Being a funder comes with unusual challenges to activities as simple as gathering feedback, exchanging ideas, and expressing opinions. We consider these challenges to be fundamental to our work. Our grantees tend to be our most valuable source of input, and are ultimately our only route to impact.
The challenges we’re tackling here are complex, and we are still far from having a fully developed approach. In this post, we share some of our current internal guidance for program officers about how they can try to manage these challenges.
- It can be extremely difficult to get honest, critical feedback from potential grantees.
- Build strong, comfortable, trusting relationships with leaders in the fields in which we work, in the hopes that people who feel comfortable with and trust our staff will share critical feedback without fearing reprisal
- We think it’s good to be open with existing grantees about what we do and don’t like, but also to be very explicit about things like “This is just an off-the-cuff thought, and I’d defer to your judgment; if you think it’s better to go the other way, then that’s my preference as well.”
- It is easy to “lead people on” and waste their time, even when we aren’t trying to do so.
- We often need to withhold information about our level of interest in funding particular groups and particular types of work in order to avoid leading people on. We encourage program officers to be explicit about this rather than vague or cagey.Tentative or unconsidered program officer feedback can have more effect than intended in shaping potential grantee priorities.
Read more about managing the funder-grantee relationship by Michael Levine at Open Philanthropy Project.
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