Do Ask, Do Tell

Written by: Jessamyn Shams-Lau

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Our friends over at the Open Road Alliance recently released a report on contingency funding in the non profit space. They interviewed funders and fund raisers about this topic. How often does something go wrong in a non profit's plan? How do they weather storms they couldn't predict? How does funding come in to help shore up unforeseen gaps?

We provide unrestricted funding, so we don't see many project proposals or budgets that would necessitate contingency funding (our funds can be used for anything and everything an org might need). But what particularly stood out to me was the issue of communication between funders and fund raisers. Obviously this is a hot topic for us at the Peery Foundation. We're always looking to improve our communications with our grantees. 

The best practices that Open Road lists are pretty simple. Two of them particularly applied to us. I've listed them here with my opinion of how we stake up, in italics.

  • Ask and Tell: Every funder should inquire, in detail, during the RFP process about what could go wrong that might require additional resources. We don't have an RFP process, but we we often ask about the potential risks to overall success. Every non-profit should analyze project risks and highlight those that might require additional resources. I don't think we do enough to make this expected of our grantees in a manner that feels safe to them.
  • Communicate: Non-profits should communicate with their funders early, often, and in full. My realistic estimate is that grantees tell us 70% of what doesn't work or what it troubling them.

So what? Well, first of all we recently discussed Open Road's findings in our last team meeting and opened up the topic for a full team discussion to assure awareness. Secondly, we encouraged our grantee-facing staff to regularly bring up the idea of risk as a topic of conversation in our due diligence and support of existing grantees. It's easier for us to open up that conversation than for fund raisers to do so--something small we can do to chip away at the power dynamic. Lastly, we'll keep using our anonymous Funder Feedback tool to enable grantees and grant seekers to let us know what they can't communicate to us face to face. I don't know that we'll ever have 100% transparency in our grant making relationships, but we can make things easier for our grantees, step by step, especially if they tell us what makes a difference.

What about you? How would you answer for your foundation or non profit? Are you happy with the communication you have with your funders/grantees?