and the organization’s focus and capabilities. This is an interactive process, building on the strengths of both organizations to shape a well-crafted grant that will achieve the intended results.


We are improving how we work. As part of our commitment to increasing our impact and strengthening relationships with our grantees and partners, we are improving our processes for making and managing grants and contracts. We have drawn upon best practices internally, from grantees and partners, and other foundations. Our aim is to have a consistent, clear approach to how we develop and manage investments, whether grants or contracts, yielding better results for the people we serve.


Our improved approach provides:

  • One standard process across the foundation to develop grants and contracts with a charitable purpose.
  • Co-defining, at the outset, what success looks like, and aligning with our potential grantees and partners on the most important and measurable outcomes.

  • Scalable tools that can be tailored according to the complexity of the investment.

We are implementing the improved process and tools throughout 2013, and will be incorporating feedback on an ongoing basis as we aim to continuously improve our approach.

How We Make Grants

We are improving how we work. In 2013, we are implementing an improved process and tools for making grants and contracts.

Though the process and tools are evolving, the four phases of how we make a grant remain the same and are described below. The length of time for each stage varies significantly based on such facts as the capacity and geographic location of the application organization, and the complexity of the grant. We are optimistic that as we fully adopt our improved process and tools, the timeline will decrease.

Stage 1: Concept Development

Program staff identify ideas and concepts in support of our strategic priorities. We shape these through conversations with foundation colleagues, practitioners, researchers, policymakers, and other resources in the field. When an idea or concept is sufficiently formed, a program officer begins outreach to potential applicants.

Stage 2: Pre-Proposal

Program staff use a variety of means to explore and refine a concept with organizations in the field.

Direct solicitation: When we know a particular organization is well-suited to do the work, we reach out to the organization directly to request a letter of inquiry or grant proposal.

  • Discussion and dialog: Program staff may invite organizations to join discussions to think through a concept, and explore an organization's interest and capacity to undertake the work.
  • Concept Memo (aka Letter of inquiry or LOI): When we have a pool of organizations interested in exploring an idea, or when we think it would be beneficial to have an idea written up, we may invite applicants to submit a concept memo outlining specific ideas or concepts for the work.
  • Request for proposal (RFP): When we want to broaden our network or fund multiple organizations for a project, we solicit public or private RFPs. Public RFPs are posted on our web site; private RFPs are directed to specific organizations who are invited to apply. The review and selection process for RFPs varies widely and is described in each RFP.

Stage 3: Investment Development

We provide the relevant guidelines and templates for applicants to use when developing a proposal, budget, and results framework. The program officer reviews the submitted materials with internal and external experts, and works with the applicant to integrate recommended changes. Our staff conducts due diligence on the applicant organization to confirm tax status, determine how to structure the transaction, and assess risk. Depending on the complexity, our legal or financial analysis team may also participate in the development of the proposal.

 When a proposal is ready for funding review, the program officer prepares an analysis and recommendation for review by a foundation executive who approves or declines the proposed grant or contract. The higher the dollar value, the greater number and level of reviews. We also prepare an agreement that includes intended results, payment schedule, and reporting or deliverable requirements. The agreement must be signed by both the foundation and the organization before funded activities may commence.

Stage 4: Management and Close

In partnership with the funded organization, the program officer will have developed a plan for ongoing management of the grant or contract. The organization is responsible for tracking the work done in the field, and keeping us informed through submission of periodic reports or submitting specific deliverables. The program officer is responsible for monitoring the performance of the funded project and working to understand key learning—through conversations with the organization, review of progress reports or other submitted materials, and site visits.

The program officer may also comment on specific deliverables, coordinate discussions with related organizations, participate on advisory committees, and occasionally take a seat on the board of a grantee organization.

We collectively undertake complex work. When challenges arise during the course of a grant or contract, the program officer is responsible for engaging collaboratively and creatively with the grantee or partner to address them. At the end of the project, the funded organization will typically submit a final report, summarizing the results achieved and lessons learned.

Our level of engagement with each organization is driven by the complexity and strategic significance of the work. In all cases, open, collaborative communication is essential to our mutual success. In partnership, we seek to measure, learn, and improve at every step along the way, in order to improve people’s lives.

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