Candid Conversation with our Peers in Development, thanks to EPIP LA

Philanthropy and Development professionals speak all the time, but how often do they get a chance to share honest feedback in a friendly way? EPIP LA made it happen and learned from their colleagues in Development at the most recent EPIPhany Hour event. Carrie Harlow, EPIP LA Chapter Leader and Program Officer, The Ahmanson Foundation, shares lessons learned here.


EPIP LA’s held its August EPIPhany Hour in the courtyard of The California Endowment Center for Healthy Communities, where we brought together 15 EPIP members to share pizza and candid conversation with peers in nonprofit development. The purpose of the lunch was to support open communication and relationship-building among grantmakers and grant seekers in order to strengthen our collaborative work and improve the grant making process. 


Our peers in development identified the following best practices:

  • Bring a partner to an introductory or pitch meeting who falls into a different demographic (gender, age, race) and may be able to connect with grantees in a different way.
  • Respond immediately to confirm receipt of an email, and share an estimate of when a grantee can expect to hear from you next.
  • Use a financial worksheet to help potential grantees understand the financial information you’re most interested in learning. This can be a useful tool for guiding a conversation about a nonprofit’s financial position during the review process.
  • Approach detailed questions regarding the audit over the phone following a site visit, as opposed to during a site visit. Asking a grantee in-person can cause development staff to panic if they don’t know the answer immediately, and doesn’t give them a chance to follow up with an accountant or CFO.

We also asked them to share their greatest challenges:

  • Disproportionately burdensome proposal processes for small grants
  • Cumbersome online applications/tech issues including difficulty printing, sharing drafts, system timing out or losing data
  • Very limited word counts on online submission forms
  • A lack of responsiveness to phone calls or emails, especially with smaller family foundations,
  • A lack of clarity around what a funder is interested in gaining from a site visit, and who a funder would like present at the visit
  • Program Officers becoming overly-involved in nonprofits’ programmatic work
  • Program Officer turnover, or foundation strategic restructuring which interrupts existing grant cycle plans
  • A lack of clarity regarding the review timeline and when final decisions are made;
  • Having a request postponed to a later board meeting that may fall into a different fiscal year without advance notice.

EPIP LA would like to thank the nonprofit partners who participated in this informative discussion for their honesty and for providing an important learning opportunity for our members. We look forward to partnering on future events!

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