Beyond the Check

Foundations, individuals, and other funding institutions play a profound role in shaping the goals and strategies of the farmed animal protection movement. Funders provide support for organizations primarily through grants, which enable nonprofit organizations to pay their operational and programmatic costs. Though grants are typically the core of funders’ contributions to grantees, funders are well-positioned to provide additional support and resources beyond grants that bolster grantees’ impact and strengthen the farmed animal protection movement as a whole.

By broadening the scope of their support “beyond the check,” funders can develop deeper relationships with grantees, create a more equitable balance of power, and holistically advance the goals of the movement. Learning about the types of support beyond grants, as well as the benefits of this approach, allows funders to assess whether they have additional beneficial resources for grantees that they could incorporate into their giving.  

Fundamentals of Trust-Based Philanthropy

The concept of providing support beyond the check is one of the principles[1] within the “trust-based philanthropy” framework. Trust-based philanthropy describes an approach to giving that aims to build a healthier dynamic between funders and grantees. This approach focuses on recognizing an inherent power imbalance and taking steps to redistribute that power. It encourages dialogue, allows grantees to make their needs and limitations known to funders more freely, and amplifies the impact of funders’ philanthropic support.

In practical terms, trust-based philanthropy encourages multi-year unrestricted giving, streamlined applications and reporting, and relationships built around transparency. These actions value creating strong relationships between funders and grantees that depart from the traditional compliance-oriented relationships that have defined philanthropy for decades.

One way for funders to move toward a trust-based framework is by providing resources to organizations and advocates beyond giving grants that help increase grantees’ effectiveness and movement-wide successes. Funders can provide knowledge and insight, networking, capacity-building, and technical assistance to fill gaps grantees identify. By leveraging their resources in this way, funders can build resilience within the movement and tie people and organizations together more deeply.

Benefits of Support Beyond the Check

Providing assistance beyond grants has several benefits for funders, grantees, and the ecosystem in which they collaborate. According to “More Than Money: Making a Difference With Assistance Beyond the Grant,” a report released by The Center of Effective Philanthropy, “CEOs and program staff overwhelmingly reference benefits to their relationships with grantees such as enhanced trust, honesty, confidence, and collaboration.” This framework helps to mitigate the asymmetrical power dynamics between funders and grantees, in which funders wield a significant amount of influence in the relationship, and increase funders’ effectiveness.

One benefit of this approach is that it can provide grantees with more agency in their relationships with funders. Because grantees are dependent on funders for grants to operate, grantee organizations often adapt according to their perceptions of funders’ preferences and interests.

This power imbalance precludes grantees’ innovation and leads grantees to make decisions that may not be aligned with their vision of their organization. For example, grantees may tailor their grant applications to areas where they think funders have interest and adapt their strategies, goals, and policies based on funders’ requests or requirements. Leaders are reluctant to push back on funders’ approaches and withhold sharing issues that arise for fear of losing a funder’s confidence, or worse, future funding.

Another benefit of offering assistance beyond grants is avoiding certain negative outcomes for funders that stem from the outsized influence funders have in their relationships with grantees. Grantees who are fearful of losing funding may be less transparent about areas of weakness and need. This leads to problems within grantee organizations building over time, unbeknownst to funders, and missed opportunities for funders to provide guidance and other helpful assistance.

When grantees are not transparent about their needs, funders cannot be as useful to them. In trust-based philanthropy, by seeking to find out what grantees need and implementing the types of assistance accordingly, funders empower organizations to communicate more openly about their needs, and levels of trust grow in the funder-grantee relationship.

Furthermore, offering a wider swath of assistance increases funders’ effectiveness. Funders work more closely with grantees when they provide support beyond grants, which allows funders to understand organizations better and identify areas where more support is needed. Based on responses from grantees surveyed in the report mentioned above, The Center for Effective Philanthropy found that funders who adopt the ethos of trust-based philanthropy “have a greater understanding of their organization and of the field in which they work, and have done a better job advancing the state of knowledge and affecting public policy in grantees’ fields.”[2]

Considerations for Providing Support Beyond the Check

The Center for Effective Philanthropy highlights several recommendations that can improve funders’ shift toward incorporating more forms of support[3]:

  • Providing comprehensive assistance, comprising on average eight to nine types of support and no fewer than six, greatly increases the likelihood that grantees will find the relationship impactful. A less comprehensive approach with fewer types of support seems to be significantly less impactful.[4]
  • Tailoring funders’ available skills and resources to grantees’ needs ensures the assistance is useful to grantees. Understanding grantees’ areas of need helps funders assess whether they have (or could acquire) the skill sets necessary to provide helpful assistance to grantees, whether they could employ a third party to provide this assistance (e.g. retaining a talent recruitment firm to help with an executive search), or whether they are not the right funder to provide this support.
  • Following up with grantees after providing forms of support beyond grants helps funders assess their impact. Feedback on what was or was not helpful informs future decisions and approaches to providing support and builds closer relationships with grantees.

