Pulling Back the Curtain on Power Dynamics

By Jessica Mason

Principal, The Social Impact Studio

Designing transformative grantee/funder relationships to magnify impact

The power dynamic between funders and grantees is an issue that no foundation or nonprofit can escape. No matter the size of your organization, or your issue area, chances are you see how excellent relationships with your funders or grantees can magnify your impact. At the Independent Sector Conference this month, we will debut two ideas that we have prototyped to address this critical issue and offer conference attendees the opportunity to shape these potential solutions.

The relationship between grantees and funders arose as an area of concern in each of Independent Sector’s Threads community conversations in 2015. In response, Independent Sector has worked this year to tease out the features of healthy grantee/funder relationships and explore how we may foster the conditions, behaviors, and practices that characterize them. We listened to members of the sector at every point along the way – not only at Threads, but also via in-depth interviews and a working session at Independent Sector’s office in DC.

At the core of our approach lies a single fundamental question: How might we build and sustain transformative grantee/funder relationships? Over the last year, we worked through a process of human-centered design to explore this question and develop possible solutions. Our work this year has allowed us to better understand the fundamental drivers of existing practice, develop a thorough understanding of the challenge, and generate and test a variety of ideas in the service of transforming funder/grantee relationships.

We chose two of these creative ideas and have developed them into working models. As we write, we are engaged in a process of rapid iteration and field-testing to ensure that they best respond to the needs of practitioners in the sector and have the potential to transform relationships. We’ve seen a lot of interest and excitement in early testing and are excited about what lies ahead.

Curious about the process, the big ideas, or our take on the issue? Want to be part of developing solutions that have the potential to transform the sector? Join us for our breakout session at next week’s conference, “Tools to Leverage Your Power.” We will share the prototypes publicly for the first time. Professionals from across the sector will have the chance to engage in the design and refinement of the prototypes, share their unique experiences and opinions, and help make the strategies as relevant, responsive, and exciting as they can be.