Building a partnership

Building Stronger grantmaker/grantseeker relations for a better Jewish future

  • “Feel free to repurpose the project grant as general operating.”
  • “Let us know what you need during this time, and we will try to make it happen.”

These are the kinds of things nonprofits dream of hearing from their funders.

  • “We want to share some of the experiments we are trying, what is succeeding, and what is failing.” 
  • “We have been reaching out to our constituents, and this is what we are hearing…” 

These are the kinds of things funders dream of hearing from their grantees.

Without a doubt, the past year has been a nightmare, with Covid killing more than three million people worldwide and unleashing untold suffering. But this nightmare also enabled some dreamed-about conversations to actually happen, as the crisis spurred many funders and nonprofits to depart from the normal way of doing business.

The sheer enormity of the pandemic and its ripple effects made it clear to many grantmakers and grantseekers how intertwined and interdependent their roles are and that radical steps were necessary to respond quickly and effectively to the crisis. For many funders that meant loosening grant restrictions and reducing reporting requirements, while for many nonprofits it meant communicating more frequently — and more openly — with funders. A study published in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly in October reported that 75.4 percent of North America’s 500 largest foundations reduced the restrictiveness of grant funds in direct response to Covid-19. Similarly, a survey of Jewish Funders Network members published in December found that 77 percent reported changing their grantmaking practices to be more responsive during the crisis.

As vaccines enable us to begin moving into a post-Covid world, it’s vital that we don’t simply return to business as usual. How can we ensure that this level of honesty and mutual support continues as we move out of Covid and towards a new reality? We believe that GrantED — a new project jointly launched by our organizations, Jewish Funders Network and UpStart, for grantmakers and grantseekers in the Jewish community — will play a key role. 

It’s no secret that before the pandemic relationships between funders and nonprofits in the Jewish community could occasionally be challenging. We’ve all seen headlines about major donors who threaten to pull their gifts because they don’t like one particular program or speaker. And, we’ve heard complaints about funders that refuse to contribute toward a nonprofit’s operations (and thus its sustainability). Meanwhile, nonprofits may lack financial power, but they sometimes overlook what power they do have — on-the-ground knowledge and expertise — and weaken their relationship with funders by neglecting to share critical information about what’s happening in the field, painting an overly optimistic view of things, or being less than candid when things do not go according to plan. 

Professor Jack Wertheimer’s “Grantees and Their Funders” report, completed shortly before the pandemic, highlighted some of these challenges, while also spotlighting the good news in the field: the large numbers of respectful, caring and effective partnerships between funders and professionals in the Jewish community. That study was one of several factors that prompted JFN to explore how it could help share the good practices and discourage the abusive or unhelpful ones, in order to make Jewish funder-grantee relationships as strong and effective as possible.

But you can’t work on a relationship by engaging only one half of that relationship, the funder. And you can’t promote partnerships without being a partner. So JFN reached out to UpStart, which inspires and empowers nonprofit leaders to dream, build and grow bold initiatives that enhance the vitality of Jewish life, providing them with targeted support. JFN and UpStart share the goal of building and sustaining a vibrant Jewish community, and we shared the work of determining how best to empower grantmakers and grantseekers to work effectively together.

We came up with GrantED, a mix of resources and programs that we hope both funders and nonprofits will use. GrantED (jgranted.org) creates and curates articles, tools, and other materials to inspire and inform both groups, organizing around four core interdependent components of successful philanthropic partnerships: strengthening relationships, understanding and addressing power dynamics, sustaining impact, and effective communication. 

The site’s resources and case studies are selected with an eye toward sharing best practices, showcasing success stories, and equipping funders and nonprofits with the tools to improve. Users are encouraged to rate and comment on these resources; in doing so, we hope not only to learn what resources are most useful, but to promote conversation and dialogue among the many grantmakers and grantseekers we hope will visit the site. GrantED also encourages this interaction and knowledge-sharing by offering workshops, facilitated conversations and other programs, such as a webinar next month — one that is open to the entire community — about Covid’s impact on philanthropic relationships. 

GrantED is not just about giving people skills and training, but about promoting empathy and building effective, harmonious, and fruitful partnerships.

Whether you are a funder, a nonprofit professional, or an interested member of the Jewish community, we hope you will participate in our webinars, visit the GrantED site, sign up for our mailing list, and let us know what you think.

Tamar Frydman is Director of Peer Programs at Jewish Funders Network. Aliza Mazor is Chief Field-Building Officer at UpStart.