Too much or not enough?Posted: 20 June 2011
A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the funder-grantee relationship. Working in philanthropy, the issues of power imbalance, the burden of responsibility and questions around ‘how much support is too much’ come up daily. And when I talk about support I’m not talking about financial support, but about helping organisations to apply for grants. About encouraging and supporting them to ensure they’ve got the best shot at getting the dollars.
Obviously the question of how I allocate my time is a daily proposition, and so I read with keen interest (and rising frustration) a recent blog from Deep Social Impact. In the blog entitled Three strikes and then what? Joanne Duhl talks about the dilemma of how we know when we’re asking too much of our potential grant recipients. In Joanne’s blog, she tells the story of an organisation that underwent significant changes, including the appointment of a new director. The funder decided it was essential to meet the new director before renewing the organisation’s grant. Fair enough, I reckon. In my view it’s essential to meet the director to ensure commitment to the project, organisational stability and so on – it’s just good due diligence. After a few failed attempts at arranging a meeting, and no demonstration of commitment from the grantee organisation, the funder decided to pull the pin.
In reading the story and the list of excuses of the grantee organisation, I sensed Joanne’s frustration. And I recalled a number of similar experiences I’ve had, again, with frustration. But reflecting on the lessons learned from CEP’s findings on relationships between Foundation staff and grantees, maybe I need to be a little more lenient. I get to choose how to allocate my time in my day, so I have to accept that grant seekers get to make that exact same choice. Returning a call from a funder might not be at the top of their list of priorities.
My question, and Joanne’s question is, how far do you go? At what point does coaxing a potential grantee become harassment? We might think that those who don’t have capacity to return our calls (because they’re putting out fires and are just too stretched to take on the extra work of a grant proposal) need our money the most. But really, if we’re not running the organisation, who are we to decide?
I guess this makes the point again that relationships are so important in the funder/grantee relationship. If we know the organisations and sectors we support well enough, we have a better chance of understanding what sorts of pressures they are under. And then I guess it’s just a case by case basis. And maybe sometimes persistence is worthwhile, and other times it’s better to dedicate your time to another worthy organisation.