Beyond the Check Support in the Farmed Animal Protection Movement

Funders in the farmed animal protection movement can provide resources beyond grants to address voids within the movement, build deeper networks, and enable both grantees and funders to have a larger impact. The non-financial assistance funders could provide includes, but is not limited to:[5]

  • General management advice
  • Strategic planning advice
  • Insight and advice on the field
  • Research on best practices
  • Introductions to leaders in the field
  • Development of performance measures
  • Recruitment and talent retention assistance
  • Encouraged and facilitated collaborations
  • Seminars, forums, convenings
  • Board development and governance assistance
  • Information technology assistance
  • Communications, marketing, publicity assistance
  • Use of foundation facilities
  • Staff and management training
  • Financial planning and accounting

Sharing Knowledge

Funders have useful expertise related to strategic planning, fundraising, and organizational operation. There are several pathways for funders to offer this knowledge to grantees.

To start with, funders can convey strategic planning and subject matter expertise through blog posts, journal publications, listservs, and meetings with grantees. Stray Dog Institute’s blog, for example, discusses strategies to achieve agricultural transformation within the food system and highlights the expertise housed within Stray Dog Institute.

Blog posts can provide reliable information that grantees may use in their programming, and can also convey a funder’s areas of interest and expertise to grantees and other funders. Farmed Animal Funders publishes a portion of their research on their website, which aims to help funders make decisions about giving. Grantees can also use Farmed Animal Funder’s research to gain insight into funders’ views on giving opportunities.

Next, funders can directly connect organizations with other funders and convey information to organizations about which strategies funders seek to support. To increase transparency, for example, The Open Philanthropy Project publishes information about the grants they have awarded on their website. Insight into the funding space and the grant process is valuable for grantees, especially for newer, smaller, and/or BIPOC-led[i] organizations that may be less familiar with funders in the animal protection movement.

Furthermore, funders can also provide more feedback on grant applications and their process for evaluating proposals. They could create opportunities for organizations to practice pitching their ideas and provide insight to enhance their grant proposal. This opportunity could demystify the grant process and help grantees improve their applications prior to applying.

Shedding light on how funding is allocated in the farmed animal protection movement creates a more accessible fundraising experience for grantees and adds transparency to funders’ relationship with grantees.

Finally, funders can also provide knowledge support by weighing in, at a grantee’s request, on organizational operation and management. In such cases where grantees express the need for operational support, funders can bring added value to grantees through sharing best practices, offering guidance to help grantees navigate challenges, and demonstrating organizational and management practices that organizations can emulate.

If a new grantee organization with an nascent board of directors had an issue with their annual audit, for example, a funder could help navigate the process of finding a new auditor and send a list of recommendations based on auditors they or their grantee organizations have used. This provides value to the grantee by sharing a vetted firm and saving the organization the time they would have spent researching and interviewing auditing firms.

Strengthening Networks

According to a report from The Center for Effective Philanthropy, 70% of foundations surveyed provide support to strengthen networks among organizations in their field.[6] Creating networking opportunities helps potential collaborators meet, enables groups to discuss aligned and misaligned strategies, and brings new leaders, ideas, and organizations into the fold.

Advancing farmed animal protection and food system transformation involves working within a web of interconnected social issues and advocacy strategies. Formal and informal networks are essential for avoiding siloed workstreams and amplifying organizations’ impact. Funders’ extensive connections to other funders, grantees, and leaders within the farmed animal protection movement position them to facilitate interconnectedness among advocates in several ways.

First, funders can strengthen networks by organizing convenings that benefit grantees, including conferences, webinars, speaking events, social engagements, and workshops. These create opportunities for advocates whose paths do not cross regularly, as well as those who are already familiar with one another, to build working relationships and learn from one another.

Second, convenings organized by funders give funders the chance to offer their perspectives on strategies, new ideas, and developments within the movement. Dialogue during events can increase trust and confidence between funders and grantees.

For example, the annual Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders (“SAFSF”) Forum allows participating funders to each bring a food systems grantee organization of their choice to attend programming events. This invitation allows invited grantee organizations to engage directly with other funders and food systems organizations and to benefit from the information provided within the programming.

Third, arranging collaborations is another avenue for funders to strengthen networks for grantees. For example, Stray Dog Institute has facilitated working groups with multiple organizations to focus on pertinent aspects of animal agriculture and food systems reform. In addition to funding participants for their time spent participating in the working groups, our staff have played an active role in facilitating the working groups and advancing their collaborative goals.

Supporting Capacity-Building

Animal Charity Evaluators estimates that only 2.2% of resources within the farmed animal protection movement are allocated toward capacity-building.[7] To rectify this, there are three ways funders can provide assistance beyond programmatic grants to address the capacity deficiencies grantees identify: funders can retain recruitment firms to help grantees find a larger pool of candidates for staff and board positions, fund leadership and skills development activities, and sponsor wellness and self-care initiatives for advocates. Doing so would improve organizations’ overall effectiveness and help funders advance their goals.

