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🚨TWO NEW MODERN GRANTMAKING TRAININGS ARE NOW OPEN FOR BOOKINGS. This autumn we’re running two different training days specifically for people who work at funding organisations. First up is Improving Grantseeker and Grantee Experiences on 1st November, followed by Fundamentals of Modern Grantmaking on November 29th. They’re always a lot of fun, so please join us!

A new type of grantmaking story that is worth copying

Mortality dictates that every grantmaker must eventually stop making grants for a living. Normally the Grim Reaper isn’t responsible for this cessation: more often grantmaking jobs end because of an exciting new job offer, the expiry of a fixed term contract, or because it’s time to take retirement.

At the end of these shifts departing grantmakers often write emails or social media posts thanking people, expressing their gratitude for the opportunity to do an impactful and rewarding job. If you work in grantmaking you’ve probably read a few of these yourself, you may even have written some.

Sometimes people go beyond this. Sometimes our fellow grantmakers will write more deliberate analyses of what they’ve learned, whether doing grantmaking for 1, 10 or 25 years working in grantmaking.

These writeups are terrific, but consciously or unconsciously their authors tend to write them in the form of a few ‘lessons learned’ rather than straightforward accounts of what actually happened when they were making grants. It seems that somewhere along the line it’s been agreed that nobody wants to read a detailed account of what you actually did in your grantmaking job.

And that’s what we would have said until we came across this recently published long-form grantmaking memoir/essay by US-based grantmaker Stuart Buck

Buck was a science grantmaker at the philanthropic organisation that is now called Arnold Ventures. His essay covers in considerable detail all the major things he did during ten years of grantmaking for that institution. And, to put things plainly - it’s kind of an amazing piece of writing for our sector. Among other rarely seen nuggets it contains:
  • Accounts of the conversations and publications that triggered the creation of the programme he worked in in the first place. Notably he names the people involved in these conversations rather than using grantmaking’s favourite word - the vague and royal ‘we’.
  • The story of his first grant in this domain and the mix of ideas and  people that got it made.
  • The specific and detailed stories of a lot of grants, including where the ideas came from, who had the ideas, how much money was given out and what happened.
  • Specific information on the impact of individual grants, including both grants that were strikingly successful, and those that were not.
Perhaps most striking is a frank discussion of some grants that just didn’t work.
Now we don’t imagine that all our readers will enjoy everything in this essay - there’s a bit of understandable self-promotion going on (obviously we’d never do this, no ma'am). Plus, science grantmaking practices do not always transfer well to other grantmaking fields, and can especially feel distant from social justice oriented grantmaking. But we think Stuart Buck has done grantmaking a service by showing that it is both possible and extremely interesting to write a detailed account of what an individual grantmaker actually did over extended periods. 

Here’s why we think this matters: there's a clear dearth of stories about what exactly happens in most grantmakers' jobs. This lack of stories is just one of the many factors that makes it hard to learn to be a good grantmaker, and makes grantmakers so prone to making mistakes that have been made before. The lack of career stories is just one of many different ways in which the grantmaking field is untransparent by default.

So this month’s newsletter recommendation to our readers is both simple and difficult: we think all grantmakers should, at some point, have a go at writing down a narrative account of what has happened in their job, over time. You may never feel comfortable to publish or even privately share the resulting work, but the experience will be profoundly reflective. Plus, anything that you can share with others will be gold-dust to other grantmakers wondering how to do this strange job that comes with no instruction manual.

New Feature! Share your experiences - we will anonymise and share in the next newsletter.

Our readership of grantmakers is now pretty big and quite international. So we want to share more of your experiences directly in it. We’re going to start by asking you this question:

If your funding organisation has become more (or less) restrictive in its grantmaking since the pandemic faded, what do you think has driven that change?

Whisper your answers to us, and we’ll share them anonymously next time.

Latest Reading - Modern Grantmaking recommends 
How about a new job or trustee role in grantmaking?
  • Comic Relief is hiring for a Chair - unremunerated. Deadline is noon, 6 October. 
  • Philea is hiring for a Personal Assistant (Brussels) - Monthly salary range is from 3058 euros to 3539.60 euros (gross), commensurate with experience. Deadline is 10 October. 
  • Clarion Housing Group Ltd is hiring for a Programme Development Manager - £53,746 - £63,225. Deadline is midnight 10 October. 
  • Arcadia is hiring for an Environmental Grants Manager - £60k, 12 months fixed term. Deadline is 5pm, 12 October.
  • Trust for London is hiring for three new trustees -  unremunerated. Deadline is 9am, 13 October. 
  • FRIDA is hiring for an interim Executive Director $120,000, remote, preferably in the Global South. Deadline is 18 October. 
Want to see your job ad in next month’s newsletter? Ping us! We now only share job ads that #ShowTheSalary

Grantmaking pre-Halloween ‘joke’ of the month

Q. Why did The Locked Tomb Foundation not meet its annual grant giving target?

A. It only had a skeleton crew.

Got any terrible or actually funny grantmaking jokes to share?......tell us. 

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Who are we?

Gemma Bull and Tom Steinberg run Modern Grantmaking, and write this newsletter. We do consulting and training specifically for funders, and wrote a book on how to be a modern grantmaker, too.
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