What Grantees Wish Grantmakers Knew: Avoid Mixed Messages

  • Problems are stigmatized. “I see grantmakers signaling that they don’t want to know about grantee problems.” A recent case in point: An executive director of an established and financially stable nonprofit wrote to eight long-time funders to alert them to problems she saw on her horizon, many related to cash-flow problems created by a new government contracting approach. The response: Six did not reply, but she learned via back channels that four of them expressed concern about her “crisis” to one another. Two responded by opening a dialogue about the problems and possible consequences.

  • Help-seekers can be punished. While grantmakers might be frustrated that nonprofits are reluctant to share emerging problems, grantees sometimes find that being proactive is not rewarded. After one grantee discovered that a new technology staff member had bungled the job — and even used bootlegged software — she explained to a key funder what had happened. The funder’s response: It stopped funding. “This is really a ‘don’t ask/don’t tell’ environment.”

  • Don't be too polite. The grantees consistently — and counterintuitively — found that the grantmakers they read about were too angst-ridden about pointing out problems to grantees. Wherever possible, grantmakers should “convey support and constructive criticism in every paragraph.”

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.