Having mutually supportive relationships is great. It makes us all feel grounded and connected, and in a world that’s more and more isolating, strengthening the bonds among one another is something we each need to spend more time and energy on. This year, I am going to be more intentional about getting dinner individually with the six families living nearest to me. I’ve lived on this street for four years and have barely interacted with them. It’s intrinsically good to do, but also, in the increasingly likely event of the zombie apocalypse, I need to know who has bunkers, canned goods, and crossbows.

Unfortunately, our reliance on relationships is also problematic, as it often creates and enhances inequity and thus undermines many of the problems we as a sector are trying to address. Here are a few reasons and examples:

Marginalized people and communities don’t have the same access to relationships: Relationships are not equitably distributed. A common criticism of philanthropy is that it’s often an old-boy’s network, where large catalytic grants are made with a conversation or two behind the scene. This network, however, is often only accessible to white folks. People of color, people with disabilities, rural area folks, just don’t have the same relationships.

People are biased toward those who look, think, and act like them: This then disadvantages people who are of different races, cultures, languages, accents, who are neurodiverse, etc. It affects whom we hire, whom we fund, whom we listen to, whom we introduce to other people to continue the relationship-building chain.

It elevates charismatic leaders and their ideas, and their ideas are not always good: The people who are great relationship builders are often charismatic, extroverted, and good talkers. However, it does not mean their ideas and solutions are always the best.

It jeopardizes important work when people in relationships are no longer there: I’ve had funders with whom I have great relationships tell me, “I like your work, but I am mainly investing in you, and that’s why I’m giving you this grant.” As flattering as that is, it creates a tenuous situation.

It reinforces the Relationship-Resource Paradox: If you don’t have strong relationships, you don’t get funding, but if you don’t get funding, it’s hard for you to build relationships.

Read the full article about relationship-centered philanthropy by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF.