This year-end season, let’s pause and consider how we can put the “Philo” (love in Greek) at the center of our philanthropy. Instead of our usual approach to philanthropy as the love of humanity, the end beneficiaries of our grants, I encourage funders and others in philanthropy to bring it closer to home and more personal: how might nonprofit leaders also be recipients of our love?
From my days of founding and leading a nonprofit, one conversation still sticks with me. I was excited for the chance to share our story with a faith-based funder. I thought our mission of building community with women and teen girls who were new Americans and refugees would resonate with her.
It was quite the opposite. She was curt and didn’t do much listening. Her tone was belittling and at one point she accused me of ‘just thinking the church wasn’t doing a good enough job’ so instead I ‘went around them’ and tried my ‘own thing.’ (For the record, that piece stung because we were working in close partnership with churches and this was a community effort.)
The pain I felt in that conversation had almost nothing to do with whether or not they’d fund us. The source of my pain was the power dynamic that I often felt in conversations with funders. This power dynamic was on full display here, whereas it’s usually more subtle. It’s not that she didn’t understand our work, it’s that she didn’t even try to. She also made a number of sweeping judgements over an initial phone call.
In my first two years of foundation leadership, I’ve tried to embody the opposite of what I experienced in that conversation and more than one of our grantees has said to me, “I can tell you’ve sat in this seat before. Most people who do your job have not.”
To be clear, I have done nothing spectacular or impressive in my first two years by way of systems or bigger and better gifts. I, too, have to tell people they aren’t a good fit for our foundation and I have even had to end some ongoing funding relationships. These are difficult conversations to have, but I am deeply invested in the foundation’s outcomes. But my deepest hope is to have a posture of genuine respect and empathy for nonprofit leaders, even when turning them down, because I remember what it’s like to be a founder and executive director.
Read the full article about supporting nonprofit leaders by Dana Doll at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.