How to make friends and influence philanthropy

A colleague has just returned from the Centre for Effective Philanthropy’s (CEP) conference Better Philanthropy: From Data to Impact in Boston.  The CEP provides data to philanthropic funders so they can “improve their effectiveness – and, as a result, their intended impact”.  She’s buzzing with new ideas, and was inspired by the people she met.

One of the areas CEP looks at is the funder-grantee relationship, or, whether we’re “working productively with our grantees”.  My colleague raved about the report Working with Grantees:  Keys to Success and Five Program Officers Who Exemplify Them. The CEP has looked at grantee survey data since 2004, and has tweaked their survey along the way to glean new insights.  Through this process, CEP has looked at over 9,600 suggestions from grantees on how foundations can improve.  That’s a lot of feedback…

In the introduction to the report, Paul Beaudet  from the Wilburforce Foundation says “At the very basic level, solid relationships with grantees are critically important because grantees are a very good source of information for us.  They are the ones doing the on-the-ground work.  They’re likely to have a much more nuanced and deeper understanding of the context for the work that needs to be done in the particular places that we care about.  If we have high-quality, long-term, trust-based relationships with grantees, we believe that we’ll have better knowledge around which we can make smart investments in their organizational and programmatic capacity, helping them to achieve their outcomes more efficiently and effectively.”  Yep, couldn’t have said it better myself.

I’ve been thinking about Caitriona’s recent blog on transparency, and I think a lot of the ‘how’ in transparency comes down to relationships.  And I mean relationships at all levels.  From the high level – for example the philanthropic sector’s relationship with government, and the perceptions of the philanthropic sector from the point of view of the not-for-profit sector – right down the nuts and bolts end – the relationship between the giver (whether that be the philanthropist, Foundation board director or philanthrocrat) and the asker (development manager, Board member of the NFP or fundraiser).  What Paul is talking about is transparency.  And a transparency that has a real benefit for both the Foundation and for those organisations it supports.

The CEP had four key findings of factors that contribute to a good relationship between Foundation staff and grantees.   Firstly, that Foundation staff understand the organisation they’re funding, including its goals and strategies.  Secondly, that the selection process of the Foundation helps strengthen the grantee organisation’s work.  Thirdly, that Foundation staff have expertise in the area they’re funding, and finally, communication between the grantee and the foundation staff, both who initiates it, and how often.

It sort of seems obvious, but I think there are still some take home lessons for us philanthrocrats.   For me it’s about keeping the door open, saying ‘yes’ to opportunities to learn, and doing my best to be engaged in sectors of interest.  In my experience, that’s where I’ve learnt the most.  And watching my peers, I think it’s also where the best projects are born.  So cheers to transparency.  May it make our sector stronger.


3 Comments on “How to make friends and influence philanthropy”

  1. […] conference, Better Philanthropy: from data to impact. Lovely city, stimulating conference! Debra recently blogged about CEP’S report on exemplary program officers, which was the basis for a fascinating panel […]

  2. […] couple of weeks ago I blogged about the funder-grantee relationship.  Working in philanthropy, the issues of power imbalance, the burden of responsibility and […]

  3. […] it is remembered. It comes back to that all-important grant maker/grant seeker relationship again (How to make friends and influence philanthropy and Too much or not […]

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