The Thinking Behind Our Selection Process and Committee

By Sarah Barnaby & Justin Goldbach, Social Strategy Associates
Reimagining the Selection Process

A common criticism of philanthropy is that its practitioners operate in an ivory tower and decisions on who receives funding and why are opaque. By contrast, FUEL for 50 is built on the belief that programs developed within communities lead to the greatest outcomes for young children and their families. Considering this, Robin Hood made democratizing and humanizing our selection process important objectives in the design of FUEL for 50. This is not the norm in philanthropy and requires creative thinking to structure and implement.

So How Does the Selection Process Work?

Along with opening our application to any NYC nonprofit that supports parents or caregivers of young children, FUEL for 50 will rely on people outside of Robin Hood to help evaluate and select our awardees. Because we have no idea how many applications FUEL for 50 will receive (this is our first time doing this!), we created a selection process with an accordion-like ability to expand and contract while keeping to a tight timeline. Once the application period closes on November 19th:

  1. Robin Hood staff and its partners will do a quick eligibility screening to ensure every application fits within FUEL for 50’s guidelines – for example, that the applying organization serves or plans to serve an NYC community impacted by poverty.
  2. Robin Hood staff will do a thorough reading of every eligible application and use this evaluation matrix to rate each submission.
  3. Top-scoring applications will be assigned to our fabulous selection committee! They will work in pairs: first, they’ll read applications on their own, and then they’ll jump on a Zoom call to work together with their partner to select which applications to advance (using the same evaluation matrix). In other words, two selection committee members must agree for any applications to move forward in the process. 
  4. Finally, Robin Hood will further whittle down the selection committee’s recommendations with an eye to representation. FUEL for 50 is for all of New York City, and we’re striving for representation from all five boroughs, a diverse mix of organization types, and more.

Meet Our Selection Committee!

To ensure a comprehensive and thoughtful review, FUEL for 50 has solicited the help of selection committee members with diverse perspectives and a shared commitment to early childhood development. Together, they represent perspectives from academia, nonprofits, and experience with parenting and community support in New York. Recognizing that early childhood expertise is not limited to doctors, researchers, and other scientific professionals that have often led the conversations around early childhood, we wanted to depart from typical criteria and decision-makers. This selection committee seeks to meld these important voices with those of real parents from some of the communities that FUEL for 50 hopes to reach, so that the final awardees are determined in partnership with the people who best know what their neighbors need.

Through this effort and across Robin Hood’s work, it has become evident that expertise that comes from lived experiences is equally, if not more, important than that which comes from formal education.

Whether their typical day is on a university campus, in a hospital, or teaching and caring for young kids,, our selection committee members have all dedicated themselves to supporting early childhood. And they joined FUEL for 50 because they believe in its potential to transform the way that NYC nonprofits support our youngest children. As Shannon Vazquez, a selection committee member who works at All Our Kin, succinctly noted, “children bring everything to life!” It is the goal of FUEL for 50, and each of our reviewers, to uplift New York City’s parents and caregivers of young children through a uniquely challenging couple of years.

This initiative would not be possible without this incredible group of reviewers and the invaluable perspectives that they bring to the selection process – we can’t thank them enough and encourage you to read more about FUEL for 50’s selection committee here.

Our Goals Beyond the 50

We believe that the diversity of perspectives guiding this review will lead to an impressive group of 50 awardee programs. That said, our goal in building this group of fantastic reviewers extends beyond FUEL for 50. We hope that the transparency that Robin Hood has represented through its selection process and trust in real, community-led perspectives will help inform how other grantmakers participate in this important work moving forward.

Philanthropy is an important and transformational force in the social sector, and for too long it has failed to really engage external audiences for insight or guidance in the work that it hopes to accomplish. Transparency is uncommon for foundations, especially in grantmaking and selection processes. A first even for Robin Hood, we are learning so much through FUEL for 50 – and we’re excited to share lessons learned along the journey.

Sarah Barnaby
Associate, Social Strategy Associates
Justin Goldbach
Managing Director, Social Strategy Associates