Evaluation: The role of ‘re-granters’ in advancing a more inclusive and collaborative conservation movement

Convening in the Klamath River basin. Photo credit: Timothy Male.

Re-granting or intermediary organizations—frequently used in philanthropy—are “mission-driven organizations that aim to more effectively link donors (individuals, foundations, and corporations) with organizations and individuals delivering charitable services.” (That’s a definition from the experts at PEAK, the association for grantmaking professionals.) Such organizations play valuable, wide-ranging roles including campaign leadership, coalition-builder, policy expert, and capacity-builder for small and community-based nonprofit groups. Importantly, the Hewlett Foundation’s Western Conservation grantmaking strategy’s multiple re-granters also allow us to reach and support many more partners than we’d otherwise be able to engage. But there are clear opportunities for us and our re-granters to advance partnerships that are more diversified and reciprocal, and that more closely align with Hewlett’s guiding principles on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and collaboration.

Those are some of the key findings from a recently completed independent evaluation commissioned by Hewlett that looked at longstanding re-granting organizations that have played a role in advancing the foundation’s Western Conservation grantmaking strategy. Re-granters occupy a “unique and powerful position” in implementing the strategy, which was last refreshed in 2018 to further prioritize collaboration and the engagement of diverse communities—including Indigenous and rural communities—to better realize locally driven and lasting conservation outcomes.

Hewlett partners today with approximately 10 re-granters and provides direct support for nearly 150 tribes and nonprofit organizations advancing land and water conservation in the U.S. and Canada; several hundred additional organizations are supported by our re-granters.

We contracted with expert evaluator Jennifer Henderson-Frakes in early 2020 to identify lessons learned about how our longstanding re-granters approach collaboration and equity and inclusion in their grantee portfolios and campaigns, and how they recruit and support grantees. As a starting point, the evaluation asked, “How are re-granters in the Western Conservation grantmaking strategy aligned with Hewlett’s guiding principles and values?” We were hoping that the process would uncover opportunities for greater efficiency and collaboration, generate ideas for supporting our re-granters and grantees’ work on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and inform the work of Hewlett and our re-granters as field-builders.

We deeply appreciate the time invested in this evaluation and the candid feedback shared by re-granters, grantees, fellow funders, and partners. Personally, I learned a great deal. My key takeaways from the evaluation include:

  • Interviewees told Henderson-Frakes that re-granters play a broad range of value-added roles, including capacity-builder, coalition-builder, convener, and campaigner. Some focus on a specific geography and community, such as the Colorado Plateau Foundation’s focus on supporting Indigenous-led nonprofits in the four corners region; others focus on an issue area, such as Resources Legacy Fund’s Open Rivers Fund, which supports Tribes, landowners, and Western communities in removing derelict dams and culverts and restoring rivers to benefit nature and people.
  • Re-granters respect and understand the niche role played by different grantees—i.e., acknowledging and supporting the ideologically diverse field of nonprofits that focus on conservation issues.
  • Re-granters have varied approaches to collaboration with their own grantees. Alas, few now collaborate with each other.
  • Grantees want to co-create conservation strategies with re-granters, but collaboration and relationship-building can be stymied by short-term grants with tactical deliverables.
  • Several re-granters shared inspiring examples of learning with and from their grantees.
  • Re-granters are in different places when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion; for some, it is at the core of their organizational ethos, for others, this is newer work. The result is an inconsistent, sometimes challenging experience for downstream nonprofits—including those that receive funds directly from Hewlett, which has undertaken new work to center racial equity in its grantmaking.

This feedback points to the need to engage our re-granters in a discussion about our role together in building a stronger, more inclusive, and collaborative conservation movement toward outcomes that are enduring. This is especially important work when we consider the broader context in which society solves problems—one that has been so plagued by systemic racism, political polarization, and disinformation that it led to insurrectionist violence in the nation’s capital.

In the year ahead we aim to:

  • Continue shifting grantmaking funds to resource Black, Indigenous and other marginalized voices and frontline communities working toward enduring conservation outcomes.
  • Launch a learning community with our re-granters around topics of common urgency such as diversity, equity, and inclusion, and supporting inclusive coalitions. We hope to facilitate new conversations and collaboration among re-granters, especially on these topics.
  • Explore how to provide multi-year, flexible funding to re-granters that don’t already receive such funding and set the expectation that they will do the same with their own grantees—elevating capacity-building outcomes over short-term programmatic ones.
  • Work with grantees, re-granters, and partners to draft a new overarching goal for the Western Conservation grantmaking strategy that reflects our shared effort to build broad public support for enduring conservation outcomes.

Like many sectors across society, philanthropy and conservation and environmental groups are having new discussions about centering equity. What is happening more slowly is the pivot from transactional to transformational interactions. But I believe that if we are going to build power as a movement, we need to build it together – listening, breaking down silos, and building trust and respect. I recognize this may be significant shift for some, myself included, but as funders and re-granters, it means we need to provide support for the people that live in and value a landscape to co-create and advocate for strategies to conserve it. Good news: This is already happening in the Klamath Basin, Bears Ears, Chaco, the Grand Canyon, Montana’s Paradise Valley, Canada’s Boreal Forest, and Bristol Bay, among many other places.

Urgency need not come at the expense of inclusivity or big ideas if our partnerships are authentic. We need to meet people where they are, focus on common ground, and as one grantee told me, start acting like we’re all part of the solution. And that includes people with whom we may disagree politically. Or as another grantee said rhetorically on a recent video call: “What could collaboration and partnership really look like when we all understand that our individual success is tied to one another?” It will take humility, candor, and compassion to find out.

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