Giving Compass' Take:

• Cynthia Gibson, writing for Grantcraft, discusses tips to help strengthen advocacy relationships within funder collaboratives and with non-grantmakers.  

• What are the challenges that advocacy funder collaboratives often encounter? 

• Read about why strategic philanthropy needs advocacy. 

Yes, there’s a power imbalance between grantmakers and grantees. Yes, everyone acknowledges it. Yes, even very experienced grantmakers wrestle with it. And yes, everyone says they try to break it down.

Reality suggests otherwise. Even the most egalitarian and self-aware grantmaker can slip into the “I know best” mode. Think not? Don’t ask other funders. Ask grantees. Better yet, ask grantseekers who didn’t make the cut. Most will say that no matter how hard funders try—and some do—they usually aren’t able to step outside the bubble.

One funder said they constantly have to remind their colleagues that even just one grantmaker sitting at a table is going to change the dynamic, which is why she always allows time for grantees to converse without her or her colleagues in the room. “Funders like to think they’re very self-aware about their power and that they can keep this in check, but it doesn’t matter. Even if they don’t say anything, just their presence is going to affect what’s discussed, by whom, and with what angle. There is always going to be someone in the group that ‘shines’ for the funder.”

While other kinds of funder collaboratives may struggle with this issue, for advocacy funder collaboratives, it’s something that has to be addressed—publicly and frequently. Advocacy work demands clear and focused strategies that both advocates and their funders understand and, optimally, agree to implement together—all while constantly communicating and sharing information about real-time challenges and changes in the policy environment.

What can advocacy collaborative grantmakers do to deepen their relationships with non-grantmakers?

  • Be intentional about asking whether and how organizations can be involved in the collaborative’s work at each point in the process.
  • …but not always just asking for input. There’s a difference between input and authentic participation. Are grantees’ suggestions taken seriously? To what degree are they actually integrated into strategy or funding decisions?
  • Be transparent about the collaborative’s process, criteria, and grant decisions. Nothing creates more confusion and misunderstanding than advocacy collaboratives that “obfuscate or just don’t convey what they’re doing and why to the field.
  • Check on the loyalties. Periodically check to make sure the grantees getting resources are those that need them rather than those who’ve been supported for a long time or have more name recognition.

True candor is sometimes hard for funders to hear, even if it’s in the context of sincere, open dialogue with grantees. “Unless grantees feel comfortable that they’re not going to get penalized for being honest, they’ll never be honest! The collaborative needs to create some system or feedback loop where everyone sees the value of honesty.”

Read the full article about strengthening advocacy relationships by Cynthia Gibson at Grantcraft