The best thing about becoming a funder is that people have started laughing at my jokes…

The relationship between funders and grantees is asymmetrical. One person needs money; the other has money. I should know. I’ve been on both sides of the divide.

After 12 years as a fundraising CEO, I know how it feels to be the one asking for the money. I remember the hours running up to a potentially significant funder meeting. The anxiety that flows. I remember how tempting it was to laugh at jokes I didn’t find funny. I will always remember how patronized and belittled I sometimes felt.

I remember feeling disempowered and demotivated by funders. I felt defensive and I would sometimes act suspiciously, like a child falsely accused of stealing the chocolates hanging from the Christmas Tree (this also happened, but is another story). I know a few noble fundraisers who enjoy the relationship and who battle on with undiminished enthusiasm, but I also get the sense I’m not alone in my frustration.

Then again, sometimes special funders came along. Funders with exceptional humility and empathy. Funders who placed impact above control or attribution, and who understood that their role was both easier and more powerful than mine. Funders who listened and who I could trust as I shared our work — warts and all. Funders, most importantly, who trusted me and provided unrestricted grants — which are critical for an organization to successfully grow.

And so, when I became a funder, I had some great models to emulate. And guess what? Nearly all the best funders have one thing in common: they employ staff with experience working at nonprofit organizations.

By understanding how the funding relationship feels and how nonprofits work, funders with experience “at the coalface” bring a perspective so often lacking in foundations. It’s a perspective that might help balance the relationship a little. But more importantly, it’s a perspective that can make money go further; that can create more bang for each philanthropic buck.

Read the full article about the golden rule for funders by John Rendel at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.