Strategic Grantmaking in Multi-Year Grants

The Santa Barbara Foundation Introduces Multiyear Grants for Basic Needs

SBF engages philanthropy, provides strategic grantmaking, and strengthens nonprofits while leading inclusive collaborations to enhance Santa Barbara County.

Every nonprofit faces a balancing act when it’s time to allocate resources for organizational development activities. Every dollar spent on grant writing or program evaluation is a dollar not spent on direct services, but grants and evaluation are essential to providing those services.

Likewise, every grantmaking organization, including the Santa Barbara Foundation (SBF), must balance ease of access to our donors’ largesse with appropriate oversight of how well each donors’ funds are used. We award community grants through a rigorous process of research, due diligence, and evaluation. In 2021 alone, the Foundation provided over 2,700 grants in Santa Barbara County, in partnership with our generous donors.

In the fourth year of this Foundation’s strategic plan, which refocused much of our grantmaking on areas like workforce development and basic needs support, the pandemic challenged the flexibility of every organization in the county. In a break with tradition, SBF began offering multi-year grants. That may sound like a minor change, but it makes a big difference to the grantee.

Elsa Granados is the Executive Director of Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (STESA), a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit organization providing services in response to sexual assault and programs to help prevent sexual assault. She explained the benefits of SBF’s two-year award to her organization: “There are a few foundations and organizations that make multi-year commitments, but not very many. It’s helpful to nonprofits because each year we try to make our budget, to balance the budget and end up in the black. Having a multi-year grant allows us to plan, to account for where resources are coming from that allow us to continue our work.”

The two-year grant commitments reduce pressure on recipients that would otherwise have to engage in annual reporting and re-applying, but Elsa noted another benefit, “It’s more than a budgetary help, because it allows us to plan long-term programming with confidence, knowing we can sustain the program long enough to learn and develop. It’s very important to us.”

Jenny Kearns is the Director of Grantmaking at SBF.

“Ambitious nonprofits need more time to make real change,” said SBF Director of Grantmaking Jenny Kearns, “so we are moving to a two-year competitive grant program, up to $30,000 per year for two years.” Aligned with SBF’s strategic plan, these grants target the county’s most vulnerable populations and safety net programs, primarily in the focus areas of behavioral health & health care, food & nutrition, and shelter & safety.

With the multiyear awards, nonprofit organizations may not have to reapply or fill out voluminous reports, but the Foundation will continue to provide oversight. According to Jenny, “During the administration of over 60+ cycles of emergency grants in the heart of the pandemic, we learned a lot about the best practices in trust-based philanthropy. With the two-year awards we won’t be requiring extensive annual reporting, but we’ll be following up less formally, checking in and conducting site visits to see how the funds are being used and how might we further assist the organizations.”

Jenny adds that the evaluations are always a two-way street. “We’re always asking ‘how much did we do and how well did we do it? Are our partner organizations better off because of our support? What does financial stability look like for our partners? Are they able to leverage our support to build capacity? ” Kearns seeks answers to these questions using Results-Based Accountability, a framework for evaluating both the foundation, grantee selected outcomes, and community outcomes.

The long shadow of COVID hangs over much of our work now, and we hope that finding new ways to work with our community partners will turn out to be a silver lining of a very dark cloud. Elsa Granados is grateful for the change:

“SBF providing funds to the community this way is very helpful. As COVID-19 remains a risk, it’s important that foundations continue to focus on pandemic recovery, but also support ongoing programs, particularly in behavioral health, to help people keep moving their lives forward and keeping their lives productive. The counseling and behavioral health needs in our county have been exacerbated by COVID, and nonprofits and County staff are trying to collectively address the challenge of shortage of practitioners and heavy caseloads. Our county’s behavioral health needs are at a critical stage. I’m very grateful to the Santa Barbara Foundation for recognizing this and for offering this kind of grant to organizations like ours.”

To learn more about SBF’s strategic grantmaking, visit us at To learn more about Standing Together to End Sexual Assault, visit


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