This article was originally published by NPQ online, on April 26, 2017,
small-foundation-big-results-grant-making/. Used with permission.
By Mark Gunther
Philanthropy often seems to be reinventing itself. Strategic plans are undertaken; old priorities get restated; new buzzwords develop. While there is an ongoing argument about how much this kind of churn may actually help the ultimate beneficiaries, a small foundation doesn’t often take the time or budget for that kind of contemplation. Yet small size can enable a certain flexibility and responsiveness that can drive change perhaps even more effectively than the most competent big budget efforts.
At the Eva Gunther Foundation (EGF), a public charity founded by my wife Anne Krantz and myself in 1999, the vision is to give other girls access to experiences similar to those Eva had. Many highly capable girls are financially unable to have life-broadening experiences after school or in the summer, and we wanted to make that possible for some teenage girls. We established two funds: The Program Grant funded scholarships to grantee programs, and the Fellowship allowed a girl nominated by a mentor or teacher to do something specific she wants to do but cannot afford.
This mission brought us into contact with the savvy and dedicated leaders of the many grassroots social service agencies that provide direct services to girls and young women. It was a good match. We wanted Eva’s love and passion—her presence—to infuse everything we did. We wanted relationships with our grantees (our trustees would make site visits, serving as informal program officers). We wanted the grant process to be easy. We wanted individual girls to be helped. Our communication was quite transparent regarding all of this, which was gratefully received by the agencies we supported. “I don’t have to explain, ‘Why Girls?’ to you,” we often were told. “You get it.” And we did. We got them, and they got us.
By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy, and Jenny Chandler, National Council of Nonprofits
Last week we held two Great Funder-Nonprofit Relationships programs generously supported by the Fund for Shared Insight. More than 200 total participants, representing both funders and nonprofits, joined us for candid conversations in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
What does a great funder-nonprofit relationship look and feel like?
We asked this question during the program and gathered 30 responses that summed up the participants’ collective vision:
- Mutually beneficial
- Relaxed not rushed
Often in the complex funder–nonprofit relationship, it seems nonprofits do the asking, reporting, and proving, while donors sit in positions to say yes or no, how much, when, and what’s required. Achieving a different, deeper relationship takes more than just good intentions—it takes flexibility, finesse, and a sincere desire to acknowledge and address the power dynamics at play.
In collaboration with the National Council of Nonprofits, Exponent Philanthropy will gather funders and nonprofits in four locations in the coming months for a half-day of facilitated programming dedicated to helping everyone build better working relationships and increase the impact of their work.
In each location, two pairs of funder and nonprofit partners will share their experiences and help to spark conversations. You can hear from some of the featured speakers below.
Get dates and locations for the upcoming half-day events for funders and nonprofits >>
In your experience, what contributes most to successful funder-grantee relationships?
Wendy Chang (funder, Dwight Stuart Youth Fund): Championing leaders and supporting their personal as well as organizational development. Funder–grantee partnerships are strongest when there is commitment beyond programs—when people, process, and systems matter.
I take pride in having an open door and high level of awareness of the issues confronting our grantee organizations. If every update or discussion with a grantee was just that “everything is fine,” then I couldn’t offer any help or guidance. I find that I am more invested if drawn in by grantees sharing their obstacles or things that may not be working. An opening is created and relationship strengthened when vulnerability is shared.