Power Dynamics

Power dynamics exist in every funder-grantee relationship. But when we spoke with funders and nonprofits about capacity building, we spent a lot of time on the subject of power.

We asked, what, if anything, makes power dynamics manifest differently when funders engage with grantees in support of their capacity-building? Funders and nonprofits noted some unique factors that can affect power dynamics in capacity-building situations, including:

  • Fundamentally, capacity building requires people to grapple with change. Even when people are excited about it, change comes with unknowns that can create anxiety or feelings of uncertainty.
  • Capacity building can take funders and nonprofits outside of their area of expertise. That can be a recipe for people behaving defensively or overcompensating for their lack of knowledge and experience.
  • Capacity building is not the core work of nonprofits. Even when grantees are pushing for it, addressing capacity issues can pull time, energy, and focus from what is more directly mission-related work.
  • Funders and grantees are more used to issue-based program relationships. When they work together on capacity building, the roles, expectations, and the boundaries — real and perceived — of their relationships often change. For example, when asking questions more focused on organizational health, funders may wonder how much information to ask for, and grantees may not know how much to share.
  • When a funder and a grantee start talking about the direction of an organization or field or movement, they may have different ideas about how to approach that direction.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by GrantCraft using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Supporting Grantee Capacity.

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