When grantholders don’t laugh at your jokes

Author: Jo Wilce

Date: 18/02/2021

Recently, I attended a useful webinar hosted by the Association of Charitable Foundations in which someone raised the issue of ‘funder power’ and how it means that people will laugh at your jokes more. And it got me thinking about the power dynamics in the funder/grantholder relationship.


Yes, it is true that one side needs money and the other has it. But does this mean that the relationships we seek to build are not equal or genuine? Or does it mean that the grantholders who don’t laugh at our jokes (and yes sometimes we do think we are funny) are the only honest ones and are pushing back on the power dynamics?


This is something that we are keen to keep thinking about as a foundation. Our team does have good representation from people who have been on ‘the other side’, as grant fundraisers. So, we like to think we know how it feels. We try to design our systems to keep the burden of administration away from grantholders as much as we can, and we aim to create honest, open relationships where people feel like they can tell us about problems as much as successes.


When I was fundraising for projects myself, I used to think that my funder contacts were so knowledgeable in my field of work, having that broad overview of what so many projects were doing, good and bad. But I now know that it is actually the other way round – it is the people who manage the projects   who have the real knowledge and understanding, and we are lucky enough to be able to gather their insights and pull together a collective wisdom.


As a foundation, we always encourage honest feedback, but we know that it can be hard to offer anything critical to an organisation that you have either received money from or would like to apply to in the future. Yet if we are to get better across the sector then we are reliant on our grantholders – and stakeholders – to do just that, so that we can improve the support we offer.

Read more about the Foundation’s approach to funding here

If you have any feedback, or would like to get in touch, please email us on [email protected]