If you are involved in grantseeking, you are probably familiar with the Grassroots Fundraising Journal (or should be!). Published by the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training, the journal contains articles to promote the connection between fundraising, social justice and movement-building.
I have a full-length article in the January-February issue, titled “Time to Reclaim Your Power in Funder Relationships.” The piece reminds us that funders rely on nonprofits to fulfill their missions, and offers tips for interrupting the lopsided power dynamics that often plague those relationships. Check it out here!
(To get you started, I reprinted the first several paragraphs below.)
GRANT FUNDING HAS A LOT TO DO WITH POWER. Who has the money, who gets the money, and what are the dynamics between the two groups?
At first glance, it can definitely appear that foundations and other funders hold all the cards when it comes to their relationships with grantseekers. After all, grantmakers control the funds and seem to have complete discretion over how the money is doled out.
As a grantseeker, you may feel like you’re begging with a virtual tin cup. By accepting this position of powerlessness, you may hope funders take pity on you. Or maybe you will learn to answer their questions with the answers they want to hear. If they visit your organization, you often find yourself bending over backwards to please them. You would never think of biting (or even challenging) the hand that may feed you.
After all, beggars can’t be choosers, right?
If you are somehow successful in winning the grant, your eternally grateful (and dependent) stance will continue: one that looks up to the grantmaker as the one calling all the shots.
I have seen this attitude run rampant throughout the many years I have been conducting grantseeking trainings. Participants are eager to learn how to “play the grant game” with their mysterious opponents. Students often get nervous when practicing one-on-one conversations with funders because it feels like one wrong move can seal a decision to deny funding.
But do we have to stay locked in this traditional power arrangement, or can we move toward a more equal relationship? Let’s examine the situation more closely…