Perhaps you saw our write up on MIT’s website. We know that philanthropy comes in all shapes and sizes and we believe that co-review can benefit anyone making decisions about giving grants. As a refresher, co-review is when a grantmaker offers applicants an opportunity to receive feedback from our Evaluation Committee. The grantmaker still conducts their process as they normally would and makes decisions about funding awards and declinations, but their applicants also receive the added benefit of hearing from the diverse array of experts that make up our Evaluation Committee. You do not have to be one of the world’s premier institutions to make your giving more inclusive and provide value to everyone you consider. You can increase your impact by collaborating with our Evaluation Committee. Our goal is to make all of philanthropy more inclusive and we can’t do that by working only with exclusive organizations.
This Spring we are co-reviewing with Kettering Family Foundation, as well as two Giving Circles: Circle for Justice Innovations and Next Gen Giving Circle. We are also in our third year of co-reviewing with the business plan competition Mentor Capital Network in support of their partnership with Bethesda Green.
Regardless of whether it’s a global competition, a family funding round, or a Giving Circle considering proposals, in any grantmaking process, there are funding criteria. Hopefully the criteria are written, strategic, and well planned. Too often, they are unwritten, arbitrary, and haphazard. But whether grant criteria are stated, acknowledged, and listed on the website or unspoken, confusing, and never discussed, grantmakers do have their preferences, as do we all.
All grantmakers also have some kind of decision-making process. The best grantmakers have organized procedures involving trained professionals and they base their decisions on evidence, best practices, institutional knowledge, and a strong values-based approach to systemic change. Unfortunately, these processes are often unstated. Unstated selection priorities can lead to disagreements and decision hampering stalemates. In some cases, simple organizational problems stymie philanthropic work. For example, there are funders who haven’t given any grants recently because they can’t find a convenient time to meet.
Larger programs often have multiple rounds of review, with early rounds managed by lower level staff or volunteers and later rounds conducted by family members or a VIP judging panel. Proposal readers might be the team at SOLVE or the professional program officers at the MacArthur Foundation, or possibly fifth-generation members of influential families. Sometimes, it could be marketing directors at international corporations or members of an educational, religious or community-centered fundraising group.
Regardless of who is making decisions, they have enormous responsibility and are choosing not only who will be solving the problems that face us today, but how many resources will be distributed to solve them.
Co-Review Throughout History
Before founding Unfunded List, I was inspired by a number of historical examples, including examples from my own family. I had been working in fundraising for a long time and had done my share of funding as well. I had seen imperfections with the process and wanted to dedicate myself to improving philanthropy. I sincerely believe many funders agree with me that philanthropy could improve and are looking for specific procedures to implement at their foundations in order to yield a more inclusive batch of high quality proposals.
Procedures like co-review have existed in many forms throughout history. For example, in 1863, frustrated by the Salon’s dominance of the Paris Art World, Napoleon III commissioned Le Salon des Refusés to feature works the Salon had rejected. The exhibit included works by Monet, Cézanne, Pissaro, and other future greats. The event is considered a turning point in the history of Art.
Since the 1950s, orchestras have made changes in the way they select musicians. Rather than letting the conductor choose, orchestras introduced blind auditions and other more open processes to their auditions. The result has been greater gender parity and equality, with much more progress still to come.
One of the Unfunded List board members is a retired professor from Duke University, who was a tenured professor at Colby College for decades prior to being recruited by Duke. (Full disclosure: she is also my mother.) Because of her expertise in her field, she is often asked by universities and institutions to serve as an outside evaluator for dissertation defenses, tenure and promotional considerations, and Fulbright Fellowship selections. She has recently reviewed a dossier for Carleton University (Ottawa) and has performed similar evaluations for UNC-Chapel Hill, McGill University, University of Toronto, UCLA, and other schools.
When founding this program, I was inspired by another program called The Black List. The Black List publishes an annual list of the best screenplays that have not yet been made into films. Many of their honorees have gone on to great cinematic acclaim (Argo, Juno, Charlie Wilson’s War, Slumdog Millionaire, and Spotlight, amongst many others). The name is a tongue and cheek reference to a time when Hollywood ‘blacklisted’ communists and communist sympathizers.
The Value of Outside Evaluation
Indeed, many fields rely on outside evaluation to avoid bias and ensure high quality. Co-review can be adapted to most applicant based funding programs and will reduce administrative burden while providing value to all applicants. Even grantmakers who do not accept applications can benefit by joining our Evaluation Committee to review a manageable batch of submissions curated to their interests. In addition, co-review can help with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, while improving overall proposal quality. Our MIT co-review partnership is very exciting and we now have a number of smaller pilots and ongoing co-review arrangements that we are equally excited about.
