On Friday, January 26, more than 100 representatives of the nonprofit, corporate and foundation communities gathered at the Women’s Athletic Club for “Straight Talk: Unpacking the Power Dynamic between Grantseekers and Grantmakers.” The goal of this event was to engage in open and honest dialogue about how we can break down silos and build stronger relationships between organizations seeking grants and the funders making those grants.
As the first CWIP event of 2018, this gathering highlighted CWIP’s theme of social and racial equity and many of the core messages that were shared centered around what goes into an authentic relationship between funders and the organizations they support.
The event began with two high-energy, rapid-fire panels moderated by Diane Knoepke, vice president of the Alford Group. These panels were composed of two grantor/grantee pairs discussing what makes their funding relationship successful. The first panel featured organizations and funders from the family and community service sector, including Hina Mahmood, program officer of the Woods Fund Chicago, and their grantee Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago, represented by Director of Organizing Steve Hosik Moon.
Mahmood and Moon highlighted the importance of allowing for and learning from failure as a key factor to the success of their funding relationship. “Every conversation happens in the context of learning,” Mahmood shared. “We have a strong feedback loop with our partners.”
The first panel also included Yolanda Knight, program officer for the Steans Family Foundation, and their grantee I AM ABLE Family Development Center, represented by President and CEO Dr. Carolyn Vessel, who emphasized the importance of having everyone at the table. “We work together as funder and grantee, and we don’t walk away from the tough issues we have to face. They are at the table with us.” Dr. Vessel shared as she described the evolution of I AM ABLE’s literacy program for kindergartners to include case management due to the very real traumas faced by so many of the children in the program. In describing her relationship with the Steans Family Foundation staff, Dr. Vessel describes them as putting the “fun” in funder. “We smile together, we cry together. There is a lot of love.”
The rapid-fire second panel included grantor/grantee pairs from the arts and culture sector and featured Francia Harrington representing Fifth Third Bank and their grantee Navy Pier, represented by Chief Development Officer Patrick Sheahan, and Kristin Hettich, program officer of the Alphawood Foundation, and their grantee DanceWorks Chicago, represented by Artistic Director Julie Nakagawa. This panel dug deeper into how to establish the kind of rich and authentic relationships that were described during the first panel. “There are a lot of relationships that come to bear on this work,” Sheahan reflected. “When we begin a conversation with a potential funder, we really make sure the values connect.”
Authentic listening, mutual respect, and candor were all cited as important means to discovering those shared values. “Each of us has a different set of resources and red tape. The power is really in respecting each other’s goals,” Harrington emphasized.
After the panels, participants enjoyed the opportunity to continue the conversation in small group roundtable discussions with the other people at their table. Individuals had a chance to share their own experiences either grantmaking or grantseeking and brainstorm together the necessary strategies to continue to breakdown the silos that prevent us from engaging in more just and equitable relationships as grantmakers and grantseekers.
These important conversations can’t stop here. Join Chicago Women in Philanthropy throughout 2018 as we continue to explore racial and social equity in our sector. For more information about upcoming events, including the CWIP Annual Luncheon on March 21, visit our events calendar.
Click here to view all the photos from this event.