This year, the Clear Language Lab is thrilled to award our 2023 Community Leader Award to the Evanston Community Foundation (ECF). We created this award to celebrate organizations who champion plain language and recognize their efforts to promote equity through clear communication.
We sat down with Rebecca Cacayuran, ECF Vice President for Community Investment and Akilah Wilson, ECF Communications Manager. to learn how they think about communication equity in their work. You can watch our interview here.
Something they expressed passionately is the connection between communication equity and justice. As a community centered foundation, they actively work to make sure their grant making process and foundation programs are as accessible to as many Evanston residents and community organizations as possible.
Access to Funding
Unfortunately, the processes for getting funding through grant application processes are often cumbersome and confusing. Funding often relies heavily on having the connections, industry knowledge, or resources to get on a foundation’s radar. Even when a group’s work deeply aligns with a foundation’s mission, the barriers, especially for small, grassroots organizations, BIPOC-led work, and other under-resourced communities is a major challenge.
As Rebecca said in our conversation:
“If you think about equity here, you know, there are some organizations, even nonprofit organizations, who have professional grant writers and others who are doing the very best they can in the watches of the night at their kitchen table.”
If foundations are not intentional about making sure funding opportunities are accessible to that latter group, they can fall into a cycle where organizations with more resources maintain a major advantage.
Clear Communication Channels
Perhaps the most obvious intersection for us at Clear Language Lab is how foundations talk about their work and their application processes. Caring about communities and committing to equitable practices means making sure that information is findable, usable, and understandable to the people who need it. That should include foundations and government agencies that do grant-making.
Foundations can apply plain language strategies to all steps of the funding process. Writing in a clear and concise way will broaden who is able to understand and complete the process.
A few places to start:
Think carefully about who your applicants are and what information you really need to know from them. Don't ask for information for the sake of it.
Organize information in logical ways. Applicants should be able to skim and understand timelines, eligibility, what attachments they need, and other key information with limited labor.
Make sure your review process doesn’t weigh jargon and buzzwords over community impact.
Consider using a universal application or allowing grantees to re-use reports across funders.
Reflect on your own processes. Can applicants see the questions without having to go through an extensive login process? Are there yes/no questions that aren’t really that simple? How long will it take applicants to complete the application?
One helpful tool for thinking about equity and funding is the Community Centric Fundraising (CCF) model, which prioritizes community, interdependence, and holistic approaches.
One of the core values of Community Centric Fundraising is funders, community, organizations working in true partnership. CCF explains in their core values that “many fundraisers are afraid of having honest conversations with donors. We must have honest, respectful conversations to be effective, including strong disagreements as needed, with our donors.”
Akilah echoed this value in her advice for organizations:
“I would implore all foundations and organizations to really examine their community listening mechanisms, because without that foundation, the communication just won't be as effective as they could be.”
Listening to the folks living and working in communities is a critical part of racial equity and social justice work.
We have a long way to go on the road to truly equitable funding. Incorporating plain language strategies is a step foundations and grant makers can take today. Making meaningful changes, big or small, to documents and processes can have a huge impact over time.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your community listening mechanisms, join our free webinar on June 8 at 2:30 pm CST to learn tools for getting community feedback and hear from our Community Voices Group.