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GRANTMAKING LAB REPORT: Grantmaking and Communications - Risks and Rewards

Louis XIV commented that "Every time I bestow a vacant office I make a hundred discontented people and one ingrate." Grantmakers must sometimes feel like that - misunderstood, unappreciated, and endlessly criticised.

Communications provides an invaluable tool for grantmakers wanting to prove the worth of their program to the community, to their political masters, and to other stakeholders - to reduce the discontent and the ingratitude.

It can also help to attract the right submissions, turn negative publicity into a positive, encourage new applications from different organisations, ensure new or ongoing funds to the program, and maximise a small budget by publicising the results and lessons from previously funded programs.

Even if you weren't interested in all these benefits you'd still be hard placed to ignore communications. Grantmaking is an inherently public activity:

  • It involves public (in the case of local, state and federal government), taxpayer-subsidised (in the case of philanthropic grantmaking), or shareholder money, sometimes in huge quantities.
  • It involves "picking winners" - people and organisations that miss out can have a keen interest in how the decision was made; decisions about who gets what can appear arbitrary and political.
  • It often involves funding of new/innovative/interesting/edgy/controversial programs/projects that are themselves inherently "newsworthy".

There is the potential for scrutiny (and therefore management of communications), as well as outward messaging, at pretty much every step in the grantmaking cycle:

  • Circulation of the guidelines: Is it clear what you are trying to achieve through this program? Who is party to that information - all, many, or just the privileged few?
  • Applications: How many? What kind? How good?
  • Decision: Who makes the decision on who gets the grant? What process do they use? Who's informed about the decision, and how and when?
  • Spending of the grant: What is being done with the money, and by whom? Is the money safe? Are grantees doing something worthy/innovative/newsworthy?
  • Acquittal: Did grantees stay within budget? Did they spend the money on what they said they would? Did they return any unspent funds
This AIGM Grantmaking Lab report outlines the risks of not doing communications well and the rewards if you get it right, as well as providing information about eight things you need to do NOW.

It also provides a list of 50 actions every grantmaking organisation can do to master this field, from Dead-Set-Winners (low cost, low effort - every grantmaker should do these), to Good Practice (requires moderate investment but will provide good return), to Cutting Edge (high cost, high effort but high returns).