Every Open Philanthropy Project grant moves through four standard stages of our grantmaking process: grant investigation, conditional approval (our internal decision-making process), formal approval, and evaluation and close. A summary of the approval process and timeline for each of these stages is provided below.
Stage 1: Investigation
The first stage of our grant process is the investigation, where an Open Philanthropy Project investigator (often the program officer for the relevant focus area) works with a potential grantee to explore and develop a funding proposal by discussing items like the proposed activities, budget, anticipated challenges, and desired outcomes of a project.1 A typical investigation takes approximately 1-3 months and requires a time investment of approximately 2-10 hours from a potential grantee. However, investigation timelines vary substantially depending on the project. For instance, if a grant is for a small amount, is funding a time-sensitive project, or is to an organization that we know well, an investigation can be as quick as a week or less, while investigations for larger or more complicated projects can take 6-9+ months.
If an investigator concludes that the case for funding a grant is strong, they seek “conditional approval”.
Stage 2: Conditional Approval
“Conditional approval” is when Open Philanthropy Project decides whether or not to recommend funding for a grant. To seek conditional approval, an Open Philanthropy Project investigator writes up and submits a write-up to our internal decisionmakers explaining the case for the project. Senior leadership and the investigator then discuss and decide whether or not to conditionally approve funding the grant. This stage is generally quick, often concluding within 1-2 weeks, and typically requires no time or input from the potential grantee.2 If Open Philanthropy Project declines to recommend funding for a project after a potential grantee invested significant time into an investigation, we may decide to recommend an “investigation grant” to recognize the time the potential grantee spent during the investigation, in accordance with our grant investigation policy.
Stage 3: Formal Approval
Once a grant has been conditionally approved, the investigator will send the potential grantee a notification and connect them to our internal logistics team, who will request the basic details required to process the funding recommendation and ensure compliance with our approach to openness, research transparency guidelines, or any legal restrictions that might be placed on the funding. For simple grants, reviewing and responding to the logistics email typically takes the grantee about an hour and can be completed within a week. For university and international grants, it may take a few weeks to coordinate and confirm all the grant details. Once this is completed, we formally recommend the grant to one of our external funding partners.
The Open Philanthropy Project, LLC (the organization that employs Open Philanthropy Project staff) generally does not pay grants directly, but instead submits formal recommendations to one of our external funding partners, such as the Silicon Valley Community Foundation or the Good Ventures Foundation, who will then conduct legal due diligence and a formal approval process to determine whether or not to fund the grant. Legally we cannot guarantee that a grant will be made until the formal approval process has been completed by our external funding partners; historically, however, almost all of the grants that have been conditionally approved have ultimately received funding. For example, of the ~200 grants that the Open Philanthropy Project conditionally approved in 2016, over 98% were made. In 2016, a small number of grants were conditionally approved but did not receive funding. However, these grants were canceled or postponed by grantee request, such as a grantee deciding to pursue an alternative project for the time being. That said, all Open Philanthropy Project grants must complete legal due diligence and the formal approval process of our external funding partners in order to be made.
For a standard grant to a US 501(c)(3) organization, our external partner’s approval process can take a few weeks to finalize and require 1-2 hours of a potential grantee’s time, while grants that involve lobbying, have an unusual structure, or are funding universities or international organizations might take a few months to process and require more involvement from a grantee. So, altogether this formal approval stage typically takes around a month but occasionally takes more like 3-6+ months for especially complicated grants.
Once this stage is completed, the grant is finalized, funds are transferred, and work on the project can begin.
Stage 4: Evaluation and Close
Once a grant has been paid, the grantee will receive more information on our public communication preferences and grant page publishing process. Additionally, the grantee’s investigator will reach out periodically (commonly at 6-month intervals) to request status updates on the work, either with a check-in phone call or by requesting the grantee complete a form. These check-ins will focus on project progress, challenges encountered, and addressing any open questions that were raised during the conditional approval process. For most grants, these informal check-ins will take the place of a formal reporting process; however, occasionally for legal reasons our external funding partners may request additional reporting. If additional reporting applies to your grant, you will be informed of this during the formal approval process.
When a grant has reached the close date, if it’s eligible for renewal, another grant investigation will be conducted. The renewal investigation will be similar to the original investigation but will focus more on the progress and updates since the prior grant and an evaluation of the case for another round of funding. Depending on the project, renewal investigations can sometimes be faster and simpler than the initial investigation.
- 1. A notable way our process differs from that of many major funders is that we don’t use a standard grant application process and rarely request LOI’s (“Letters of Inquiry”) or formal proposals. Instead, our grant investigations generally start with a one-hour phone call or meeting to discuss the broad outlines of a potential grant, so an investigator can quickly determine if a particular project might be a good fit. Later in the process, we may request an informal project description of no more than a few pages to help us understand the proposed project. This means that there is much less up-front writing for the potential grantee to do, but a lot more back-and-forth discussion over email and phone to make sure the investigator has the information they need to understand and explain a clear and strong case for the grant. Examples of the kinds of information investigators are trying to gather can be found in this list of considerations: grant investigation questions.
- 2. Occasionally suggestions for substantial changes to the grant proposal are made during the conditional approval dialogue, in which case an investigator and potential grantee may circle back to discuss whether and how to incorporate these changes before the investigator resubmits a conditional approval report.