Grantmakers and Best Practices:
A Topical Resource List
There is increasing interest evident in learning more about the management and "best practices" of foundations and other grantmaking organizations. Those engaged in philanthropy need to learn what is working, or not working, from others in their field, and they are looking for ways to share this information. A number of books and articles recently have been published on various aspects of this topic.
Presented here is an annotated list of notable publications. The broad categories include general works, governance, management, grantmaking and evaluation. For access to the complete holdings of Foundation Center libraries, refer to the Catalog of Nonprofit Literature.
Note: Other resources for best practices include the Foundation Center's Practice Matters series; PubHub, a searchable repository of foundation-sponsored reports; the Ford Foundation's GrantCraft series; and the Council on Foundation's Best Practices and Sample Documents section of its web site.
- Brest, Paul and Hal Harvey. Money Well Spent: A Strategic Plan for Smart Philanthropy. New York, NY: Bloomberg Press, 2008.
- The authors direct this book on strategic philanthropy to a broad range of readers: individuals, program officers at foundations, fundraisers, and financial planners. They describe how donors need to focus on their choice of philanthropic goals and mission; engage in an analysis of problems and determine solutions; adopt a system for the selection of grantees; and assess impact. Many examples from the authors' experience are shared, and strategies beyond grantmaking are also explored.
- Freeman, David F. et al. The Handbook on Private Foundations. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Council on Foundations, 2005.
- Designed primarily for new foundation staff and trustees, a substantial portion of the book explains legal and regulatory requirements. Chapters include Foundations in the United States, Why Create a Foundation?, First Steps, Grantmaking and Other Charitable Activities, Relationships with Grantseekers and the Public, Governance and Administration, Government Regulation of Foundations, Managing Foundation Assets, and Sources of Information and Assistance. Each chapter includes a substantial bibliography. Appendices provide sample documents, policies, and forms. The final appendix explains the role of intermediary organizations, such as regional associations of grantmakers and the Foundation Center.
- Gast, Elaine C. The Guide to Small Foundation Management-From Groundwork to Grantmaking. Washington, DC: Council on Foundations, 2002.
- Written with family foundations and those with less than $10 million in assets, the book summarizes good operating principles and practices. Beginning with the need for mission and vision statements, the author provides non-technical coverage of legal issues, setting up an office, technology, records, accounting, investments, boards, staff, consultants, grants management, communication, and networking. With numerous sample documents and forms.
- The New Foundation Guidebook: Building a Strong Foundation. Bethesda, MD: Association of Small Foundations, 2003.
- Experts and representatives from various philanthropies provide advice on starting a foundation. Topics covered include vision and mission statements, board members, tax and legal issues, financial management, grantmaking, and grantmaker associations.
- Principles for Grantmakers and Practice Options for Philanthropic Organizations. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Council on Foundations, 2007.
- The booklet presents statements of responsibilities that the Minnesota Council on Foundations subscribes to and provides guidelines for best practices. Topics covered include governance, accountability and communications, programs, finance, human resources, fund development, and diversity. Also contains an accountability self-assessment tool. Available online
- Beggs, Sara and Kimberly Adkinson. The Trustee Handbook: The Essentials for an Effective Board Member. Washington, DC: Association of Small Foundations, 2007.
- Designed for boards of foundations with few or no staff, the guide covers a variety of topics including board effectiveness, grantmaking, legal and tax issues, and financial oversight.
- Gast, Elaine. Policymaking Made Clear: Eleven Foundation Policies Your Board Should Consider. Washington, DC: Association of Small Foundations, 2006.
- Explains that foundation boards should consider policies related to attending fundraisers, board membership, conflicts of interest, discretionary grants, investments, personnel, records retention, expenditures, travel reimbursement, trustee compensation, and whistleblowing.
- The Complete Guide to Grantmaking Basics: A Field Guide for Funders. Washington, DC: Council on Foundations, 2008.
- Written for staff from any type of foundation, part one covers the typical work and workday of a grantmaker, how to review grant proposals, conducting site visits and interviews, how to assess nonprofit budgets, communications with the board and others, and how to develop professionally. Part two focuses on ethics, collaborations, training staff, and continuing education. Part three deals with evaluation, foundation governance, social change grantmaking, and how to incorporate the foundation's mission and vision into everyday decisions. Worksheets and sample forms are provided.
- Disaster Grantmaking: A Practical Guide for Foundations and Corporations. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Council on Foundations, 2007.
- Jointly published with the European Foundation Centre, this pamphlet presents the results of a year-long study, outlining the best principles and approaches to funding for disaster relief. Available online
- Edie, John A. Expenditure Responsibility Step-by-Step. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Council on Foundations, 2002.
- Outlines and discusses the five steps to fulfilling the Internal Revenue Service requirements for expenditure responsibility, and explains when funders need to enact this particular procedure in order to avoid tax penalty. In brief, the steps include a pre-grant inquiry, a written agreement, establishment of a separate bank account, regular reports by the grantee, and a foundation report to the IRS. Includes sample forms for each step of the process.
