Highlights from PEAK2023

PEAK Grantmaking’s annual convening this month brought together professionals from funding organizations of all types and sizes, along with vendor partners and philanthropy-supporting organizations. Four years have passed since the PEAK community gathered in person. The much-anticipated PEAK2023 promised to offer something different, with new ways to gather and share ideas and experiences.

PEAK is one of the largest gatherings of grants management professionals. This year’s conference invited attendees to join a collective, emergent learning journey toward more equitable, effective grantmaking. Focusing on PEAK’s Learn, Share, Evolve Principle, attendees explored ways that members are leaning into each of PEAK’s five Principles to be activated change agents for philanthropy.

We were excited about the conference on many levels. Our team has been involved with the PEAK community for many years, but it was our company’s first time exhibiting at the conference! A large segment of our clients are PEAK members, and we work together to evolve their grants management systems to support efficient, effective, and equitable grantmaking practices. More than anything, the opportunity to connect face-to-face could not be understated. It was great to be present, to be inspired by and be a part of it.

Satonya Fair, JD, president and CEO of PEAK Grantmaking, spoke incredibly powerful words to launch the conference. She made a call to action for all grants management professionals to lean in and to lead, saying, “I’ve been looking for a beacon on the hill to guide philanthropy forward and I realize that the beacon on the hill is me. It’s you. WE are the beacon on the hill.” Sharing the words of American poet and activist June Jordan, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” brought down the house. What a way to begin our three days.

Here are some highlights from the event that have us eagerly awaiting PEAK2024.

Ignite a Spark for New Ideas

One thing that left an impression on us was the environment created for sharing ideas and perspectives – in particular, the physical space. Voices could be heard, quite literally, everywhere – even the columns throughout the event space were wrapped with quotes from PEAK members. Around every corner was an opportunity to stop, read, and think – as well as contribute. Sessions were highly interactive. There were large boards throughout the exhibit space that invited attendees to contribute their best practice ideas to take grants management to the next level. In fact, we’ll share some of them throughout this post.

Amplify Equity and Inclusion

Did you know that only 0.04% of all philanthropic dollars go to native causes (and even less to native-led nonprofits), or that foundations invest only $0.01 of every grantmaking dollar on disability rights and social justice? The need for change is urgent. Putting this into practice requires organizations to build grantmaking practices and policies that reduce bias and support decisions that advance justice, inclusion, and equity. Discussions ranged from how trust-based practices can help level the playing field to how organizations can reimagine capacity building to center racial equity.

A few best practice ideas to support equity and inclusion that resonated with us include:

“People with lived experiences need to be at the table and part of the decision making. Full stop.”

“Push for equitable practices internally that reduce the burden on grantees – financial due diligence, reporting requirements, etc.”

“Have ‘on-demand’ grant writing support for small, emerging, grassroots nonprofits (you pay for it).”

“What outside resources can help organizations – especially new/grassroots/startups – be in a position to be competitive with grant requirements? Consider peer mentors, top-down feedback, office hours in the community, external structures like Catchafire, Volunteer help, how to get direct, easy access to quick answers.”

Shift Power Dynamics

Our clients are making meaningful strides in this area, and we have been helping evolve their technology to support their work. Much of the conversation at PEAK centered around themes such as rethinking the grant application, reducing grantee burden without compromising quality, and trust-based philanthropy. Funders are moving to grantmaking models in which they accept applications from any organization, at any time. They are conducting due diligence up front with publicly available information, and some are eliminating the need for returning partners to complete applications – or having program staff complete them on behalf of grantees. These grantee-centric approaches are intended to reduce grantee burden and balance power between funders and grantees. Funders are also adjusting their terminology, moving from ‘grantee’ to ‘partner.’

These best practice ideas to shift the power dynamic really hit home:

“Consider small grants for finalists that don’t receive funding to recognize their time and effort.”

“Provide an honorarium for site visits to respect grantee time, reduce power. Co-create the site visit agenda.”

“Let grantees/partners determine what success/impact/metrics mean to them.”

“Pay grantees for their time, and at the same rates we pay ourselves and consultants.”

“Invite grantees for specific program area to sit on a panel at board meetings. Connects grantees to board and they tell their story in their own words.”

Action Technology for Effectiveness and Impact

Technology plays an important role for PEAK members. It is the third element that brings people and processes together and enables organizations to operate efficiently and effectively. But all three must be well-balanced to deliver optimal results. With so much change underway, technology is changing rapidly. Processes, too. Attendees shared how they are operationalizing their tech and processes. They discussed ways they are delivering high impact, low-cost instructional design to help their people adapt to change. This topic spurred additional conversations at our booth about digital adoption. Many PEAK attendees shared challenges: as their organizations evolve technology to support changes in process and practice, people are having a hard time managing through change. Training isn’t sticking, and users (staff, applicants, grantees) are reaching out for help more often, straining resources and creating inefficiencies. We talked with many colleagues about ways that digital adoption can help.

These were some favorite recommendations, because all of them can be addressed, and improved, with digital adoption solutions:

“Provide clear instructions.”

“Quick access to answers.”

“Recorded webinars and/or FAQs”

“Create video tutorials/recordings to explain the application questions.”

“Appeal to different types of learners.”

“Explain why you’re asking questions.”

In Closing

PEAK2023 covered so much ground, and we’ve only captured a small portion of highlights from the conference based on our experience. Underlying the learning was what we love most about the PEAK community: the collective commitment to values, collaboration, trust, and providing a safe place to learn from one another and grow. Grants managers are a special group of change makers. They understand the people, the process, the technology, and the data. They have the ‘big’ view, the ability to connect the dots, to see opportunities for innovation before others. They are uniquely positioned to lead the ongoing movement to transform philanthropy. And they will.


See PEAK’s wall to view more highlights from the conference.

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