News and analysis
March 27, 2015

Council on Foundations Cancels Grant-Making Contest

The Council on Foundations has scrapped plans for a philanthropy challenge in which nonprofits would vie for $40,000 in grant money by answering "rapid-fire" questions about their programs. It had planned to hold the event at its annual meeting in San Francisco next month.

The contest drew criticism from a number of nonprofit leaders who felt the format demeaned the charities. Participants would have responded to questions from several judges and received coaching from foundation experts on how to pitch their ideas. The winner was to be determined by an audience vote.

In an email sent Thursday, Vikki Spruill, the council’s president, said the program has been "reformatted." Instead of holding the contest, the council will host a panel discussion on the advantages and drawbacks of contest-style grant making.

"We will invite experts from the foundation and nonprofit sectors representing the full spectrum of perspectives in this space," she wrote. "With the original spirit to inject energy and a new perspective into the agenda, we know this deeper conversation will better inform conference attendees."

The contest format seemed at odds with the Council on Foundation’s reputation for being “thoughtful and deliberative,” said Jon Pratt, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and co-author of an opinion piece in The Chronicle that slammed the challenge.

“This shows that the Council on Foundations is a learning organization,” he said. “They made the right decision.”

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