What if funders approached grantmaking in the way social movement leaders approach their most pressing challenges? In environments defined by uncertainty, movement leaders assume that even the best-laid plans will encounter sudden storms, impasses, and rough terrain — and sometimes sticking to the plan means squandering big opportunities. So, they embark on new strategies with the confidence, fortitude, and ingenuity to navigate inevitable detours and take advantage of shortcuts that appear along the way.

Recently, the Bulgarian Fund for Women and Fondo Semillas in Mexico have brought about successes by adopting the approach of social movements. In each instance, these funders named and questioned their assumptions and changed course in alignment with the changing political circumstances and by listening to guidance from social movements. They knew that by operating with the wrong assumptions, they ran the risk of setting inaccurate expectations for themselves and their grantees, which would ultimately limit the possibilities of what they could achieve together.

The Bulgarian Fund for Women adapted its grantmaking after funders in Central and Eastern Europe failed to meet the needs of social movements around The Istanbul Convention — a human-rights treaty signed by the Council of Europe in 2011 to prevent gender-based violence. While foundations and governments had supported women’s rights groups to work towards its signing, they didn’t accurately anticipate the funding these same groups would need to push forward its ratification and accountable implementation.

Immediately following the signing, religious and ultra-conservative groups launched a campaign that used disparaging rhetoric about feminists and LGBTQ people to block ratification. Their well-orchestrated communications strategies pushed narratives that simultaneously attacked women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and abortion rights by framing them all as ‘threats to the traditional family.’ This, in turn, prevented these movements from being able to proactively organise to build broader constituencies.

Read the full article about what philanthropy can learn from social movements by Annie Hillar and Katrin Wilde at Alliance Magazine.