The Sharing Award
In Fall of 2020, we reviewed 7 submissions that opted in from the Sharing Award, a prize for refugee-focused startups in support of the first year of their competition. The Sharing Award ended up needing to extend its deadline which gave us the opportunity to review all early submissions and provide feedback before the new deadline. The proposals that were on time had the benefit of our feedback and plenty of time to write new drafts before final submission. And since this is the first year the Sharing Award is being offered, we hope that our feedback to the team administering the competition will be useful for future rounds and that we will continue reviewing the submissions.
Mentor Capital Network
As I mentioned above, we are in our third year of reviewing with the social business plan mentoring competition Mentor Capital Network. Last Fall, we reviewed 10 social business plans that opted in after MCN founder Ian Fisk shared the opportunity for feedback with their applicants. Many of these new enterprises have social missions as well as revenue streams, so they are eager to hear from our committee about the possibility of philanthropic support. Likewise, many of our evaluators from the world of philanthropy are interested in learning about social enterprise and investment. We plan to continue the collaboration and are looking for new ways to connect our two communities.
Kettering Family Foundation
Our smallest pilot this Fall was with the Kettering Family Foundation, for which we reviewed 2 programs that the family wanted to receive extra support. One of our evaluators runs her own small family foundation and is currently considering funding the org (a local food rescue) that she reviewed for Kettering. Another evaluator has a list of national organizations she wants to introduce to the Kettering applicants and we helped with those introductions. Both of the submissions we reviewed received a thorough feedback report and heard from several reviewers from various fields.
Kettering Family Foundation was the generous sponsor of our Evaluator Summit last February and they have provided us with a grant to continue our work expanding co-review in 2021 and we are currently reviewing 19 submissions that opted-in from their human services and arts committees.. With several thousand family foundations in the US alone we are excited about our first family foundation co-review partnership and hope to form many more in the coming years.
Next Gen Giving Circle
Next Gen Giving Circle is a recently formed giving circle made up of young professionals in the Washington, DC area. Their members make small regular gifts and they all pool their money together and collectively give grants to grassroots groups in the DC area. Last Fall was their first round of funding and the grants were focused on organizations working on food and housing security with BIPOC leadership. We reached out to all of their applicants and gave them the opportunity to submit a proposal to us for review. Since it has been a while since their Fall Submissions to NGGC we allowed all of their fall applicants to send us a new proposal even if it’s to a different funder. We are currently reviewing submissions sent to some of DC’s largest foundations as well as various city-run grant programs. This Spring, we are co-reviewing five submissions that opted-in from the NGGC applicant pool.
Circle for Justice Innovations (CJI Fund)
Circle for Justice Innovations is an innovative grantmaking collaborative made up of community organizers, activists, donors, and donor-activists that has been funding social justice and supporting movements for 20 years. Founded by Aleah B. Vaughn, who still runs the circle, CJI Fund is a leader in collaborative grant-making. Beyond funding, they do a lot of work supporting the capacity-building and training efforts of their grantees and even their prospective grantees.
Aleah and capacity-building consultant Keesha Gibson were looking for ways to provide additional value to everyone who applies to the various programs of CJI Fund (the FreeHer Fund, The Quest For Democracy Fund, and others) and so they reached out to Unfunded List. This Spring we are co-reviewing a small batch of opt-ins from their program and looking forward to more. Going forward, the plan is to allow every applicant to CJI the opportunity to be independently reviewed by Unfunded List.
How to Co-Review with Unfunded List
Unfunded List was designed to be a universal reviewing committee and by reviewing hundreds of proposals over 5 years we have proven that we can read and review any proposal, from anywhere, on any topic, submitted to any funder. We believe that anyone who writes a proposal is serious and deserves to be taken seriously by serious people. We can co-review with any grantmaker, utilizing any process, on any topic, from anywhere.
Do you have a funding program that you’re involved in? A giving circle, family foundation, or office pool? If you are interested in seeing a wider array of submissions while providing value to everyone who submits, we would love to discuss co-review with you. Our founder, Dave Moss, can be reached at [email protected] for questions about co-review or the proposal review process.
If you are interested in reviewing proposals as a member of our Evaluation Committee you are encouraged to sign up. Reviewing with Unfunded List is a great opportunity for professionals to stay up to date on innovation trends while using their own skills and talents to help create a more inclusive philanthropy sector.