Every week or so John Esterle, TWI’s director, shares his thoughts, insights, fears, hopes and wishes about the current state of philanthropy, as well as acknowledgments for great work he encounters along the way. Here is the latest:
This past week I attended the Northern California Grantmakers presentation on “Defining Risks in Grantmaking” led by Susan Clark of Columbia Foundation and Ellen Friedman of Tides Foundation and moderated by Hugh Burroughs (bio here). The presentation was excellent. Their thoughtful comments provided the foundation for a rich discussion that explored risk from a variety of angles.
Two ideas especially stuck with me. Susan talked about the importance of stepping up to problems we don’t know the solutions to, and of funding programs that explore unknown or uncertain territory. Then Ellen linked risk-taking to the importance of developing authentic relationships between funders and grantees.
To me those two ideas are linked.
We are much more likely to be willing to step into the unknown, to embrace uncertainty and risk, with people we have real relationships with. What do I mean by real? To begin it means being able to give each other honest and direct feedback about the work – and that doesn’t happen without trust. Trust, then, is a huge issue for funders and grantees if risk-taking is to be attempted and supported.
And that got me thinking about the importance of funders providing operating support, or unrestricted funding. Such funding is implicitly rooted in trust. It also allows grantees the freedom to take risks themselves. When we talk about risk-taking in philanthropy, about innovation, what we’re really talking about it is supporting that at the program level.
It’s promising to see all the conversations bubbling up in the world of philanthropy about doing things differently, about taking risks, about funding learning and innovation, about supporting leadership development, above all about the importance of authentic relationships. From my perspective, giving operating support provides the platform for all of those things to happen.
Thinking about risk and uncertainty also got me thinking about the interview I did with Eamonn Kelly and his wise words on the subject.
The Kelly interview is here.