Like many of you, when lockdowns came, we felt like we were in the midst of the crisis of our generation. No one could have anticipated that the months following would bring a cascade of additional crises, that together have the potential to fundamentally change this country for generations. We have all watched grantees pivot and respond to each emerging crisis while continuing the work core to their missions. They have shifted from allies to advocates for critical services, organizers to social workers helping members access support for basic needs or counseling through illness, layoffs, and sometimes death. They are overworked and stressed and confronting new realities as young people and their families begin to make decisions about where and how to attend school in the coming year. We are inspired by their resilience and their grit and are committed to meeting this moment with them, to finding ways to be better partners and allies in this work.
In philanthropy, we have celebrated as our grantees have adapted, supported them moving operations online and shifting their work to meet the emerging realities of the moment. Many of us have quickly stepped up to shift our grantmaking in focus and practice. We’ve embraced programmatic and strategic change and have tried to be flexible and supportive—changing long-time philanthropic practices to ease the burden on our grantees.
As funders, we ask our grantee partners for transparency. We want them to share challenges and partner with us on finding solutions. But when our grantee partners are transparent about leadership transitions, many of us pay back this trust by withholding grants until we see how the organization manages its transition. Other times, when our grantees don’t give us enough notice about transitions, we wonder why…and withhold grants until we see who they hire. There is no right way for grantees to talk with us about leadership transitions. And that is our problem, not theirs. As Vu Le wrote on his NonprofitAF blog, our wait and see approach is killing our nonprofit partners. It is time for us to see transitions for what they are: a natural part of an organization’s life cycle and moments of opportunity. Once we move past the fear that freezes us, funders can truly partner with our grantees through organizational change.
Read more about family philanthropy and leadership transitions by Liz Sak at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.