March 2018

Managing Funder-Grantee Dynamics Responsibly

There’s an adage about philanthropists: “when you become a philanthropist you never again eat a bad meal or tell a bad joke.”

Being a funder comes with unusual challenges to activities as simple as gathering feedback, exchanging ideas, and expressing opinions:

  • It can be extremely difficult to get honest, critical feedback from potential grantees (who often fear that giving critical feedback could jeopardize their funding).
  • Tentative or unconsidered program officer feedback can have more effect than intended in shaping potential grantee priorities, even if the program officer only meant to offer a consideration or idea.
  • It is easy to “lead people on” and waste their time, even when we aren’t trying to do so. Expressing even casual interest in something can be interpreted by a prospective grantee as encouragement to put a great deal of planning and work into things they hope we’ll fund.

An Update to How We’re Thinking About Grant Check-Ins

The Open Philanthropy Project’s mission is to give as effectively as we can and share our findings openly so that anyone can build on our work. When we first started making grants, we tended to assume that would mean conducting and publishing in-depth reviews of the performance of each grant. But as our first grants have wound down, we’ve spent more time evaluating and reflecting on the work we’ve done so far, and have developed a new framework to guide our approach to grant check-ins.