Talent retention and acquisition in the farmed animal protection movement is a concern for many organizations. Engaging adept people is essential for organizations to achieve their mission and maximize the value of grants given by funders. Funders can help remedy the talent bottleneck by contracting recruitment firms to assist with hiring, spreading the word within their own networks, and providing grantee organizations with insight into the talent pipeline issue to inform their hiring processes.

For example, Animal Advocacy Careers launched recently with funders’ support and has been seeking to provide career services for individuals within, and interested in joining, the animal protection movement. In particular, Animal Advocacy Careers has identified management and leadership, fundraising, and legislative expertise as skill sets needed within the movement.

In addition to hiring and retaining capable staff, achieving movement-wide goals requires investing in leadership and skills development for those already working in the movement. Many smaller organizations cannot afford to provide leadership and skills development to their employees, and even larger organizations often do not allocate funding for these activities in their budget. Funders can provide assistance by sponsoring executive coaching sessions, engaging a third party to offer training to staff during the workday, and regularly engaging with organizations about their needs regarding investing in leadership and skills development.

Additionally, the emotional rigor faced by individuals working in the field of animal protection contributes to burnout, which impacts retention of advocates in the movement. Funders can provide wellness and self-care resources to individuals working within the movement by hosting workshops on mental health, similar to the NYC Mental Health Awareness Training for Animal Advocates, and retreats focused on wellness, like the annual meditation retreat supported by The Pollination Project.

Recognizing the importance of self-care, Valerie Stewart of BlueCross BlueShield North Carolina Foundation states, “The daily challenges nonprofits face are intense and exhausting, so we’ve increased our recognition of self-care as playing a critical role for nonprofit leadership sustainability and resilience, and we believe that giving leaders opportunity to care for themselves through intentional practices is important and worthwhile.”[8] Funders can work with grantees to identify assistance that could be helpful to promote self-care within organizations and prioritize this assistance within the funder-grantee relationship.


Providing assistance and resources to grantees beyond the check enhances grantees’ resilience and creates more transparency in the relationship. When funders provide comprehensive assistance, grantees become comfortable communicating openly about their needs, and funders are able to play a larger role in supporting grantees’ success. Grantees are better positioned to advance funders’ goals, achieve wins for animals, and create giving opportunities that are aligned with funders’ and grantees’ vision for change.

Incorporating more ways to assist grantees is a gradual process, and working to learn about grantees’ areas of need informs the types of support funders develop. Many farmed animal protection funders are already providing some forms of assistance beyond the check, which allows funders to learn from one another and build upon the support that exists. Providing comprehensive support beyond the check to grantees will create a more collaborative working relationship between funders and grantees and accelerate progress for farmed animals in the coming decades.

[i] Stray Dog Institute uses the term BIPOC to recognize the lived histories of oppression and resistance experienced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. This term is not universally embraced, particularly because it can erase the experiences of individual groups by lumping them together. Additionally, the language of this term reflects the specific historical social context of the United States and may not accurately reflect current or past racial and ethnic descriptions elsewhere. We recognize these drawbacks and use the term BIPOC only when a statement is truly applicable to Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Middle Eastern, North African, East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander communities in the US. When an experience or condition is applicable only to a specific group, we use specific rather than general language.

[1] The other core principles of trust-based philanthropy include: (1) Give Multi-Year Unrestricted Funding; (2) Do the Homework; (3) Simplify & Streamline Paperwork; (4) Be Transparent & Responsive; (5) Solicit & Act on Feedback; (6) Offer Support Beyond the Check. “It’s time to address power and build equity in philanthropy.” Trust-Based Philanthropy Project,

[2] The Center for Effective Philanthropy. (2008). More Than Money: Making a Difference with Assistance Beyond the Grant.

[3] The Center for Effective Philanthropy. (2008). More Than Money: Making a Difference with Assistance Beyond the Grant.  

[4] The Center for Effective Philanthropy. (2008). More Than Money: Making a Difference with Assistance Beyond the Grant.  

[5] The Center for Effective Philanthropy. (2008). More Than Money: Making a Difference with Assistance Beyond the Grant.

[6] The Center for Effective Philanthropy. (2018). Strengthening Grantees Foundation and Nonprofit Perspectives.

[7] “Allocation of Movement Resources.” Animal Charity Evaluators, Oct. 2018,

[8] The Center for Effective Philanthropy. (2018). Strengthening Grantees Foundation and Nonprofit Perspectives.  

About the author

Alicia Rodriguez

In her capacity as a Fellow at Stray Dog Institute, Alicia focuses her research and writing on law and policy impacting animals in the food system. She is particularly interested in academic institutions’ role in shaping the strategies of the farmed animal protection movement.

About the Author

In her capacity as a Fellow at Stray Dog Institute, Alicia focuses her research and writing on law and policy impacting animals in the food system. She is particularly interested in academic institutions’ role in shaping the strategies of the farmed animal protection movement.

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