Success in reducing inequality depends on the organizations and networks that challenge it every day. They provide the leadership and ideas that galvanize movements for change and focus these movements on the most promising solutions. That’s why, as we work with our partners, we don’t stop at making sure a particular grant is successful. Instead, we ask ourselves, “How do we help make this organization—and this ecosystem of organizations—successful?”

As an essential part of our strategy to reduce inequality, we are investing in organizations and networks as partners, by giving them the kind of trust, flexibility, and additional supports they need to do their best work. We are doing this in three ways:

  • We are making more multi-year, general support grants across all our program areas. In fact, we aim to make this our default type of grant whenever possible.
  • We are including at least 20 percent overhead funding in every project grant we make.
  • From 2016 to 2020, we are dedicating some $200 million of our grant-making budget each year toward institutional strengthening efforts, an effort we are calling BUILD.

Too often, funders provide support for specific projects rather than investing in core organizational strength. But to make lasting progress in addressing inequality, social justice organizations need robust, sustainable support. They need investments in their essential programs and operations that help them build a sturdy foundation for their work. They need predictable, flexible support to become more durable and resilient. Social justice institutions also need funds that allow them to seize moments of opportunity and respond quickly to unexpected challenges. When those critical pieces are in place, individual initiatives have greater impact, and institutions have the stability it takes to drive change over the long term.

Understanding what organizations need

Despite all that we know about what it takes to build strong institutions and networks, we still have much to learn about what kinds of support can make a real difference to the health and resiliency of non-profits in the Unites States and around the world. To better support our grantee partners and to enhance this body of knowledge, in 2016 we began BUILD, a five-year initiative for institutional strengthening. This effort is part of our overall strategy for reducing inequality.

Through this initiative, we will collaborate closely with a diverse mix of partners and test out approaches for strengthening core capabilities. Across fields, we will ask questions like: What operational issues have gone unaddressed for lack of resources? What finance and fundraising issues have been under-emphasized in funding relationships? What innovative program shifts, growth, or experiments have been left by the wayside in favor of more urgent needs and priorities?

Importantly, though, our partners will take the lead in determining which core capabilities they seek to strengthen—whether adding new staff positions, improving their technology, fundraising, or communications capacities, or cultivating more diverse, equitable, and inclusive staffs and boards.

In the process, we seek shared learning that will be useful to the full range of organizations and networks we support, and to the philanthropic sector as a whole.

BUILD in 2016

In summer 2016 we invited some 130 organizations to become part of the first cohort of this focused effort, and we will invite more in coming years. As with all of our grant making, these partners are doing essential work to tackle inequality. As these grants are made, they will be added to our online grants database and will be fully searchable, as with all other types of grants we make.

At this time BUILD is open by invitation only to current grantees of the Ford Foundation.

This initial cohort of organizations represents a mix of emerging and well-established field leaders. More than half work in the Global South, with the remainder in the U.S., and more than half are led by women and people of color. To maximize our learning on institutional strengthening, we sought a diverse mix of organizations and networks around the world. Our partners cover a spectrum of critical functions and capabilities—from grassroots mobilizing to policy analysis to legal services. 

Organizations participating in BUILD will receive a multi-year funding commitment. A significant portion of that commitment will come in the form of general operating support, with the remainder designated as “core support for institutional strengthening.” Organizations will develop their own plans for the type of institutional strengthening they wish to pursue with these funds.

By participating in this effort, partner organizations are committing to work more closely with us over a series of years, to grow and to learn together, and to share the knowledge that results across the social sector.

Watch this space for further updates on our efforts to build stronger institutions and networks.

What’s the difference between core and project support? Learn more in our grantmaking glossary.