Calling nonprofits: Avenues for challenging power dynamics with funders

Written by: Troy Price

Date: August 07, 2018

A recent post from the #DisruptPhilanthropyNOW! campaign shared an all-too-familiar story: A large national foundation abruptly ceased funding a local organization.

In this case, the large national foundation is W.K. Kellogg (WKKF) and the local organization is the Center for Diversity and Innovation (CDI), which works to improve racial equity in Battle Creek, Michigan.

According to CDI, it had no say when WKKF cut off its funding and folded its work into an unrelated program; in so doing, the foundation perpetuated a pattern of poor communication and failed to prepare CDI for a healthy transition.

WKKF’s response did not acknowledge its role in letting the relationship fall apart. CDI’s options for holding its funder accountable were limited.

Stories like this are why NCRP created our new Power Moves toolkit. The toolkit offers nonprofits a new, pointed way of encouraging funders to reflect on their power and privilege.

Power Moves pushes foundations to think about how they build, share and wield power in the pursuit of equity and justice.

This means being explicit about advancing systemic equity for marginalized communities by giving them the resources to be their own agents of change.

It means organizing peers in philanthropy and other sectors to bring visibility to grantees’ concerns. And, with particular relevance to CDI, it means being responsive and transparent in communicating with current and prospective grantees.

We’ve seen significant interest in Power Moves from national, regional and community-based nonprofits.

In the first six weeks of the toolkit’s release, nearly a quarter of downloads were from individuals representing nonprofits.

Beyond the Power Moves toolkit itself, there are several other options available to nonprofits seeking to give honest feedback on specific funders:

  • NCRP’s Power Moves team has compiled a library of resources for foundations interested in reexamining their relationship with power. The library includes some familiar NCRP content, like our As the South Grows and Leveraging Limited Dollars reports, and incisive commentary from the likes of john a. powell and Vu Le. These and the rest of the library’s 70-odd list of resources can be valuable conversation starters for nonprofits with their funders.
  • Another option is GrantAdvisor. Like a Yelp for nonprofits and philanthropy, GrantAdvisor collects reviews and comments on grantseekers’ experience working with specific funders. Feedback is anonymous and doesn’t go live until at least five nonprofits familiar with the funder have posted reviews. This platform gives nonprofits a forum to express how a funder is affecting their field not just as a grantmaker, but as a leader and influencer.
  • Some funders may use a survey for their grantees, like the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Grantee and Applicant Perception Reports. Several foundations have shared their survey results with the public, including the Barr Foundation, California Wellness Foundation and Democracy Fund, among others. Ask your funders if they’ve gone through this process and have compiled reflections and next steps that they can share.
  • If you work for a nonprofit but are uncomfortable having these conversations with a foundation directly, and potentially know one who could really benefit from a power and equity analysis, reach out to NCRP! Contact Janay Richmond at or (202) 387-9177 x20.

NCRP recognizes there is a tremendous hunger among nonprofits for an avenue to drive funders toward more equitable grantmaking. In addition to the resources listed above, our nonprofit membership program is a great way to help shape the conversation around moving more resources to social justice work. Interested organizations are encouraged to reach out to Janay for more details. 

Troy Price is membership and fundraising intern at NCRP. Follow @NCRP on Twitter, and join the conversation using #PowerMovesEquity.

Download your free copy of Power Moves: My essential philanthropy assessment guide for equity and justice now.