An Opportunity for Transparency: Illustrating Our Grant Process

August 2, 2023 Perspectives
author image
Chandra Palmer
Associate Director, Client Services, Grants Management

Chandra Palmer, Associate Director, Client Services, Grants Management, shares a new graphic illustration and insights into our project grants process.


Applying for a grant can feel like sending your most important ideas into an opaque bureaucratic machine. As we work to ease burdens on organizations, we hope we can lift the veil on this process. We are excited to share a new, graphic depiction of MacArthur’s grant application process. We hope the illustration will help demystify our work, communicate clearly how most grant proposals are initiated, and prepare applicants for what to expect.

We are committed to greater transparency about our grant practices.

The Grants Management department is responsible for the Foundation’s grants processes, practices, and data. We try to center the experience of applicants and MacArthur’s grantee partners in all our work. Our colleagues in the Communications department recently conducted website audience research and found that the number one reason people access the MacArthur website is to look for information on how to apply for funding. Yet we know, from our daily experiences and interactions with organizations that approach the Foundation, that there is often confusion about who is eligible and how an organization can apply.

Developing this graphic was an opportunity to communicate more clearly and embody one of MacArthur’s core values—integrity, which calls on us to be accountable and act with strong principles in all we do. We are committed to greater transparency about our grant practices and to reducing the time and effort it takes for applicants to identify funding opportunities and navigate complex funder processes.

We are inspired by PEAK Grantmaking’s five principles and the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project’s resources on transparency in grantmaking. These resources can assist grantmakers in assessing and changing their own practices.


Our Visual Approach

The new illustration depicts MacArthur’s process for project grants.

We have distilled the application process into four stages: Initial Invitation, Preparing a Proposal, Review Process, and Determination. We aim for each stage to be rooted in relationship and human interaction. We intend for this illustration and its accompanying text to provide clarity about a few key questions.


How is a proposal typically initiated?

Most project grant applications are invited by Foundation Staff. Program Officers maintain relationships with invited applicants throughout the process. On occasion, we publicize open calls for specific grant opportunities. We also have a letter of inquiry process for organizations to request funding, but very few letters of inquiry are likely to become invited proposals or grants.


What is required of applicants who are preparing a proposal for a project grant?

We ask applicants to provide a narrative about the context, proposed activities, project leadership, evaluation, and sustainability of their work, along with documentation of their organization’s composition, annual budget, project budget, and financial statements. Grants Managers, in addition to Program Officers, will be in touch, answer questions, and accompany applicants through the process.


Who is involved in making a funding decision?

A Program Officer provides analysis of an applicant’s proposal to Foundation leadership, including our Board, when appropriate, to effectively guide our decision process. 

The illustration emphasizes the necessity of human interactions.

In developing this graphic, we hoped to convey not only the technical process but also the people and organizations involved. The illustration emphasizes the necessity of human interactions and recognizes the work, innovation, values, and diversity that applicants, grantee partners, and Staff bring to our grantmaking process.

Our goal is to see MacArthur’s applicants and grantee partners—and the nonprofit community more broadly—thrive. We hope that this is a useful resource that conveys our respect for the time, effort, and creative energy that organizations invest in identifying resources to support their missions. At MacArthur, our learning continues as we seek to become a more transparent, responsive, and values-aligned grantmaker. We are always open to hearing from applicants and grantee partners about their experience with our grant process.