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.

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