Site visits are an excellent opportunity for foundations to connect with potential grantees and get a clearer picture of what applicants do and whom they serve. They are also a way to develop relationships, beyond the typical grantmaker/grantee dynamic.
Lissa Jones, MCF’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, shared “Three Giant Steps to Cultural Competence.”
- Build your own awareness. Bias is often transferred unconsciously, so check in with yourself about your cultural biases. What, for example, did your grandfather say about the value of immigrants? As we become aware of our biases, we can work to make more culturally-informed grantmaking decisions.
- Develop a way of knowing. Go to cultural events, read a community paper, check out opportunities in your neighborhood to learn about other cultures. It’s all around if you look for it!
- Practice, practice, practice. Develop relationships, engage in the community and realize this is a lifelong endeavor. You’ll never say, “OK, I’m done. I’ve learned it all, and now I’m culturally competent!”
Youthprise Site Visits: Guglielmo gave examples of how to look at the sector, organizational capacity and program effectiveness with a cultural lens (put yourself in the applicant’s shoes), rather than a traditional foundation lens (develop a rationale for an investment).
A traditional lens values information veracity, research accuracy, alignment of the grantee with foundation guidelines and may involve less transparent decision-making.
A cultural lens puts cultural identity at the center of the conversation and allows for an asset-based approach with an open-ended conversation between foundation and applicant. Use of a cultural lens is not a substitute for due diligence, but it is a way to learn about an applicant in a community context. It can be an effective way to evaluate requests in areas that are traditionally hard to quantify (leadership, community organizing, youth development) and provide an opportunity to establish an ongoing relationship with a potential grantee.
Guglielmo closed with a list of learning strategies: accompany an experienced funder into the field, commit to regular visits to an organization and use the foundation’s capacity to convene and allow for peer learning. The biggest barrier to culturally competent site visits is the need to build relationships.
Otto Bremer Foundation Site Visits: Her says site visits are the backbone of the Otto Bremer Foundation and a principle tenant of its work. Each visit is important in establishing or maintaining a relationship, learning about community and doing due diligence.
On Her’s first site visit with Bremer, he accompanied another program officer to “learn the ropes.” During the visit, proposal-related questions were not asked, instead the conversation focused on what was going on in the community. Trust was established and the relationship grew from there.
Culturally competent site visits are not done in isolation; they are one piece of the puzzle. Before a visit, research is done, conversations held and trust established. You have to make time to build relationships, as there is no crash course in culture.
Her ended by saying the road to cultural competence starts with one relationship, and you’re becoming culturally competent when you don’t have to think about it so much.
- Megan Sullivan, MCF operations and publications coordinator