Giving Compass' Take:
- A nonprofit executive shares common boundaries that organizations should have within funder relationships to shift power dynamics and have realistic expectations.
- How can funders prioritize listening to nonprofits and honoring their expertise within the context of these boundaries and practices?
- Read more about shifting power in funding.
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In a sector frequently run by rich or wealthy people, being the “new kid” usually comes with unrealistic expectations from those holding the purse strings. New nonprofits, especially those who are Black-led or run by people of color, endure a level of scrutiny that forces them to operate with limited (if any) resources.
But this constant struggle for resources extends beyond start-ups. If you’re in any way familiar with how nonprofits operate, you already know that funding is an intense topic of conversation regardless of who is in the room.
On the other hand, if you’re a new nonprofit leader, you might still be surprised at how much the sector is consumed by this structure of living paycheck to paycheck, so to speak. You also might wonder at the amount of time your colleagues spend talking about and searching for new grants, new donors, and new funders—time that could imaginably be better spent developing new or better programming, for example.
But even though you might be relatively new to the sector, you may also start to realize that this blame cannot all be placed on executive leadership. In fact, a large portion of this pressure seems to come from funders (and their previously mentioned unrealistic expectations). In your interactions with funders, you might find that they tend to assume their access to wealth validates their authority and, in the process, they waste an organization’s (usually already limited) time and resources.
As the Executive Director of the nonprofit startup, Youth Empowerment for Advancement Hangout (YEAH Philly), I have seen much of this firsthand. Our nontraditional organization works with teens and young adults (ages 15 to 24) in West and Southwest Philly who are directly impacted by violence in order to address its root causes through peer-led conflict resolution/mediation, community investment, and economic opportunities. Supporting them in ways society generally does not, YEAH intentionally stands independent both from systems and institutions who cause harm to young people as well as from those who do not invest in our communities. YEAH was created to challenge the status quo of how we serve young people, how we invest in communities who need it most, and how we utilize funds.
And perhaps it is this critical viewpoint that allows us to stand up to funders. After all, these are not just my personal grievances about funding in the nonprofit sector. Rather, many of these tendencies and expectations perpetuate the same systemic inequities the nonprofit sector is supposed to address.
So, what are we, as nonprofit executives, to do about it? Well, here are seven things we can (and should) begin saying to funders:
- We’re allowed to say no.
- We are the experts, and you need to trust us.
- It’s not about the numbers; it’s about real impact.
- We’re intentional about who we take money from.
- We need you to care about our work, not necessarily volunteer with us.
- We need general funds, not project-specific grants.
- Please stop requiring so much work for small amounts of money.
Read the full article about boundaries for funders by Kendra Van de Water at Blue Avocado.