Evaluation of our Expedited Grantmaking (X-Grants) Program

January 14, 2019 Evaluation
XGrants 240

Total Awarded: $2,802,216
Duration: 2015 - 2017
Total Grants: 106
Geographic Focus: Global


Over the past 40 years, MacArthur has often fielded requests from grantees and other organizations for small amounts of money to support various time-limited efforts, like attending or convening a meeting. In response to this need, the Foundation established a grantmaking tool, known as an expedited grant (X-Grant), to improve our ability to make small, strategic grants with greater speed and efficiency. We also contracted with the Institute of International Education (IIE) to administer X-Grants, given its experience operating a similar expedited grantmaking program for another funder.

The pilot phase of the X-Grant program launched in April 2015 and lasted for the remainder of the year. During this time, Foundation staff could make X-Grants between $1,000 and $30,000 to a 501c(3) public charity, or an organization with an equivalency determination, for four types of defined activities: (1) attendance at a meeting, (2) convening a meeting, (3) knowledge building and professional development, and (4) small research projects. Furthermore, all activities funded through an X‐Grant were required to be completed within the calendar year of the fully‐executed grant agreement letter.

In 2015, MacArthur made $425,000 available to program staff across the Foundation to make X-Grants on a first-come, first-served basis. By the end of the year, 18 X-Grants had been made totaling $410,617. The Foundation hired The Silver Line to evaluate the pilot phase of the X-Grants program, which surfaced strong support for the X-Grant program across the Foundation and among participating grantees. The program was reinstituted in June 2016.  By the end of 2016, 12 X-Grants were made totaling $436,658. In 2017, 76 X-Grants were made totaling $1,955,568.

What We Evaluated

The overall management of the X‐Grants program has remained consistent over time—the Foundation reviews and approves X-Grant applications, while IIE administers the X-Grant funds to grantees. However, several substantive changes have been made to the X-Grants program since its pilot phase. First, the budget limit for an X‐Grant was increased to $50,000 from $30,000. Second, the form used by Foundation staff to request an X-Grant now includes a section requiring a description of how the proposed X‐Grant served to advance one of the Foundation’s existing areas of programming. Furthermore, starting in 2017, Foundation programs other than changing areas of work were given the opportunity to incorporate X-Grant funds into their overall budget requests. MacArthur contracted with The Silver Line to collect feedback on adjustments made to the X-Grant program since its pilot phase and further assess the value of X-Grants to staff and grantees.

What We Learned

  • The X-Grants program is valued by and useful to grantees. Ninety-six percent of grantees surveyed through the evaluation reported that the X-Grant enabled their organization to meet a need in a timely manner.
  • The X-Grants program continues to be a helpful and efficient tool for the Foundation. The number of Foundation staff that have made X-Grants has increased each year since the launch of the program. In 2016 and 2017, X-Grants were used for projects, activities, and initiatives in all four of the defined categories and activities in an “other” category. In comparison, the majority of X-Grants made in 2015 were used to convene a meeting, followed by 21 percent for research and 11 percent for knowledge building activities.
  • Foundation staff reported that X-Grants offer a flexible and nimble mechanism to support existing grantees or explore relationships with new grantees. They identified a variety of ways that X-Grants have been used to support the Foundation’s design/build approach to strategy development and implementation.
  • The funding level of $50,000 was reported to be a sufficient level of funding for X-Grants. Some Foundation staff noted that they would like to see the maximum grant raised to $75,000.
  • Foundation staff appreciate IIE’s role in the X-Grants program, as IIE’s involvement allows staff to make grants quickly and reduces their administrative workload.
  • Being prohibited from awarding grants to organizations that are not classified by the IRS as tax-exempt was noted as a major limitation for some program areas at the Foundation that support a large number of grantees based in non-U.S. countries.
  • There were several comments from Foundation staff that “the rest of our grantmaking should be this easy” and that the speed with which X-Grants are made should inform other grantmaking processes at the Foundation.


Download the full report › 
MacArthur’s evaluation philosophy ›