Academic journal article Generations

What Foundations and Nonprofits Can Do to Foster Productive Relationships

Academic journal article Generations

What Foundations and Nonprofits Can Do to Foster Productive Relationships

Article excerpt

Kudos are due to Generations and to the guest editors Rose Dobrof and Donna Regenstreif for devoting this issue to how people in philanthropy and the aging network can work together more effectively. Nonprofit management is growing increasingly complex, particularly in the field of aging. Cutbacks in government funding,1 a severe shortage of trained staff, the aging of nonprofit leadership, rising operational costs, increased demand, and age bias are just some of the challenges nonprofits face.

Philanthropy is positioned to help in ways that go beyond its ability to provide funding; providing access, facilitating collaboration, sharing skills, encouraging organizational capacity building-all are benefits a philanthropy can confer. But professionals in philanthropy lack the experience that only nonprofits can bringthat gained from their daily interactions with older adults and their hard-learned lessons about what makes for effective programs. In sum, nonprofits need funders to enable them to carry on with their work, while funders rely on nonprofits to fulfill the missions of philanthropic organizations.

With the aging of the baby boom, now is the time to acknowledge the contributions each party brings to the joint effort of funders and nonprofits to manage well the challenges of an aging America.


Acknowledging what can go wrong in interactions between fimdeis and nonprofits is perhaps the most important first step. Most such interaction difficulties arise when funders and grant recipients do not adequately understand one another's worlds. Staff in foundations may think they can understand where grant recipients are coming from because many foundation staff have worked in nonprofits at one time or another. But flinders can easily lose touch with their former aging network "selves" once their income is guaranteed and they are removed from the immediate demands and recurring crises faced by so many nonprofits. In turn, few grant seekers have ever been employed in the philanthropic realm, and they frequently find the foundation world perplexing, given the wide variety in types of foundations, styles and levels of grant making, proposal requirements, and the like.

We all have heard stories about some of the kinks in interactions between nonprofits and those who fund them. Applicants too often experience phone calls and e-mails not returned in a timely fashion; program officers who seem disinterested or evasive; in response to carefully crafted reports, perfunctory thank-you letters mat suggest that the reports were not even read; and funders who do not recognize the growing need among nonprofits for operating support, the significant expenses of fundraising, and the instability that project-based funding inherently causes.

At the same time, grant makers face myriad requests and the daily balancing act between responding thoughtfully to each, completing thorough proposal reviews, and carefully monitoring scores of active projects.

Grant seekers also may not recognize that the job of foundation staffhas other inherent pressures that come with the requirement of making thoughtful and strategic recommendations about how large sums of money are to be invested. For example, the staff of a funding organization must try to deal with all applicants fairly; must guard against elevating an applicants expectations inappropriately (often it is me board mat makes all the actual funding decisions) ; and must say no to many good proposals, (and far more often than they get to say yes).

One would hope that simply being aware of and acknowledging these realities when working together will promote better interactions between those who represent funding organizations and those who are members of the aging network. In addition, both groups can take specific steps to foster improved collaborations.


Below, from a grant-maker's perspective, are suggestions for how grant makers can improve relationships with grant applicants and grant recipients. …

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