Setting policies

The interesting component of grantmaking, to me, is the what not the how. Too often Foundations, particularly Foundations supporting scientific research get caught up in the application process. How many pages? Should applications allow additional or appended information? Should we require the use of foundation-generated forms? What expenses should be allowed? I am not saying that process doesn’t matter. It is important, if a Foundation issues RFAs and solicits applications, that there are processes in place that have integrity and that there are principled ways of keeping as level a playing field as possible so that decisions to fund or not fund can be made. Still, most of the real work comes in developing a strong institutional compass concerning what it is that a Foundation will support and being able to articulate the choice of directions. Foundations supporting research know that they do not operate in a vacuum – and must continually evaluate how their values intersect with the norms and values of academic institutions. Too often I hear conversations lamenting the failure of Foundations to support some items Universities want research budgets to support without any accompanying discussion as to whether such expenses are a legitimate cost for research budgets. Similarly – the shifting of internal expenses to external sources of funding is really questioned on a fundamental level. Rather, Foundations are often asked to be responsive to the needs or perceived needs of University administrators. For small funders, the shifting of burdens is not a zero sum game. Every decision to fund is also a decision not to fund. Such decisions should rest on principles.