Update From the Foundation

Why We’re Closing our Public Inquiry Process

January 24, 2018

At the Compton Foundation, we believe that philanthropy is at its best when it is open and transparent, and we strive to make our grantmaking process respectful of those who are fundraising. It is in that spirit that we share the reasons why, as of January 2018, we are closing our Letter of Inquiry (LOI) process and moving to invitation-only grantmaking.

Before 2011, the Foundation accepted full invitations from any organization that could mail us one—a system that was burdensome both for our small staff team and for organizations seeking grants. Six years ago, we redesigned the grantmaking process. In the new process, any organization could submit a brief, two-paragraph inquiry through our website, with full proposals by invitation only. The purpose behind this change was to stay accessible, while making everyone’s work more efficient: full proposals would only be written and considered if there was a high potential for support.

Since then, we have had the benefit of learning about some wonderful organizations that have reached us through the online inquiry form, and we are grateful for the effort and thought that people have put into that process. Still, as our program evolved, we found ourselves inviting full proposals from fewer organizations using the LOI process and relying more and more on our grantee network, research, and other strategies to identify new work. In retrospect, this is due to two trends.

First, our funding guidelines have become more specific. The inquiry process was most fruitful in the first year or so after the Foundation issued its new guidelines, when the guidelines were still fairly nebulous, the program team was getting to know new potential partners, and a wide array of inquiries meant the Foundation could experiment with many different strategies. Over time, we clarified our approach and determined where, specifically, our grantmaking would be most useful.

Second, we formed longer-term funding relationships with many grantees. In recent years, about two-thirds of the Foundation’s $3 million annual grants budget has gone to multi-year or renewal grants. While providing longer-term funding means more security and sustainability for our current grant partners, it also means that there is less capacity for new organizations to enter the portfolio.

The numbers show the stark reality: since the beginning of 2013, we have funded only 0.7% of the inquiries received through our LOI process. We have realized that keeping the inquiry process open is not an accurate reflection of how our grantmaking actually happens, and is not fair to the people who spend time and resources to send LOIs to us. Although closing it will undoubtedly mean that we will miss out on some wonderful projects, we cannot in good conscience continue to keep the LOI process open now we know that 99.3% of inquiries are declined.

We will continue to post information about our process and programs as they evolve in the future. For now, we are grateful to the thousands of organizations that have shared their dreams and goals with us over the past six years, and for all that they do to create a more just, peaceful, and sustainable future.

6 Responses to Why We’re Closing our Public Inquiry Process

  1. Vicky Payne says:

    The foundation’s explanation for closing the public inquiry process is sincerely appreciated.

  2. Andrew Mack says:

    Thank-you and I wish more foundations considered more carefully the efforts and investments required by applicants. A huge portion of non-profit effort is devoted to fundraising, subtracting from our true mission.

  3. Thank you for being so honest about the reasons for your change.

  4. Thanks for taking the lead on what I hope to be a growing trend. As a grant seeker we spend way too much time crafting grant requests and LOIs that it really eats into our mission. This is particularly the case when the funding organization we’re soliciting may have staff and time to read the hundreds of requests and want to demonstrate that they are doing their “due diligence.” But in the last decade, our closure rate is so low as to really work out to be an incredible waste of time.

    As a trustee for a (now spent out) family fund I insisted that we give something to everyone we spoke with – to honor them for the time they spent in presenting their case. But all of our trustees were directors of our own NGOs so we were able to pre-filter from collegial organizations whose performance we knew.

    I am not sure what will become of the philanthropic business should more foundations work on an invitation-only basis. As you mention in your case presentation “closing [the grant making process] will undoubtedly mean that we will miss out on some wonderful projects.”

    In our foundation all of the trustees were out in the field doing the work, so we were constantly seeing the new projects. Perhaps some organization will come up with a sort of “jobs fair” or “online marketplace” for grant-seekers to present their wares, and foundations to find new candidates to freshen up their dockets.

    In the meanwhile, thanks for being conscientious and respectful of our time, and the commensurate efforts we put out to accomplish our respective missions.

  5. edith says:

    I speak for most foundations – leave the grant making process open. Don’t be afraid of the work associated with filtering through all the applications you receive. There is no reason to make this process undemocratic.

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