Sharing power through grantmaking with the Stupski Foundation

Written by: Eleni Refu

Date: November 25, 2020

As our nation struggles with how to commemorate the Thanksgiving holiday amid a pandemic, it’s important to remember that we humans have a natural propensity to share with one another even when our resources are limited.  

Despite the cynicism and judgments of the modern age, many of our ancestors understood that their wellbeing was dependent on the wellbeing of the collective group.  

In fact, it could be argued that the existence of the institutional philanthropy and charity that we recognize today is a modern representation of our inherent drive  to help one another.  

Yet, while the spirit of philanthropy may lean towards a community of support, philanthropic practice is often more guilty of hoarding the sector’s resources and maintaining a power structure that primarily benefits itself while excluding those whom it should empower. 

That’s why it’s so important, especially in this season, to lift up examples of those who push against this debilitating norm.  

When we hear examples of funders who understand this issue and take meaningful steps to address this unfair power imbalance, it’s a step towards creating a better world for all of us who share this planet.  

We created Power Moves, our self-assessment toolkit to help funders evaluate how well they are building, sharing and wielding power, to address this very issue. 

Today that funder is the Stupski Foundation. They recently teamed up with PEAK Grantmaking to relay how they have redesigned their grantmaking process as part of their broad effort to meaningfully share power with their grantees and the communities they serve.  

Power Moves describes the tenets of Sharing Power as “nurturing transparent, trusting relationships and co-creating strategies with stakeholders.” 

The Stupski Foundation, by redesigning their grantmaking process through a 3-pronged approach, did exactly that.  

They first focused on achieving buy-in from their board of directors and rethinking the ways they will be engaged in their grantmaking process. As their Chief Advisor Lalitha Vaidyanathan explained:  

“It was a question of finding a way to keep them involved at the strategic level and not involved in specific grants. As the new grantmaking experience reveals itself, we expect everyone to become more comfortable engaging at the strategic level.”  

In rethinking the role of their board, the Stupski Foundation also decided to shift grant decisions to their program staff in order to lean into their staff’s proximity and relationship to the organization’s grant-partners. Grants Manager Gwyneth Tripp notes:  

“Shifting power this way has made the grantmaking process more feasible and creative. When there are more of us participating, there is more potential to notice where we could make substantial progress, and where we have been limiting ourselves.”  

Last, the Stupski Foundation focused its efforts towards listening and acting on the feedback they received from their grant partners and community members to continuously learn and grow as an organization. Design Strategy Consultant Sasha Thompson said:  

“There is significant value in creating more opportunities and spaces for these conversations outside of the grantmaking process. These types of conversations are a powerful tool for building the trust necessary for great partnerships. It is important that grantee partners see us continuing to learn and improve, and finding ways to invite them into that process.”  

Sharing is in our DNA; it should be in our philanthropy as well. As the Stupski Foundation demonstrates, sharing power is possible and it can be done equitably in a way that promotes trusting, meaningful partnerships with those who should be empowered.  

Eleni Refu is a senior engagement associate at NCRP. Follow @peopleinaplanet on Twitter. 

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