Intervention Tactics

  • Don’t go it alone. Given how difficult it can be to find the right intervention strategy, it can be especially helpful to involve colleagues in your assessment of the situation and review of options. They can act as sounding boards and provide some perspective if you’re in danger of underestimating or overestimating the gravity of the problem.
  • Make it institutional, not personal. Especially when you are worried that a grantee’s strategy is beginning to conflict with funder strategy, it’s useful to use the foundation’s previously stated goals as reference points. A grantee is less likely to see your intervention as a personal judgment, and more as a matter of reconciling the goals and objectives of two institutions. And involving colleagues early on, particularly superiors, can also help grantmakers avoid the embarrassment of informing the institution after a problem becomes severe.
  • Engage the board. While the prospect of engaging a grantee’s board may be especially unappealing — it can seem very heavy-handed and can complicate grantor-grantee interactions — it is often a wise tactic. Like bringing in foundation principles and colleagues, it frames the intervention as an institutional matter. It emphasizes that the grantmaker is seeking an institutional commitment to a turnaround, and signals that the organization needs to make itself accountable for improving the situation.
  • Use your power judiciously. Along with the funder’s power to influence grantees comes a responsibility to use it carefully and constructively. It’s easy to use too much power — making demands where suggestions might do — and thereby alienate the grantee and damage the prospects for a constructive problem-solving effort. If there is no question about competence, but the issue is more about judgments in strategy (where reasonable people can disagree), an expression of your concern and some dialogue-prompting questions might be right. If there is an egregious problem of performance — putting the grant dollars and the organization’s constituents at risk — a more challenging posture might be appropriate, if you’re on guard for the possibility of overdoing it.
  • Consider using consultants (carefully). If the trouble is advanced and complicated — e.g., a financial management meltdown — arranging for a consultant to do a thorough diagnosis and turnaround might be the best choice. Beware, however: The combination of grantmaker, grantee, and grantmaker- funded consultant working on the organization’s problems can sometimes be complicated, with tangled lines of accountability. Allowing the nonprofit to participate in the selection of the consultant can head off some of these complications by building in trust up front.

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

This takeaway was derived from When Projects Flounder.