We often hear how navigating the world of fundraising can feel like a labyrinth, especially for new, emerging and smaller organizations, or those who are often overlooked and have limited social and financial capital.
Unfortunately, most foundations and investors don’t make this process easy. Without prior connections, or a “way in,” we realize that meeting with a funder like us can be a challenge. And, it could take a lot of time to figure out how to reach us. Who, what, where and how programs and projects are funded depend largely on networks and connections—in other words, successfully getting funding depends on who you know.
An invitation-only policy perpetuates the same systemic inequalities and racial inequities that foundations try to dismantle through their missions and work. So many opportunities that have the potential to impact the communities that funders aim to serve are missed as a result. Organizations with the lowest funding-related social capital are typically ones who serve communities with the most limited resources, including Black and Brown populations.
The data is astonishing: Nearly 75% of the 96,000 philanthropies in the US do not accept unsolicited proposals from nonprofits, effectively keeping the door shut to many with great ideas and effective organizations but little social capital. This dynamic exists beyond the US too. In Brazil, just 10% of philanthropic organizations explicitly support Black-led or Black-focused efforts. And, time and time again, we’ve heard from our partners in Africa on different biases that drive a lack of trust in proximate leaders and their organizations. This trust deficit is often reflected in short-term, restricted, or one-off funding, as well as additional burdensome reporting requirements for African organizations.
Thus, by keeping our door shut, we recognize we have been contributing to this inequitable practice.
An invitation-only policy perpetuates the same systemic inequalities and racial inequities that foundations try to dismantle through their missions and work. So many opportunities that have the potential to impact the communities that funders aim to serve are missed as a result.
How We Came to Create and Build “Open Door”
When we spun out from Omidyar Network in early 2020, we felt the urgency to explore how to change this approach. The events of 2020—the global pandemic and the rising momentum in the movement against racism—further strengthened our commitment to making a change and taking more immediate actions.
Being true to our Justice Seeker value required us to decolonize how we operate, including in the funding policies and practices we choose to employ. Over the last few years, we have changed a number of our internal practices around investments, meetings and the questions we ask potential partners. Recently, we committed 50% of our funding contributions to Indigenous and Black-led organizations in Brazil. And, to increase transparency and access for our work in Brazil, in 2021 we launched a Portuguese language version of our website.
During this process, we also took a hard look at our sourcing practices, which relied on our closed networks to find funding opportunities. Today, we’re excited to share Open Door, a portal for those whose work aligns with our strategies to knock on to say hello. It’s a new, exploratory approach that allows anyone with an idea, solution, or research proposal to submit their information to join our pool of potential partners who are deeply committed to changing the lives of learners and their families through education and learning opportunities.
Today, we’re excited to share Open Door, a portal for those whose work aligns with our strategies to knock on to say hello.
To start, we are piloting this effort for our work in Kenya and Brazil. Once we evaluate if this platform successfully opens up access to communities outside of our traditional networks – in other words, if this is truly decolonizing our sourcing processes – we’ll expand it to the US.
Recognizing that language is sometimes the first barrier, we’ve made Open Door available in English, Portuguese and Spanish, the most common languages in the countries where we invest. We welcome feedback as we test the platform over the next year. Please share your feedback by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to hearing from new potential partners through Open Door and getting to know about the great work happening outside our networks.