A colleague recently asked me how much has changed since I wrote “The Dance of Deceit,” a 2004 Stanford Social Innovation Review article in which I reflected on my seven years as managing director of REDF and the power imbalances I observed and experienced. In the piece, I described the dysfunctional power dynamics and undercurrent of fear and distrust that too often exists between funders and nonprofits.

When I left REDF, I was frankly disillusioned by some of my experiences as a “high-engagement funder” of a portfolio of direct-service organizations running employment social enterprises. I saw how funders issued labyrinthine application guidelines and intricate reporting requirements – and how nonprofits labored over and sometimes lied to meet those expectations. And I experienced firsthand how some executive directors tried to hide the realities of their financial crises from their boards and funders, fearful of losing precious funding if they told the truth.

Back then, I posited that high-quality performance management, more widespread adoption of the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Grantee Perception Report (GPR), and the growing network of funders involved in Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) were the answers to shifting power and bringing more candor and trust to relationships between nonprofits and funders.

Fast forward seventeen years and I am far more hopeful. More than 300 funders have commissioned GPRs (still too few, but progress) and more than 6,000 grantmakers have committed to working through GEO to lift up grantmaking practices that best support effective nonprofits. And Leap Ambassadors’ community of 300 nonprofit and foundation leaders is dedicated to raising expectations and promoting the adoption of high performance in our sector.

Also, during COVID, more than 800 funders signed the Council on Foundations’ pledge to make it easier for nonprofits to get grants, report on their grants, and receive general operating support. That commitment included listening to people and communities, considering them experts in their own lives and aspirations. And a growing number of foundations – as noted by CEP, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and many others – are taking steps to put equity at the center of their work.

Read the full article about listening by Melinda Tuan at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.