What Is Behind Great Funder–Nonprofit Relationships?

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.

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Let’s Talk About My Money

By Sasha Rabsey, HOW Fund

Here I am sitting at an international funders’ conference as a human rights philanthropist, listening to stories of environmental destruction, and of loss of culture, dignity, and life at the hands of corporate greed and government avarice. Let’s use the word everyone in this room uses as if they just smelled rotting garbage: capitalism.

I am a white woman of wealth and privilege due to the success of smart investment, and luck. Outside the walls of this conference, our society seems to have great veneration for wealth and material accumulation and, as much as I don’t want to, I include myself in this statement. But how does that fit with my role as a funder of social justice and human rights?

“At the very least, I believe I can be a social justice funder and human rights defender who is full of contradictions.”

I am deploying my personal wealth to support and stand in solidarity with people who face and fight oppression and inequities on a daily basis. The very same dollars that I earned in the capitalist system are being used to break that system down, one grant at a time. I see my contribution as a responsibility and not merely as a means to feel better about myself. However, here is where disdain creeps in: my giving does make me feel good and sometimes even better about myself. What does this say about me?

Coming out about this contradiction makes my heart pound with anxiety. I don’t want to be judged for the origins of my wealth; I just want to be loved for giving it away. My secret hope is that if I show my solidarity, then no one will question how I’ve come into my “dirty lucre.” “This green paper pouring out of my pockets means nothing to me… really, I swear.”

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One step forward, two steps back: A “toxic tour” of South Durban

SDCEA staff Bongani Mthembu shows the Durban port landscape, filled with refineries, dumping sites, and other industrial plants.

SDCEA staff Bongani Mthembu shows the Durban port landscape, filled with refineries, dumping sites, and other industrial plants.

A funder shares her site visit experience demonstrating the reality of environmental racism

Sasha Rabsey, vice chair of IDEX’s board of directors, wrote this piece while visiting IDEX’s long-term grantee, SDCEA, in South Africa. IDEX (International Development Exchange), an Exponent Philanthropy member, invests in grassroots leaders in the Global South.

My eyes are burning. My nose is running. My throat is dry and the “toxic tour” of South Durban has not even begun.

After only 30 minutes in this community I can only imagine what it is like to spend one’s life here; a life shortened by cancer, asthma, skin diseases, and a variety of undiagnosed ailments. The heavy pollution and toxins are due to unregulated emissions and leaks from two oil refineries, a paper mill, a waste plant, and a variety of other industries. Then there is the serious environmental degradation from Durban’s world-class port.

It is not lost on me that everyone in this community is either black or mixed race; this is the face of environmental racism.

We start our “toxic tour” in the low brick offices of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), at the back end of a nursing home. We are so fortunate to have the founder of SDCEA, Desmond D’Sa, a highly respected and admired community activist, as our tour guide. D’Sa is the recipient of a 2014 Goldman Award for environmental activism.

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