I read with interest the recent NCRP blog post that summarized the “Let Communities Lead” session at last year’s great Upswell convening in Chicago.

Because I led a session on rural funder practice at the meeting and got in late, I couldn’t attend the session. But, the summary rekindled some thoughts I had when I first read the session description.

The session title implies that funders are leaders and they must turn over responsibility for leadership to communities.

If we define leadership in philanthropy as somehow identifying, advocating for and working to test or implement solutions to fundamental challenges faced by those without voice, then most funders are not leaders.

Many funders are at best highlighters of important issues but most are essentially followers. So the idea that there is leadership to turn over doesn’t ring true.

It’s more accurate to say that funders need to help communities strengthen and support their (the communities’) leadership skills and sensibilities – whatever that might look like.

Not surprisingly, the same leaders who have been complicit in being good managers of those archaic funder-nonprofit relationships that have been around since the founding of philanthropy.

If funders want to inspire the elevation of community leadership on important issues, then the traditional nonprofit leaders aren’t going to be the majority of the core group that funders will support.

Leadership can surface better over time if communities aren’t wondering if support is coming or going.

We forget that these sometimes decades old relationships between funders and communities are so entwined around grantmaking and grantseeking that the community sense might be that all the funder has done is create another game, but without the rules being explained.

Thoughtful and strategic funders understand this and spend time testing out different ways to change the game, let local people inside the funder intention and act in ways that signal change but also breathe with periods of learning and reflection.

Read the full article about funder leadership by Allen Smart at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.