Decision-makers such as elected officials and institutional funders have historically ignored and underinvested in BIPOC communities. Fed up, those communities are calling on grantmakers to address the disproportionate impacts they are enduring from the COVID-19 pandemic, public health disparities, climate change, and more. Conscientious funders are asking big, long-overdue questions: how do grantmaking policies, practices, and cultures play a role in perpetuating imbalances in power and resource allocation? How can we, as grantmakers, address that?

One answer: stronger relationships with grantees.

The importance of strong funder-grantee relationships isn’t a new concept, of course. For two decades, the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) has worked with funders to assess and improve the strength of their relationships — and most recently advocated for funders to “listen well and listen differently to their grantees” in order to rise to the needs of the current moment. Members of the peer-to-peer initiative Trust-Based Philanthropy encourage funders to proactively work toward “a more equitable nonprofit-funder ecosystem.”

Over the last two decades, the Legler Benbough Foundation, a spend-down funder based in San Diego that will close its doors in 2021, developed “trust-based grantee relationships” as the cornerstone of its work. Their experience suggests that the more funders can learn directly from the people they are trying to help, the more access they will have to community-identified needs and solutions — resulting, ultimately, in greater impact and a deeper bond.

This work is not always easy, but perseverance makes a difference, as a new series of case studies on the Foundation’s practices — along with an upcoming book — based on accounts from Foundation staff, grantees, and fellow funders, reveals.

Here’s what the Foundation learned from two decades of relationship-building with grantees and stakeholders in the communities they sought to strengthen.

  1. Relationships facilitate opportunities for community impact.
  2. Relationships can foster effective community dialogue to confront racial inequity.
  3. Relationships can enable rapid-response grantmaking in times of crisis.

Read the full article about grantee relationships by Emily Young at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.