Choosing Change: How to Assess Grant Proposals for Their Potential to Address Structural Inequality
In response to disparities exposed and exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, many individual donors and institutional grantmakers have sought to address the structural inequalities that prevent people from surviving, let alone thriving.
Structural inequality exists across a wide range of social issues, including health care, education, economic development, environmental impact, and many more. Even when a proposal has not been designed specifically to address structural inequality, considering factors that contribute to structural inequality can help funders recognize those proposals with the potential for lasting impact.
Against this backdrop, our team at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy partnered with Lever for Change, an affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to develop Choosing Change: How to Assess Grant Proposals for Their Potential to Address Structural Inequality.
The resulting tool kit (available in early 2022) — the rubric, guidebook, scoresheet, and accompanying website — is designed to be used as a lens to assess proposals in any area — including education, health, housing, environment, arts, and more — for how well they can contribute to creating a more just world.
Visit Choosing Change to learn about the rubric, find examples of how to apply it, and download the tool in early 2022: https://www.impact.upenn.edu/choosing-change
What is structural inequality?
Structural inequality describes disparities in wealth, resources, and other outcomes that result from discriminatory practices of institutions such as legal, educational, business, government, and health care systems. Structural inequalities result from power imbalances when one group has historically set the rules that intentionally or unintentionally exclude others from access to wealth and resources.
Structural inequality differs from inequality in outcomes that can result from a person’s individual efforts. Instead, structural inequality focuses on the practices that shape outcomes for individuals, independent of their personal decisions, efforts, talent, or needs. In the U.S., segregation and the disenfranchisement of Black Americans that continued after slavery was formally abolished are some of the starkest examples of structural inequality in the U.S. A global example is the right to own property ; laws in nearly 40% of the world’s economies, prevent women property ownership, leaving them more vulnerable than men to extreme poverty.
Choosing Change: Five Dimensions for Reducing Structural Inequality
Questions to Ask About Any Organization or Proposal
When deciding whether to support a proposal, funders can ask the following questions to assess whether or not it has potential to reduce structural inequality — or reinforce it. These five dimensions can be a screen added to funding decisions for any issue area, from education to arts to climate.
How much do beneficiaries shape the proposed solution design, implementation, and and monitoring and evaluation? How deeply and frequently does the organization engage intended beneficiaries? How well does the organizational model incorporate intended beneficiaries’ input throughout its solution?
How well does the proposal actively shift the balance of power towards groups disadvantaged by structural inequality and create a sustainable source of power for those groups?
How well does the proposal develop and engage with leaders in the intended beneficiary community, also known as proximal leadership.
How well does the proposal build the capacity (e.g. financial resources, knowledge, skills networks) of the intended beneficiary population so that the solution is sustained?
How compelling is the evidence for a solution that addresses a barrier to structural equality? How strong is the evidence that the problem the proposal is solving contributes to structural inequality? How strong is the evidence that the chosen solution has the potential to reduce inequality?
How well does the proposal demonstrate an ability to create impact, given the organization’s history and resources?
How much does the organization’s prior work show a commitment to addressing structural inequality?
How adequate are the organization’s resources (staff, budget, capabilities, governance, board leadership) for implementing, measuring, and managing toward intended results?
If successful, will this proposal address systems-level barriers and provide opportunities for structural change in the field of social impact it operates within?
How well does the proposal’s solution leverage and influence the work of existing stakeholders– other nonprofits, policymakers, commercial interests– to address the problem it seeks to solve?
How strong is the program’s plan for scaling its solution?