Power Dynamics in Family Philanthropy

About this collection: This Content Collection shares perspectives from nonprofit leaders and foundation colleagues on the challenges of power dynamics in family philanthropy, and possible solutions for how to address these issues.

Power dynamics can really get in the way when you are trying to build a healthy, strong organization. If family foundations and their grantee partners don’t see eye to eye, or if junior members of the family pose challenges to their board leaders or elders, the back-and-forth struggle isn’t just uncomfortable; it can undermine the organizational stability and compromise impact. But there are practical, effective solutions for this struggle.

This Content Collection shares perspectives from nonprofit leaders and foundation colleagues on the challenges of power dynamics in family philanthropy, and possible solutions for how to address these issues.

Please also see the NCFP Content Collection on Trust-Based Philanthropy  for additional information and resources.
Interested in learning more about this topic alongside your peers? Consider signing up for a current or future cohort of NCFP’s Trust-Based Philanthropy Learning & Action Lab.

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Bridging the Power Divide: How Family Funders Share and Shift Power

Passages Issue Briefs
As a family funder, how can you acknowledge and responsibly navigate the power of your position? How does the power and privilege you hold affect those you interact with and support? How can you use your power for good—to make lasting impact?

Hey Foundation Trustees, Come Get a Beer with Us

Article
We nonprofits work with program officers, and despite many of them being really nice and down-to-earth people, the power differential can make them intimidating and scary. This is how we nonprofit professionals imagine a meeting of (even scarier) foundation trustees:

Are You Using Your Power, or Leaving it on the Table?

Article
In spite of our laws and regulations, our checks and balances, our moral and social norms nurturing restraint and respect, people use power to bend rules, exclude and disenfranchise, distort facts and disseminate misinformation, manufacture fear, and secure preferential treatment.
January 14, 2016

Collaborating Across Power Differences

Power dynamics can really get in the way when you are trying to build a healthy, strong organization. If family foundations and their grantee partners don’t see eye to eye, or if junior members of the family pose challenges to their board leaders or elders, the back-and-forth struggle isn’…

Courage in Practice: 5 Principles for Peak Grantmaking

Report
PEAK Grantmaking believes that a set of principles is needed to support grantmakers in their efforts to make practices a strategic imperative within their organizations. Created by and for our members, the Principles for Peak Grantmaking is our call to action to transform the practice of philanthropy into the practice …
white question mark on an abstract background

4 Questions to Sit With As You Learn to Let Communities Lead

Blog Post
Editor’s note: This article by Walter Howell and Lauri Valerio was originally published on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s website and appears with permission. Good things happen when funders shift power to communities. It’s “regenerative.” We “actually get outcomes that work” and “build a groundswell for …

Additional NCFP Webinars and Passages Issue Briefs

Avoiding Avoidance: Addressing and Managing Conflict in Family Philanthropy

Passages Issue Briefs
Conflict is normal in any family or organization. In this issue of Passages, you’ll learn about the most common conflicts in family philanthropy, the creative “tactics” some boards use to perpetuate the avoidance, and how you can use simple tools to address conflict in a healthy, productive way.
February 14, 2019

Balancing Power Dynamics

How can you use your privilege to address the power imbalances that exist between funders and community partners? How can your board members build more honest and collaborative relationships, while also supporting other funders in building more authentic relationships with their grantees? This conversation will feature a variety of practical …

Family Governance Meets Family Dynamics: Strategies for Successful Joint Philanthropy

Passages Issue Briefs
This Passages issue paper explores the interplay of family dynamics and family governance in family philanthropies, concluding families who think about their governance systems, including how decisions will be made, are less likely to be encumbered by family dynamics than families who begin their philanthropies informally, progressing to formality over …
January 12, 2012

Finding Common Ground, Valuing Different Views

Families and foundation boards across the country wrestle with diverging values, various religions and different political persuasions.  While always a concern, divergent opinions come into sharper focus as the nation heads into the 2012 election year. In this candid, behind the scenes look at two family foundations, we explore strategies and …

Creating a Culture of Respect

Creating a Culture of Respect in Philanthropy

Article
There is a lot of talk in philanthropy about organizational culture in foundations. Some foundations fall into the trap of promoting a culture of disrespect when it comes to the way they deal with grantees, consultant partners, and even themselves. Fortunately, for every example of disrespect in philanthropy, there are …

What Funders Can Learn from Beyoncé

Article
Let’s start listening to (seeking first to understand) our grantees, before responding with answers and solutions. Let’s facilitate the solutions of a problem by asking questions such as, “What are the outcomes you/we want from this situation?” “What support do you need from me?” “How can you …

Funders and Grantees Sharing Power: Voices from the Field

Walking the Talk: Striving for Authentic Partnership with Our Grantees

Article
In November, PFF Program Officer Laura McCargar joined Michael Moody of the Johnson Center for Family Philanthropy and NCFP Fellow and Board Member Katherine Lorenz of the George and Cynthia Mitchell Foundation at the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference in Houston, Texas to talk about collaboration in the context of …

Philanthropy Lessons: The Power Dynamic

Video
This video from Exponent Philanthropy's 9-part Philanthropy Lessons series explores the dynamics of grantor/grantee relationship, and provides practical actions that family foundation staff can take to lessen the power differential between your foundation and your grantees.

Foundations Can Get More Done by Giving Nonprofits More Power

Article
For as long as foundations and individuals have given money to charitable causes, the power dynamic has been part of the equation. To many people, the idea that grant makers and nonprofits could work together on equal footing has seemed like a fairy tale, because one of them holds all …

Share the Power: Reflections on Transparency from the Bush Foundation

Article
NOTE: Jen Ford Reedy is President of the Bush Foundation. On the occasion of her fifth anniversary leading the foundation, she reflects through this five-part series for the Glasspockets blog her staff and board’s efforts to make the Bush Foundation more permeable.   There’s a famous philanthropy quote that …

Share the Power

Article
Funders alone cannot achieve the change we hope to see without the knowledge, expertise and muscle of our collective grantees—just as our grantees cannot implement without funders. We are in a symbiotic relationship, and we should be happy about that. We can work together to achieve our mutual goals, …

Better Together: Realizing the Promise of Collaboration in Family Philanthropy

Report
Unique challenges arise, and unique opportunities open up, when family donors get involved in collaborative work in philanthropy. This report explores those special challenges and opportunities, and offers a set of recommendations for how to realize the promise of working better together. The insights here are based primarily on in-depth …

We Can’t Force Philanthropy to Talk About Power Dynamics, Can We?

Article
As a sector, we embrace and use power every day, but we don’t talk about it. Why? Well, for one thing, the dynamics are challenging to discuss; power itself can never be eliminated. With increased awareness of power, however, conversations, relationships, and strategies can shift in surprising ways. Since …

Putting Grantees at the Center of Philanthropy (GEO and SSIR Blog Series)

Article
Research shows that grantmakers that are more connected to their grantees—those that have an ear to the ground—are more likely to provide the support that nonprofits need to be successful; they are five times as likely to offer capacity-building support and two times as likely to offer multiyear …

Effective Engagement: Jeff Raikes On Understanding Power Dynamics in Philanthropy

Video
Given the power dynamics in philanthropy, “you have to work hard to make sure you’re getting honest, objective feedback” from grantees, says Jeff Raikes. “Otherwise, you’ll end up being misaligned” and the partnership won’t work. View the video, part of Bridgespan’s Remarkable Givers Video Series, by …