I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy in funder/grantee relationships. It’s easy to focus on streamlining’s tactical or transactional aspects, but in fact, the relational elements of grantmaking are what often transform a process. When funders are empathetic, take time to communicate clearly and often, and demonstrate flexibility, other issues in the grantmaking process don’t seem like such a big deal.
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Here are a few general guidelines for funders who find that they need to withdraw support (or the promise of support) to a grantee
- Be sure that your policies are clearly conveyed in writing and in conversation.
- When making a risky grant, discuss the perceived risks with the grantseeker — and be explicit about what will happen if things go south.
- Provide capacity support and connections to other funders if you can.
- If possible, stick with the grantee through a rough patch. Ask about their plans to get through it. If you are able to be flexible, modify the terms of the agreement so that funding begins after certain steps are taken or certain capacity is built.
- Even if you can’t provide material support in the moment, keep in mind that your relationship is also important to the grantee. Share your concern and hopefulness. You cared about the work when you agreed to fund it and you want it to succeed.
Bottom line, funders: What may feel to a funder like “just business” can feel to the grantee like a striking lack of empathy — not to mention a devastating loss of funding. It takes communication and the human touch to bridge this gap.
Read the full article about empathy and communication skills for funders by Dr. Streamline (Jessica Bearman) at PEAK Grantmaking.
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