When thinking about fundraising from the nonprofit side, I have the image of myself standing in front of a wall, at a dry spigot, with an empty bowl in my hands. The handle controlling that spigot is on the other side of the wall from which the spigot protrudes. And there is someone on the other side of that wall who will, or will not, turn on the tap to let the water (money) flow. What, I wonder, can I do to impress the person behind the wall enough to get them to turn the handle?

How transparent can I be with this donor/foundation? Can I talk to them about what’s really going on behind the metrics, our budget and our program? How do I explain that in a small nonprofit, staff costs are the same as program costs? Is there any flexibility in the funding, or do we need to follow the budget to the penny?

This is the reality for many nonprofits; they do the work and raise the money because they are committed to the missions of their organizations, and they are often afraid of the very people upon which their organizations depend—their funders. There is a power imbalance between those with the funds and those asking for the funds and, because of the nonprofit’s commitment to the mission, the staff live with it and do the best they can.

Here are a couple of questions that have come up for me during the past three years, and it would be wonderful to hear additional questions and/or ideas from the Exponent community:

  • Does your foundation/fund operate internally—your ways of working, your processes and procedures—in a way that reflects the world your mission is designed to create?
  • How does your giving reflect the idea that those within and served by the organizations you fund have the same intrinsic value as you and those within your foundation/fund?
  • Are your giving requirements—proposal writing, reporting, contacts, visits—in line with your values and the changes your fund/foundation want to create?
  • As a lean funder, do you experience any of the same issues experienced by those you fund?

Read the full article about power dynamics in philanthropy by Lori Heninger at Exponent Philanthropy.