Recently I was describing some of the work in which Winds of Peace is involved in Nicaragua to an acquaintance. I tried to paint a verbal picture of the cooperative involved and I referred to the organization as our “partner.” The reference seemed to confuse my listener; for a moment he thought that I was referring to another funding entity with whom we might be partnering in our support. I explained that we were the sole funders in this case, and that we refer to all funding recipients as our partners. While he eventually understood the distinction, I could tell that he was just a little puzzled by it. I think lots of people are, including many organizations who are in the business of development.
Effective, impactful philanthropy has everything to do with the relationship between donor and recipient. And that relationship is formed from a great deal more than a meeting or two between the principals. It is a dynamic, evolving association which is strengthened through the ongoing give-and-take which all relationships require in order to be healthy. It’s coming to know each other, discovering what this relationship could mean to each party. From the foundation standpoint, it’s accompaniment rather than simply funding.
I have been surprised to learn how little such relationship-building really occurs in the world of some foundation work. We’ve seen it in the inability of some funding organizations to serve as a reference when we have sought to learn from them about a potential recipient. We’ve experienced it when trying to establish opportunities to combine performance information with other funders to establish a “clearinghouse” of data, only to discover that such material isn’t maintained by many funders. And we’ve heard it in the stories told by Nicaraguan partners about how different their relationships can be with other sources of funding. An arm’s-length association may suggest greater independence for the recipient, less interference by the funder, fewer strings attached and less accountability in the end. But if all of those actually occur, then the likelihood of real success and transformation is lessened. Impact isn’t created by money alone. Impact is what we can do with the monetary help together, as partners, as we each provide elements of importance to whatever the endeavor might be. There is a sense of equality which exists between partners that simply doesn’t exist between grantor and grantee.
I read some comments shared through an association of foundations here in the U.S. One writer captured the value of partnership well when he wrote:
Along with money, some of us came to know the grantees on a local and personal level, helping them with our… [own] expertise. We could see the results of our efforts and leverage the dollars beyond anything we would have experienced beyond sending a check in the mail.
My advice to those of us on the grant maker side of the equation, with an interest in leveraging the impact of the size of their grants, is to become more closely involved with those whom we serve. You will never wonder about the effectiveness of your time and treasure. Moreover, the personal rewards you reap are so much larger than any dollar amount you may grant.
The impacts created by Winds of Peace over the years have certainly been tied to the funding which we have been able to provide. But the most heartfelt expressions of appreciation and meaning heard from our partners have all revolved around the Foundation’s ongoing presence in their lives, our acknowledgement of who these people are, our awareness of the circumstances in which they find themselves, and our willingness to stand with them. As partners. We need something from each other in order to achieve the transformations being sought, and one without the other can become either fraud or condescending charity….