Philanthropic organizations need to change course all the time, but the speed and scale of the change required in 2020 is profound. In all organizational change, there are real challenges felt during the period of “liminality,” when we have one foot in the old world and one foot in the new, navigating the often painful work of letting something go while grasping the possibilities of what lies ahead. In philanthropy, that balancing act usually entails shaping your emerging future while also managing relationships and expectations with current grantees, many of whom you are about to cease funding. It can be a sticky spot, swirling with emotion on both sides.

Our team at Einhorn Collaborative recently went through such a transition as we shifted from the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust to develop the new philanthropic strategy for David Einhorn. With all humility, we thought the lessons we learned from that transition might be relevant for fellow funders navigating their own significant change right now. One overarching finding, not surprisingly, was that the work of our grantee partners over the last decade — in helping people get along better and spreading the power of relationships — was not only helpful to advance our mission in the world, but also essential in how we effectively transitioned from one strategy to the next.

Bringing our grant partnerships to a close at an unnatural and unexpected point felt…well, unnatural. Maybe this is the case for you, too. It was an adjustment for our team to switch almost overnight from being students of effective grantmaking to students of ethically exiting and managing transitions.

We asked ourselves: how do we change with integrity? How do we model our values, minimizing harm to grantee partners? How do we look out for our staff for whom transition will invoke loss and uncertainty, while requiring a cooperative and positive team culture?

We learned four lessons that were valuable for us:

  1. Channel the human, real experience of change — approach this as a conversation, not an announcement.
  2. When imposing change, allow change — come to the table with solutions and flexibility.
  3. Accept offers of help — recognize partners as a tremendous source of wisdom and advice.
  4. Recognize change as an opportunity to take a really good look at yourself — gather feedback in moments when it can be particularly unvarnished and helpful.

Read the full article about centering relationships by Lucie Addison at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.