- Edie, John A. and Jane C. Nober. Beyond Our Borders: A Guide to Making Grants Outside the U.S. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Council on Foundations, 2002.
- Details the technical and legal requirements for private and community foundations, corporate grantmakers, and public charities for making grants outside the U.S. An appendix includes sample materials, foreign equivalency determination forms, discussion of treaties with Canada, Honduras, Mexico and Israel, Internal Revenue Service rulings governing friends organizations, suggested grant agreements for public charity grantors, and more detailed discussions of technical points.
- Ford Foundation. A Primer for Endowment Grantmakers: Endowment Strategies to Assist and Enhance the Work of Nonprofit Organizations. New York, NY: Ford Foundation, 2001.
- A guidebook on endowment grantmaking for program officers, based on the experience of leaders at the Ford Foundation, and applicable to other philanthropies.
- Orosz, Joel J. The Insider's Guide to Grantmaking: How Foundations Find, Fund, and Manage Effective Programs. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000.
- Written primarily for program officers of foundations, the author provides a brief history on foundations, their structure, and their role in society. In the following chapters, he details the program officer's responsibilities from building relationships with applicants, reviewing, accepting, and declining proposals, and making site visits to writing and presenting the funding document, managing projects and leveraging their impact. The author shares real-world advice on a variety of issues confronting program officers, including how not to raise a grantseeker's expectations, what to do during a site visit, and the ethics of grantmaking. Includes bibliographic references and index.
- Bearman, Jessica. Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted From Purpose: Challenges and Opportunities in Grant Application and Reporting. Project Streamline, .
- The report analyzes current grant application and reporting practices and explores their effect on both grantmakers and grantseekers. The study identifies ten problems with the existing system, describes how some foundations are addressing these issues, and provides recommendations. The analysis is based on data from surveys, focus groups, interviews, and a literature review. Available online
- Best Practices in Grants Management: A Project of the Grants Managers Network. Washington, DC: Council on Foundation, 2001.
- A manual designed to assist grantmakers in the entire spectrum of the grants process ranging from pre-grant activities, approvals and notifications, through grant monitoring. Sample letters and forms for each stage are provided. Includes glossary, bibliographic references, and an index.
- Schofer, Paul and Shirley Young. Centralization of the Grants Administration Function and the Development of Grant Processing "Best Practices." Kansas City, MO: Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, 2001.
- The Kauffman Foundation explains how it streamlined its grants management procedures in spite of having three separate program divisions.
- Staffing Grants Management: Defining the Standards for philanthropy. Metairie, LA: Grants Manager Network, .
- This guide provides staffing recommendations based on the size of the foundation, indicating skills and competencies that are needed for each position, as well as typical responsibilities. The text is in the form of position descriptions.
Evaluation and Performance Measures
- Accountability Self-Assessment Tools for Private Foundations. Washington, DC: Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, 2006.
- The assessment tool covers governance, communications, grantmaking, finance, administration, personnel, public policy, mission, and evaluation. Available online
- Braverman, Marc T. (ed.); Constantine, Norman A. (ed.); Slater, Jana Kay (ed.) Foundations and Evaluation: Contexts and Practices for Effective Philanthropy. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2004.
- The following chapters are written by various specialists: Using Evaluation to Advance a Foundation's Mission; A Historical Perspective on Evaluation in Foundations; Foundations and Evaluation as Uneasy Partners in Learning; Building Strong Foundation-Grantee Relationships; Evaluation as a Democratizing Practice; Integrating Evaluation into Foundation Activity Cycles; Making Judgments About What to Evaluate and How Intensely; Adapting Evaluation to Accommodate Foundations' Structural and Cultural Characteristics; Field-Based Evaluation as a Path to Foundation Effectiveness; Strategies for Smaller Foundations; Strategies for Comprehensive Initiatives; Appraising Evidence on Program Effectiveness; Evaluative Thinking for Grantees; and Communicating Results to Different Audiences.
- Kramer, Mark; Graves, Rebecca; Hirschhorn, Jason; Fiske, Leigh. From Insight to Action: New Directions in Foundation Evaluation. Boston, MA: FSG Social Impact Advisors, 2007.
- Based on nearly 100 interviews with foundation leaders and evaluation experts, this report identifies a fundamental transition in the way grantmakers use evaluation. The study was funded by the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, and conducted in collaboration with the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers. The authors determined that foundations are moving beyond traditional third-party outcome studies toward more performance-centered approaches that can provide current information and lead to realistic practices, based on actual examples.
- York, Peter. A Funder's Guide to Evaluation: Leveraging Evaluation to Improve Nonprofit Effectiveness. Saint Paul, MN: Fieldstone Alliance, 2005.
- Evaluation is one capacity-building tool that funders can put into practice, and the book explains how the process can be implemented. Noting that both nonprofits and foundations benefit from this management tool, York provides step-by-step methods and many sample worksheets for assessing grantees.