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A clarion call for funders

By Suzanne Coffman
February 9, 2021

Cover of Funding Performance: How Great Donors Invest in Grantee Success

The preface of a new publication issues a remarkably direct challenge to grantmakers:

Funders, heal thyself! Your intentions are noble, but your practices aren’t. The vast majority of you are starving your grantees rather than nourishing them. When your grantees get a chance to speak freely—that is, anonymously—about the way you treat them, they express resentment that you’re not listening to them or giving them what they need for success. Enough is enough!

Funding Performance: How Great Donors Invest in Grantee Success offers funders at all levels—CEOs, program officers, individuals—associated with all types of grantmakers—huge private foundations, community foundations, families—solutions to this problem.

Funding Performance identifies four actions funders can take to help grantees build high-performing organizations that deliver impact:

  • If you want to empower grantees rather than hamstring them, provide more of what nonprofit leader Vu Le cleverly calls “MYGOD” support—multiyear, general operating dollars.
  • If you’ve made the decision to give your precious resources to an organization, then give that organization the benefit of your trust and respect as well.
  • If your website trumpets your concern about inequality, then don’t perpetuate it with funding decisions that always favor fancy pedigrees and PowerPoints over lived experience and relationships.
  • If you’re moved by the suffering in your community, then show the courage to give more money when the supply of funding from governments is down and the demand for nonprofit services is skyrocketing.

Six essays make up Funding Performance:

  • “Rising to Our Times: The Five Habits of Highly Effective Funders,” by Lowell Weiss, president of Cascade Philanthropy Advisors, Inc.
  • “Are You Helping Grantees Succeed—Or Trying to Catch Them Messing Up?” by Sam Cobbs, CEO of Tipping Point Community
  • “If Not Now, When?: From Virtue Signaling to Hard Self-Examination,” by Hilary Pennington, executive vice president for programs for the Ford Foundation
  • “We Depend on Well-Led and Well-Managed Grantees,” by Daniel Stid, program director of U.S. democracy at the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation
  • “Accelerating the Movement Toward Funding Practices That Strengthen Nonprofits,” by Jeri Eckhart Queenan, partner at The Bridgespan Group, and Jeff Bradach, Bridgespan’s managing partner and co-founder
  • “What Grantees Need From Funders at This Time of Tumultuous Change,” by Hilda Polanco, founder and CEO of FMA, and Deborah Linnell, FMA’s director of knowledge and learning

You can download the essays individually or the entire publication from the Leap of Reason Ambassadors Community website.

If you're a funder who doubts why you should read this monograph, the authors have a message for you:

The above commitments aren’t just doable; they’ve been put into action at a small but growing set of foundations. We know this because three of us (Hilary, Daniel, and Sam) have helped drive these changes within our own funding organizations. We also see this in research that four of us (Jeri, Jeff, Hilda, and Deborah) have conducted. And one of us (Lowell) has profiled nine foundations that are truly “walking the talk.”

In other words, these funding changes aren’t just aspirational. They exist in nature. And because they work, and because the urgency is rising, we’re intent on making sure they become our sector’s norm.

Tags: Foundations and grantmaking