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Guest Profile


Marcus Walton



About Marcus Walton

Marcus F. Walton joined GEO with over a decade of practice in both nonprofit management and the ontological learning model. He specializes in operationalizing conceptual frameworks; racial equity facilitation and training; leadership and management strategy; stakeholder engagement; program development and navigating philanthropy. 


In his previous role as Director of Racial Equity Initiatives for Borealis Philanthropy, Marcus lead the Racial Equity Initiatives team and worked in partnership with 18 nationally-networked, philanthropy-serving grantee organizations to move past the “transactional” nature of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to a unified movement which prioritizes strategies that close gaps in access to opportunity, resources and well-being (across all categories of gender, identity, sexual orientation, class and ability).


Before that, Marcus served as Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), where he oversaw its operations, HR and staff development functions, including the overall strategy, conceptualization and administration of racial equity programming. Prior to ABFE, he combined his organizing experience and passion for public service in the role of Program Officer of Community Responsive Grantmaking with the Cleveland Foundation and Sr. Program Officer with Neighborhood Progress, Inc.


Marcus is a Newfield Network-trained ontological coach, with additional training in the Action Learning systems coaching model. He promotes coaching as a tool for personal mastery, racial equity & systems change, social sector excellence and transformation within marginalized communities.


Marcus received a Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science from Bowling Green State University and has continued graduate studies in public administration at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Public Policy as well as Rutgers University’s School of Public Affairs and Administration.

Episode Overview

CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), Marcus Walton, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss inclusive grant-making, racial equity and the sharing of best practice across 600 organizations.


GEO is a 20-year old organization based in the US, which helps grant-makers make better decisions and be more effective. They have 600 members and are supported by some of the world’s best-known foundations, such as the Ford Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


It’s a membership organization creating a space for funders to come together and build their network, learn of the latest philanthropic trends and engage with each other.


At GEO they consider how philanthropic practice actually translates into the impact grant-makers are aspiring to achieve with their investments.  They catalogue case studies, publish great insights and convene thought leaders.  Every year they publish a ‘smarter grant-making’ publication.


But Marcus notes that having access to this information isn’t enough. Now, the question is also about how do we actually use this information, to understand it in context, to extract lessons, and to interrogate these insights together to inform practice going forward — the emphasis is on application.  


In GEO’s ‘Strategic Direction for 2018-2021’ plan, one of their focus areas is on integrating racial equity into their vision for smarter grant-making. Marcus’ background includes a 10-year track record in racial equity training, within the philanthropic sector in particular.


Marcus notes that when talking about racial equity one is talking about the historical impact of policies and practices that have created conditions that face us today. With that analysis, it means that in everything grant-makers do, there needs to be a consideration of what have been the decisions that contributed to how things are now; how do institutions reinforce some of the disparities and inequitable conditions that keep some groups disadvantaged and that actually provide advantage for others — advantage to access resources and opportunities — and then how does one think about one’s work in a way that improves conditions for all of the groups involved. Understanding that we have different needs, that we’re all facing different challenges, and that we bring a variety of resources to the table that can be leveraged or intensified with a really intentional investment strategy.  That’s how GEO is able to support the field in terms of embracing a racial equity focus.


Incorporating racial equity into grant-makers’ thinking means bringing an intentional practice; it means that every time you develop a program, you engage with the communities that you are intending to serve. It’s an inclusive, collaborative approach to grant-making. It’s the opposite of a more paternalistic, institutional approach that says ‘we know what you need’ — instead, it says, ‘we’re creating a space to be a thought partner with you, to respond to some of the persistent needs, perhaps the most persistent challenges that have faced this community’. 


GEO brings thought leaders to its members. They organize conferences, webinars and peer-to-peer learning opportunities for CEOs, Trustees and executives.  Marcus notes that conferences are invaluable — there aren’t enough places where likeminded folks can come together and learn from each other and from thought-leaders alike. One week out of every month, Marcus is in a different community in a city or state across the USA with a co-host who is a member organization or stakeholder to learn about their issues, who are convening their colleagues from around the region, listening to local leaders who are driving the work, and Marcus is flying in to provide a national point a view to inform the conversation that’s around those priorities and then from those conversations, elevating those conversations to the national discourse, through their national conferences, through their virtual tools and resources, and really providing a different kind of a platform for leaders. 


It’s interesting to note that Marcus started off as a community organizer and that, today, he views himself as an organizer of philanthropic resources, not as an executive officer inside of an institution. 


Marcus’ key takeaway: he notes that we’re in a moment in time where the changes we want to see are accessible and there’s a call to action for us to apply those things that we’ve learned – the principles and the tools and the resources that we’ve learned in order to mobilize our spheres of influence and to participate in change; to activate change; to be a part of actively transitioning organizations from one state of existence to another. The time is really now, we are global and we are all in this together. Our collective genius is so much broader than any of us knows or can imagine when operating in isolation. 

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Additional Resources

Marcus Walton - LinkedIn


Grantmakers for Effective Orgnizations GEO - Website


GEO Strategic Direction for 2018-2021


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