Jasmine McGinnis Johnson Explores Efficiency in Grantmaking

April 10, 2014
Professor Jasmine McGinnis JohnsonBy Tony Mastria, MPA '15

While the greatest news coverage tends to focus on debates over whether the government and private sectors are fulfilling their respective responsibilities to the public, conscientious citizens often express the same concern for prudence and effectiveness in the nonprofit sector.

This is where the work of Professor Jasmine McGinnis Johnson comes in.  As someone who has committed much of her life to the nonprofit sector, Johnson is focused on disentangling how it works.

“As a former practitioner, my research interests are largely guided by my own experiences as a development professional,” she said.

In her current research, Johnson analyzes the distribution of grants from philanthropic foundations to nonprofits organizations and the process by which these funds are allocated.

“Although research consistently shows that foundation grants make up a small proportion of nonprofit revenues, nonprofit organizations are (on average) spending an incredible amount of time pursuing grant funds,” she said.

“I am interested in how these monies are distributed and the groups of people that make these decisions,” Johnson continued. “What criteria do they use while making decisions and how can this influence the efficiency and effectiveness of the grants marketplace?”

Johnson wondered specifically whether the composition of decision-makers—traditional board members versus community volunteers—influences the final distribution of foundation grants.

“Foundations increasingly use community volunteers to allocate grants,” she wrote in the paper’s abstract. “There is an assumption that community involvement in grant-making leads to better grant decisions. However, no one has tested this assumption and explored whether community members are even making different grant decisions than traditional boards.”

Observing a sample of six funders with either volunteer-based or traditional boards, along with the nearly 1,600 organizations that were awarded or denied grants from them, Johnson sought to test these assumptions by ascertaining which organizational and fiscal elements contribute to different grant distribution patterns between community and traditional boards.

Her research can be accessed in Administration and Society with earlier incarnations of Johnson’s work having appeared in publications such as Public Administration Quarterly, The Foundation Review, and Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, among others.

The results of Johnson’s analysis will either reinforce the current system of grant allocation or encourage foundation boards to rethink how they do business. Whatever the case, foundations and their recipients can soon rest easier knowing that their operations have been better informed by Johnson’s insights.