Independent Sector

What would it take to build and sustain transformative grantee-grantor relationships in the charitable sector?

Independent Sector (IS) is a coalition of corporations, foundations, and private voluntary organizations that works to strengthen America's nonprofit organizations.

In late 2015, Independent Sector (IS) conducted a listening tour and interviewed their member organizations across the country to learn about the most pressing issues facing the charitable sector. A number of themes emerged from these community conversations, but for the Programs and Practice team, one theme really stood out: grantee-grantor relationships and the way that power dynamics can really interfere with organizations’ ability do their best work and have the greatest impact.

The team wanted to dig in and learn more about the issue, but also wanted to do so with an eye towards practical solutions. Solutions like new tools, strategies, or approaches that grantees and grantors in the charitable sector could leverage to build and sustain healthy, transformative relationships.

 An early storyboard of a conference session on "Tools to Leverage Your Power." 

An early storyboard of a conference session on "Tools to Leverage Your Power." 

With this goal in mind, Independent Sector and The Social Impact Studio partnered to craft a tailored, six-month, design and development process. We reflected on and analyzed the perspectives of stakeholders across the country, teasing out insights and ‘bright spots’; we framed and reframed the challenge; and we generated ideas from the mundane to the crazy.

Ultimately, we narrowed in on two concepts: (1) Social Impact Camp, an immersive experience for grantee project leads and grantor project officers to come together early in the project planning process to get to know each other, build trust, and to co-create project goals and metrics, and (2), an online grantee-grantor matching service that uses an algorithm to match organizations with similar values, interests, and priorities (think eHarmony of the charitable sector).

 Mockup of the Social Impact Camp concept.

Mockup of the Social Impact Camp concept.

We built prototypes for both, and in successive testing-adaptation cycles, shared them with a small group of IS members and others from the sector to get feedback and make improvements.

More than just landing on the solutions themselves, the process sparked a deep commitment to human-centered design within the organization. A few months after our collaboration, IS staff engaged with a Detroit-based design studio for a month-long learning journey. The Programs and Practice team also has embedded HCD into all their work, creating a studio-like collaboration space in their offices, and applying a design-based way of thinking and doing into their processes.

Read more about this collaboration and our reflections on the process on the Independent Sector blog.