As Community Engagement and Grants Chair, my role with Horizons Young Professionals for Equality (HYPE) is in some ways the opposite of my day job as a grant writer–and yet, my experience as both a fundraiser and grantee greatly informs the way I lead HYPE’s grant-making process. As a grant writer, I’ve navigated convoluted and time-consuming processes, as well as uncomfortable power dynamics between grantmakers and grantseekers. I’ve observed that funders’ requirements can center on meeting their own needs rather than increasing grantees’ capacity to carry out their missions. Though I know funders want to build non-profits’ capacity, their processes far too often limit it instead. This is especially true for smaller organizations with fewer resources, where the program staff and the executive director often double as fundraisers, among many other roles.


HYPE seeks to disrupt the power imbalance that exists between funders and grantees in much of philanthropy by offering HYPE grantees resources instead of imposing requirements. We make grants with due diligence, good faith, and a sense of service to grantees. For example, rather than requiring site visits to ensure that organizations are accomplishing what they proposed, we organize workshops where HYPE grantees and donors can develop skills and expertise together. HYPE plans these shared learning experiences, such as a storytelling workshop grounded in social justice principles, to meet grantees’ specific needs and requests.


For many of us in HYPE, working in nonprofits has helped us to learn about grant making. What makes HYPE’s model unique is that Unicorns bring valuable work and life experience from diverse backgrounds to the grants process. We are committed to making our activities accessible, equitable, and transparent. As I reflect on the 2017-18 grants cycle, I want to share a few of the ways that we try to embody these values in our grant making:


  • Selecting grantees through transparent, democratic voting. The Grants Committee leads this process, evaluating each application we receive for eligibility and selecting finalists that most clearly demonstrate HYPE’s values and grant-making goals. All HYPE Unicorns are invited to vote on these finalists, and their votes inform the Grants Committee’s final decisions.


  • Creating access for all eligible organizations. No invitation, nomination by a HYPE donor, or relationship with HYPE or Horizons Foundation is needed to apply. Everyone who applies receives full and equal consideration. Additionally, we accept applications completed in the language of our applicants’ choosing, and we welcome applications from fiscally sponsored projects as well as 501(c)(3) organizations.


  • Respecting organizations’ time. We accept application materials that have already been prepared for other funders or purposes. Our application is intended to take no more than two hours to complete, and we provide an optional feedback form to learn how we can improve. We trust grantees to spend HYPE funds effectively and responsibly. At the end of the grant period, we ask each grantee for a 1-2 page reflection on their work in the past year, or for a similar grant report they’ve already created.


  • Prioritizing under-resourced organizations. We know that it can be especially challenging for smaller and newer organizations to get grants, so we dedicate our funding to organizations with budgets under $250,000. Additionally, we give special consideration to applicants that have experienced other barriers to mainstream funding.


  • Granting the funds we raise each year. We recognize that donors give to HYPE to support grantees’ work, not to build a reserve of resources to sustain HYPE. While we are invested in HYPE’s future, as a giving circle our priority is to put our dollars to work for LGBTQ+ communities. This means we never take a break from fundraising to replenish our grants budget!


  • Making core support grants. General operating support gives grantees flexibility to use their HYPE grant how and when it’s most helpful during the year. We understand that the activities in grantees’ annual plans may evolve after our application deadline. That’s why HYPE chooses not to restrict funding to particular programs or projects.


We at HYPE are committed to refining our grant-making processes and to providing resources to grantees, rather than weighing them down with requirements. With each new grants cycle, we will continue to incorporate input from applicants, grantees, and donors to make the process more accessible, equitable, and grantee-focused.


We welcome your thoughts about HYPE’s grant making! Please comment below or send us an email at


Rhiannon Lewis is Community Engagement and Grants Chair for Horizons Young Professionals for Equality (HYPE) and Manager of Institutional Giving at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.


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