“Philanthropy is, by its very existence, evidence of disproportionate wealth held by a small number of people and families and the high level of need at the end of that spectrum,” said Lori Bezahler in an interview with NPQ.

Bezahler is the president of the Edward W. Hazen Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has existed for nearly 100 years, supporting the leadership of young people and communities of color in their fight against racism and classism. After a period of deep listening and learning from its grantees, the foundation made a commitment in 2019 to spend down its assets, and recently announced that it was closing in 2024.

Before the foundation officially closed its doors, it dispersed its final grants—moving $3.75 million to 43 nonprofit organizations. In a final report, Reevaluating Practice: Reimagining Philanthropy, the Hazen Foundation shares lessons with other funders about how philanthropy can be more equitable and combat the inherent power imbalance between funders and grantees.

According to Bezahler, the Hazen Foundation began to think more deeply about the power imbalance within philanthropy following the 2016 presidential election. After witnessing the trauma many people in organizations across the country experienced in the wake of the election, leaders at the foundation saw an opportunity to lean into the moment and think differently about how they work with grantees.

Though the Hazen Foundation had historically been an organization informed by the needs and concerns of marginalized people, it began listening sessions to incorporate grantees’ specific needs into funding practices. Over several months, the foundation asked grantees to share their experiences.

Through consulting with grantees, the Hazen Foundation was able to garner several suggestions from the field about how funders can develop better relationships with grantees:

  • Value an organization’s time
  • Make your criteria and processes clear
  • Provide opportunities for questions
  • Be mindful of the time it takes to complete an application
  • Expand your perspectives
  • Provide feedback
  • Audit your processes and systems of accessibility
  • Counter the competition generated by most traditional application processes
  • Boost the visibility of organizations

Read the full article about power dynamics in philanthropy by Rebekah Barber at Nonprofit Quarterly .