February 25, 2021

Simple Steps Toward More Equitable Grantmaking

Equitable grantmaking matters to your organization and the communities you serve. But how can you ensure your giving is equitable? Follow these steps to determine if your processes are helping or hindering your efforts.

It’s no secret that 2020 was a tough year for communities of color. The unjust deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked outrage at law enforcement’s continued treatment of black communities. Minorities were also hit hardest by COVID, demonstrating the real-world effects of systemic racism. 

While spotlighted in 2020, these discriminatory practices and inequities are not new. Historically, black and brown communities have a harder time securing financing, leading to inadequate funding for basic needs like education, healthcare, food, and fresh water.

Grantmakers have a responsibility to create equitable giving processes, making sure that communities of color and other marginalized populations are not adversely impacted by our giving practices. 

Before we dive into best practices, let’s define diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Defining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Often used interchangeably, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have different meanings. Verna Myers, a well-known DEI educator said, “Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” Others added that equity is getting to choose the music. 

Applied to grantmaking, diversity includes casting a wide net to attract diverse applicants. Inclusion might mean your reviewers are diverse, reflecting the population you serve. Equity might include revamping your application process to make it more accessible.    


Simple Steps for Equitable Grantmaking

Use the following tips to evaluate equitable grantmaking within your own organization.  

Encourage a Diverse Applicant Pool  

We all have the tendency to build relationships with those similar to ourselves. This can limit who your grantees are, especially if you’re inviting mostly similarrather than diverseapplicants.

Create awareness – The first step toward equitable grantmaking is to encourage a diverse applicant pool. If nonprofits serving marginalized communities don’t know about your funding, they can’t apply. Examine your pipeline to determine if you’re casting a wide net outside of your familiar go-to organizations.  

Expand your networks – Attend diverse community meetings, events, or town halls to promote your fund. Build relationships with diverse leaders and affinity groups. Ask reviewers, awardees, and community leaders who might benefit from your grants. For example, leaders in movements like Black Lives Matter might know fledgling grassroots groups interested in funding.     

Keep Application, Instructions, and Grantee Assistance Simple

Over time grant application questions can become complex. Make time for an audit. Ask yourself–is it just as easy for a small, grassroots start-up to apply as it is for a mature, large organization?

Here are several steps to create a fair applicant experience:

Keep language simple Grant applications can feel complicated to newer applicants. Use clear, simple language. The general rule is to write at an eighth-grade reading level. (Word has this functionalityyou can google to find out how to use it).                 

Remove or explain buzzwords Novice grant seekers may not know organizational lingo or acronyms. Spell out or define all terms for clear instructions that anyone can follow, regardless of their experience level.                                        

Balance your needs with your grantees’ – Smaller groups may not have development departments. Balance your internal requirements with their need to obtain funding while serving clients. Which application data points are “nice to know” instead of essential for your determinations?

ADA-friendly When it comes to equitable grantmaking, ADA-friendly applications are a must. For example, screen reader capability and keyboard accessibility create an equitable website experience. Without these, applicants with disabilities may have difficulty applying.  

Conduct surveys – Survey current applicants and those who showed interest but didn’t follow through. Look for sticking points that caused you to lose deserving applicants. Using a third-party surveyor helps participants feel comfortable candidly sharing their experience. 

Reduce Bias in Review and Awarding Processes 

Implicit bias is an unconscious association made about social groups. For example, many automatically assume doctors are male and nurses are female. 

Ingrained at a young age, implicit bias can hinder best intentions for equitable grantmaking. By creating an unbiased review process, you’ll strengthen your entire grant review process. Here are a few tips to get you started: 

  • Leverage grant management software to remove demographic information from applications and randomize reviewer assignments. 
  • Select a diverse group of reviewers who reflect the population you serve. 
  • Provide implicit bias training to your reviewers. 
  • Examine reasons applicants were rejected. 

Examine Reporting Metrics & Post-Award Processes 

Metrics are vital to any funder’s success including equitable giving outcomes. Establish equity metrics early. You’ll want to track data points such as the number of diverse applicants and awardees.     

With grant management software, you can customize your administrator dashboard to help you easily monitor diversity-related key performance indicators and trends. Use these reporting metrics to shine a light on areas of improvement for equitable grantmaking and take immediate action to resolve any issues.

When it comes to making post-award processes more equitable, the same best practices apply.

Treat all awardees the same – You may be tempted to ask new recipients for additional materials but keep post-award processes, like program reports or monitoring, the same for all grantees. Your requirements for newer organizations shouldn’t exceed those for familiar ones. 

Simple is still best - Grant progress reports help you assess what’s working and what’s not, but they can be cumbersome for newer grantees. Just like your application, make these requirements clear and easy to complete.

Put it all together

To reduce funding barriers look at your processes from start to finish. Did marginalized populations participate at every stage of your process? If not, why not? 

Find your pain point – Look at each step and notice when diverse populations begin dwindling. For example, maybe your outreach efforts seemed to work. Marginalized communities indicated grant interest but you didn’t receive their applications.

In this instance, examine both the application and the previous step–outreach. Was the application cumbersome? Maybe there was an eligibility miscommunication. If marginalized communities are self-selecting out of your process more often than non-marginalized ones, ask why. And ask them.

Be open to suggestions – Your grantees and reviewers may have ideas for inclusivity or equity. If you’re asking for feedback, be sure to listen. Suggestions from those closest to the problem often bring unique solutions.


Equitable grantmaking is an ongoing process. Throughout the grantmaking lifecycle, measure successes and note any areas for improvement. By doing so each year, you’ll move toward a better, more equitable giving experience for all.


New call-to-action

Keep up with the latest from WizeHive

Subscribe to the monthly Get Wize newsletter.