Thursday, January 15, 2009

Puppy Love and the Power of Money

One constant topic of discussion with both funders and charities is the fundamental power imbalance between the two sides. However we try to minimize it, there is a basic reality that charities need resources that funders can provide. While I appreciate the outstanding efforts of many charities to develop mutual value in the interaction the tension remains. Charities have to try to satisfy funders and the relationship can be challenging and complex. I've written about this before.

A good conversation today with Lise Struthers at Opportunity International (in my experience, one of the most advanced charities in terms of working with donors)helped me think of this in a strangely different way...

I spent almost 25 years of my life either being or working with teenagers and one of the dominant themes of those years was the challenge of romance, especially that weird "just friends" stage. I can't count the number of times I sat with someone and talked about the need for a DTR - Define The Relationship. A lot of angst and confusion was abated when the two involved finally worked up the courage to say what they were feeling and decide together how to proceed.

The same is true for funders and charities. The power imbalance is most dangerous when there are unclear and unspoken expectations of the way things will be. Someone has to break the ice and start talking about things like:
-What kinds of communication will be exchanged? Through what channels? With what frequency?
-How much influence will donors on the use of their funds and the charity as a whole?
-Are there donation thresholds that change the relationship?
-How can donors understand the fieldwork of the charity without interfering?
-Are donors expected to be involved in promoting the charity? In what ways?
-Which people at the charity do donors access?
-What are the options for a donor to be involved outside finances? (board member, site visit, write for promotional materials, in kind or expertise contributions, etc.)
-What kind of access does the charity have to the donor?
-What should happen if the circumstances surrounding the pledge or donation change on either side?
-How can either side end the partnership appropriately?
-What will be done if anyone on either side is unsatisfied with things?

1 comment:

Lise Struthers said...

Chris- thanks for the thoughtful response to our call and the plug for Opportunity International. Because we talked at length about the questions you previously posted on "Cyber Philanthropy" we had a dialogue that largely brought up more questions many of which we were able to answer. The thing I appreciate most so far about our developing "strategic partnership" is the thoughtful, intentional approach you and Catalyst is taking. The converstaion and dialgue is open and transparent, respectful and honest. The level of intelligence both on an IQ and EQ level is refreshing, trust building, inspiring and holistic. Thank you.
Lise Struthers