Put It Up to a Vote: Who Wins When All Foundation Staff Pick Grantees?

 photo:  Brian A Jackson/shutterstock

photo:  Brian A Jackson/shutterstock

A recent study on program officers suggests that they have a lot of influence within foundations about where grant dollars go, even if trustees have the final say. The same can't generally be said of the many other staff who often work at foundations—in administration, finance, communications, and other support functions. While these folks keep grantmaking institutions running smoothly, they're almost never handed the checkbook to have a little fun.   

There are exceptions, though. We've come across examples here and there of foundations letting all staff participate in select grantmaking decisions. It's a nice thing, although still pretty rare. 

One such example is the Boston Foundation's Out of the Blue grants. This isn’t a new idea by any means; the program has been awarding annual grants to nonprofits since 2002. Potential recipients are nominated by a TBF staff member and put up to a vote by the TBF staff. This is separate from the funder’s usual grantmaking cycles.

This year’s Out of the Blue grant recipient, announced in July, was Kids in Need of Defense, which received an unsolicited $50,000 grant because the staff believed it was a deserving nonprofit. Although the organization is actually headquartered in Washington, D.C., it has a large office in Boston. Its mission is to provide legal resources to children who enter the U.S. immigration system, work that's obviously very timely. The group has helped over 600 immigrant children navigate this complicated process in Boston.

Earlier this year, we reported on TBF’s emergency grants to address immigration concerns in response to Trump policies. Along with Muslims, the LBGTQ community and other marginalized local groups, immigrants in Greater Boston continue to be a priority for the TBF staff.

Related: In Case You Missed It: TBF's Emergency Grants to Protect Vulnerable Groups

Paul S. Grogan, TBF’s president and CEO said the following about this year’s recipient:

The work that KIND performs ensures that some of the most vulnerable members of our society have the protection they deserve to get due process in the legal system. It is challenging in the best of times, and even more so in the current anti-immigration political climate. It is both a joy and an honor to present KIND with this year’s Out of the Blue grant.

The whole point of these grants is that you can’t apply for them, so there are no guidelines or application tips to share. The award criteria are pretty simple: demonstrate effective leadership, share a mission with TBF, and serve Greater Boston.

Repeat winners are not allowed with this grant program. In past years, More than Words, Haley House and My Life My Choice at JRI received TBF’s Out of the Blue grants. You can learn more about past recipients and also watch a video of Grogan presenting this year’s award here.