December 1, 2019

CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), Marcus Walton, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss inclusive grant-making, racial equity and the sharing of best practice across 600 organizations

CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), Marcus Walton, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss inclusive grant-making, racial equity and the sharing of best practice across 600 organizations.


GEO is a 20-year old organization based in the US, which helps grant-makers make better decisions and be more effective. They have 600 members and are supported by some of the world’s best-known foundations, such as the Ford Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


It’s a membership organization creating a space for funders to come together and build their network, learn of the latest philanthropic trends and engage with each other.


At GEO they consider how philanthropic practice actually translates into the impact grant-makers are aspiring to achieve with their investments.  They catalogue case studies, publish great insights and convene thought leaders.  Every year they publish a ‘smarter grant-making’ publication.


But Marcus notes that having access to this information isn’t enough. Now, the question is also about how do we actually use this information, to understand it in context, to extract lessons, and to interrogate these insights together to inform practice going forward — the emphasis is on application


In GEO’s ‘Strategic Direction for 2018-2021’ plan, one of their focus areas is on integrating racial equity into their vision for smarter grant-making. Marcus’ background includes a 10-year track record in racial equity training, within the philanthropic sector in particular.


Marcus notes that when talking about racial equity one is talking about the historical impact of policies and practices that have created conditions that face us today. With that analysis, it means that in everything grant-makers do, there needs to be a consideration of what have been the decisions that contributed to how things are now; how do institutions reinforce some of the disparities and inequitable conditions that keep some groups disadvantaged and that actually provide advantage for others — advantage to access resources and opportunities — and then how does one think about one’s work in a way that improves conditions for all of the groups involved. Understanding that we have different needs, that we’re all facing different challenges, and that we bring a variety of resources to the table that can be leveraged or intensified with a really intentional investment strategy.  That’s how GEO is able to support the field in terms of embracing a racial equity focus.


Incorporating racial equity into grant-makers’ thinking means bringing an intentional practice; it means that every time you develop a program, you engage with the communities that you are intending to serve. It’s an inclusive, collaborative approach to grant-making. It’s the opposite of a more paternalistic, institutional approach that says ‘we know what you need’ — instead, it says, ‘we’re creating a space to be a thought partner with you, to respond to some of the persistent needs, perhaps the most persistent challenges that have faced this community’.


GEO brings thought leaders to its members. They organize conferences, webinars and peer-to-peer learning opportunities for CEOs, Trustees and executives.  Marcus notes that conferences are invaluable — there aren’t enough places where likeminded folks can come together and learn from each other and from thought-leaders alike. One week out of every month, Marcus is in a different community in a city or state across the USA with a co-host who is a member organization or stakeholder to learn about their issues, who are convening their colleagues from around the region, listening to local leaders who are driving the work, and Marcus is flying in to provide a national point a view to inform the conversation that’s around those priorities and then from those conversations, elevating those conversations to the national discourse, through their national conferences, through their virtual tools and resources, and really providing a different kind of a platform for leaders.


It’s interesting to note that Marcus started off as a community organizer and that, today, he views himself as an organizer of philanthropic resources, not as an executive officer inside of an institution.


Marcus’ key takeaway: he notes that we’re in a moment in time where the changes we want to see are accessible and there’s a call to action for us to apply those things that we’ve learned – the principles and the tools and the resources that we’ve learned in order to mobilize our spheres of influence and to participate in change; to activate change; to be a part of actively transitioning organizations from one state of existence to another. The time is really now, we are global and we are all in this together. Our collective genius is so much broader than any of us knows or can imagine when operating in isolation.


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