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Each day funders are doing incredible things, supporting charities across the country to help change the lives of the most vulnerable, promote arts and culture, and pioneer cutting edge research. Yet the inherent power dynamics in any relationship between those who give and those who get risk undermining the impact of this generosity.

Power is not intrinsically bad, but many think there is an unhealthy balance of power between funders, grantees and communities. Power imbalances can limit funders’ ability to understand the issues they wish to influence and make effective decisions, undermine relationships between funders, grantees and communities, and in doing so hinder funders’ ability to influence social issues and achieve their goals. There is a desire for funders to reflect on and rebalance their power. This is about more than sharing power; people find it damaging when funders don’t see, ‘own’ and wield power for good.

This paper provides practical guidance on what funders should focus on and actions they could take, building on our popular seminar series. Everyone has a role to play in rebalancing power, but those with the most power must take the lead.

We have written it for staff and trustees in philanthropically-funded trusts and foundations working in the UK, and for individual philanthropists. We want you to feel confident taking these tangible ideas back to your work and using them as a basis for change.

This paper covers:

  • What we mean by rebalancing power in philanthropy.
  • Why it is important for funders to rebalance power and the harm of not doing so.
  • How to rebalance power through focusing on yourself, grantees and communities, and your goals.

Power imbalances can:

  • Limit funders’ ability to understand the issues they wish to influence and make effective decisions
  • Limit grantees’ and communities’ ability to thrive; and undermine relationships between funders, grantees and communities
  • Limit funders’ ability to influence social issues and achieve their goals

We recommend three levels for balancing your power dynamics:

  1. Focus on yourself: Rebalancing power in your organisation will help you understand the issues you work on so you can make effective decisions. A good place to start is understanding your power and how it affects others. Rebalancing power also means diversifying your decision-makers and reforming your organisational structures and culture.
  2. Focus on grantees and communities: Rebalancing power in the grant-making relationship will support grantees and communities to pursue their goals. You can have a significant impact through (re)designing application and reporting processes to meet both your goals and the applicants’ goals. You can also reset the grant-making relationship through approaches like trust-based philanthropy. And you can rebalance power in your wider sphere of influence through supporting grantees to listen to lived experience.
  3. Focus on your goals: Sharing, building and wielding power in new ways in pursuit of your goals can help increase your impact on the social issues you care about. Consider how to leverage all your assets for change, from your influence and convening power to your investments and physical buildings. Look at opportunities to build collective power and create spaces for change.

Addressing power dynamics is not an easy task and there are no silver bullet solutions. It is an endeavour that requires constant vigilance matched with humility and a willingness to be challenged. Power permeates every aspect of philanthropy and rebalancing power can revolutionise all aspects of your work. This report is not the end of the story, but we hope it provokes further conversation and prompts action across the British philanthropy sector.

If you have any questions about the report or would like to discuss further, please get in touch with Katie Boswell or Fatima Asif at info@thinknpc.org.

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