Reflections: Serving on a Community Foundation Grant Review Panel

Explain how you will

transform lives, but remember…

we will not fund staff.

Nonprofit Haiku by Rosie Oldham


This fabulous poem from Vu Le’s blog at Nonprofit AF illustrates some of the frustrations in nonprofit and grant work. It reminds me of a wonderful experience I had this year reviewing grant proposals for a local community foundation I admire because of their diversity, open-mindedness, and willingness to listen and take advice from local nonprofits. The grant program I peer-reviewed for allowed UNRESTRICTED FUNDING, folks! Most grants want to fund projects, not essential administrative needs, employee costs, or overhead (i.e. electricity, rent, fundraising). What a joy it was to learn about the wonderful work of local nonprofits and to help decide where the money is needed most.


The community foundation led a very intensive grant review process. Volunteer community peer reviewers completed training, read and scored approximately 21 proposals, and listened to each of the 63 nonprofit applicants present about their program services and submitted application. Each proposal was reviewed by four different reviewers, and then scores were compiled into an average. We had a month to review applications before the presentations started. Funders supporting the community foundation also attended the nonprofit presentations, and it was fabulous collaborating with them and getting to know them.


Applicant presentations were 15 minutes each over 5 days, and reviewers scored the presentations after reading and scoring the grant proposals. Applicants were not allowed to use any visuals including pictures, brochures, or PowerPoint during their presentations. Some nonprofits scored additional points through effective presentations which answered all the provided questions from the foundation. Scoring rubrics were used throughout the process. A final meeting for community reviewers was held where we could advocate for certain nonprofits, and a list of funded organizations was formed for funders to do a final review. Funders could supply additional money to organizations not ranked in the top list if warranted.


Several years ago, I wrote about tips learned from being a federal grant reviewer, and this summer I am serving on a state grant review panel. I learn so much from reading strong and weak proposals, and from my fellow grant reviewers. Reflecting on all those grant reviews, training on bias is always provided, yet reviewers still succumb to it. It is important to take a deep look at your personal biases if serving on a review panel. Reviewer biases may be related to a conflict of interest, not liking a certain applicant or what they represent, or thinking that some missions are more important than others. Kathleen Woodhouse, from the 2017 Forbes Coaches Council, defines implicit bias as “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” Being a peer reviewer invites self-appraisal as much as learning from proposals and others on the panel. What will you learn serving on a grant review panel?


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  1. Sheridan July 18, 2019at7:27 pm

    How do you hear about opportunities to serve as a reviewer? I would love to do this, but I don’t know where to start looking.


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