Giving Compass' Take:

• Andy Carroll, writing for Exponent Philanthropy, discusses how small funders can acknowledge and embrace their power in philanthropy. 

• What are some examples of smaller funders working on larger issues? 

• Here are some toolkits for small-staffed funders to influence policy. 

Too many smaller foundations and donors—and there are thousands across the country—see themselves only as mini versions of large foundations. In comparing asset sizes, they fail to see their unique powers, which many organizations would die for: freedom, agility, access, and local influence to be catalysts for change.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

Let’s look at what makes small funders uniquely powerful:

  • Human assets
  • Freedom to focus on an issue, and persevere over the long term
  • Freedom to take risks
  • Stature and reputation
  • Relationships
  • Access
  • Ability to develop deep insight into issues
  • Capacity to develop trust
  • Agility and responsiveness
  • Convening power
  • Freedom to commission research

How can small funders become more aware of their powers, and embrace them? 

When small funders fully use their powers, they’re more like organizers and catalysts than traditional grant givers. The executive director of a small foundation observed, “To help a community change, you can’t parachute in; you need to burrow in.”

It’s easier when we put ourselves in new environments and open ourselves to new ideas. The freedom to “put yourself out there” is itself one of your greatest assets. Commit to an issue, and venture out to talk with diverse people who are knowledgeable. Attend public meetings, lectures, and forums; walk around your community; take people to coffee; ask them to think big, to dream. Listen deeply.

Read more about the power of small funders by Andy Carroll at Exponent Philanthropy