How to Embed Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access into Grantmaking and Grantseeking

By Molly Penn

Grantmaking has a built-in power imbalance. Foundations have money, and nonprofit agencies want it.

Today there are increasing discussions around these power dynamics in fundraising, accelerated by the social justice movement of 2020. This article will explore how approaching grantmaking through a lens of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) helps to dismantle traditional power imbalances.

What is DEIA in Grant Making?

The concepts of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access mean a lot of different things to different people in various contexts. The goal of DEIA in grantmaking is to pay particular attention to people who historically have been underrepresented and systematically oppressed throughout society.


Consider people’s identities and lived experiences throughout the grantmaking cycle.


Seek just outcomes for all  people in a grantmaking relationship and particularly for those from marginalized backgrounds and communities.


Ensure you are reaching out to welcome and include marginalized communities in your grantmaking practices. Build strong relationships with your community.


Provide access supports to ensure those who need accommodations have equal access to your resources.

Guidelines for Grantmakers

Grantmakers must acknowledge that they hold a position of privilege in the grantmaking relationship. And with such privilege comes the responsibility to ensure DEIA drives each step of the process.

Open Society Foundations created a guide for institutions that are concerned about DEI in their grantmaking practices.

Funder Guidance for Engaging Grantees on DEI is another helpful resource for grantmakers. This document by Ford Foundation describes best practices throughout the grantmaking lifecycle. It also shares helpful tips for responding to accusations of discrimination, harassment, or other misconduct.

We’re also offering some tips based on work we’ve done recently with public arts funders: the five NYC borough arts councils and the Massachusetts Cultural Council:

Provide supports

For public events (such as information sessions about your grantmaking), ensure there are supports available to meet people’s accommodation needs (live transcription, ASL interpretation, website accessibility, etc.)

Check your materials

Guidelines, application and reporting forms, etc. – to ensure they are not overly complex or restrictive and that they are written in easy to understand ways. If you can, provide your materials in multiple languages commonly spoken in your community. Ensure there is a clear offline option for those from lower income backgrounds who may not have access to the internet or a computer.

Audit your website

Is your websites inviting and accessible (with assistive technology)? Does it convey images of diverse people? Is it easy to navigate?

Analyze your practices 

What are you doing to build relationships in your community and conduct outreach to ensure a wide pool of applicants? What are you doing to ensure you are holding programs (like information sessions) at a day and time when various people can attend?  What supports are you providing to unsuccessful applicants to help them improve (capacity building services)?  How accessible is your staff to answer questions and support prospective applicants in the process?

Speak to your applicants

Not just your grantees. Ask your applicants what would be fair to them in terms of how you approach giving out grants.  The very act of asking applicants shows respect for their experience and feedback. If you are in a position to, offer small honoraria to applicants for participating in a focus group. If you can’t do focus groups, survey your applicants and build the survey so you can disaggregate the data by race, ability status or other areas of interest.

Take care with definitions

Definitions of terms like BIPOC can be important in communicating your intensions to center historically marginalized organizations, but take care that you are not creating metrics like a list to be checked off, that could exclude organizations that really belong in that pool. Increasingly, for example, indigenous communities feel overlooked in that acronym given the particular recent focus on racial diversity.

Watch your language

Review your language for white supremacy ideas like “excellence” and “merit” – seek alternative definitions to describe what you are trying to fund.

Resources for Grantees 

Grantees often feel that they are at the mercy of the grantmaker. Traditionally the grantmaker holds all the power, and the grantee jumps through whatever hoops are necessary to get funding for their programs.

For example, some funders give what they call “restricted” funding, allowing an agency to use money only for certain defined purposes. Nonprofits then have to acquire other resources to support basic operations and staffing needs. Lack of appreciation for these issues makes it challenging to develop authenticity in the grantmaking relationship.

Grantees are not immune to responsibility, however; they too can work on cultivating trust with funders. Here are some resources for grantees who are committed to DEI&A in the grantmaking relationship.

  • Trust-Based Philanthropy. This five-year project is a peer-to-peer funder initiative to address the inherent power imbalances between foundations and nonprofits. Its goal is to lower the barriers, making it less effortful for grantees to apply for funding.
  • Nonprofit AF. This snarky, but brutally honest, blog by Vu Le speaks to power dynamics between funders and grantees. One set of posts explains how restricted funding adds more burden to people of color who work in nonprofits and are responsible for raising money.
  • Community-Centric Fundraising. This model is grounded in equity and social justice. It elevates the entire community above individual organizations, fosters a sense of belonging and interdependence, and encourages mutual support between nonprofits.
  • Decolonizing Wealth. This book by Edgar Villanueva examines how philanthropy is the result of colonization. It challenges the unique power dynamics inherent as a result of this founding system.

The National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers created a DEI Toolkit for entities that work with grantmakers and other philanthropic institutions. It contains DEI resources and perspectives from the field, highlighting areas of particular need for grantmakers.  In fact, one of our consultants has spent the past year contributing to an NNCG working group on equitable funding for disability.

Final thoughts

Whether you are a grantmaker, grantee, or consultant to either party, dismantling the traditional power imbalance in the grantmaking process is your responsibility. We at PENN Creative Strategy are committed to supporting all entities in their journey toward greater diversity, equity, inclusion, and access.

Drop in for Office Hours and talk with our experts!

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