Power Dynamics in Philanthropy

Nov 22, 2022

Power Dynamics in Philanthropy: partner education event


Social Venture Partners Arizona has the pleasure of hosting frequent educational opportunities for our Partners to learn how to better invest in our local Arizona community. From Partner panels to presentations by experts from various niches, SVPAZ aims to foster a connected and engaged Partner network. This November, our Partners joined a conversation on the power dynamics between the community, donors, and nonprofits in need of support. We had the honor of being joined and led through this conversation by fellow Partner and Senior Vice President of Philanthropic Initiatives at the Arizona Community Foundation, Jaime Dempsey.

Jaime’s background with the Arizona Community Foundation allows her to uphold deep relationships with Arizona nonprofits by initiating conversations with nonprofit leaders on their needs. What she frequently discovered is that the relationship between donors and nonprofits can feel strenuous, with the nonprofit feeling the need to present its best face at all times to secure grants and consistent donors. This results in a forced facade of perfection when nonprofits are working in an environment that makes perfection near impossible. 

 

At the root of this dynamic is trust. 

When a nonprofit trusts its donor network, its team doesn’t feel the need to disguise the internal and external challenges the organization is facing and feels safe to ask for funds to address those challenges. Strong relationships between donors and nonprofits are rooted in shared understanding and openness. At SVPAZ, reciprocal openness is at the core of our Investee (chosen nonprofits) relationships. Our team works to gain a strong understanding of our Investees’ needs and we reward their honesty by helping them address those needs with the help of our Partner network. SVPAZ Investees know that the reciprocal nature of our relationship means that their honesty and willingness to work with us will only lead to a more collaborative and effective approach to providing support. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in all nonprofit and donor relations. Transparency, especially in grant applications, as Jaime explains, can often result in a lack of consistent funding. Established nonprofits have the resources and funding to source experienced grant writers to present their developments and organization in a positive light, while smaller organizations struggle to find the time to commit to the often lengthy grant writing process. Those organizations that clearly demonstrate an urgent need for funding often do not get chosen simply because their grant writing isn’t as eloquent and detailed as that of a well-established nonprofit. Jaime explains that the reason this is unfortunate and a disparity in power is that well-established non-profits already have a donor network and are not as dependent on grants to sustain their work. Jaime stated, “My goal and passion are to try to bend the common nonprofit practices to prevent monopolies in sub-sectors of philanthropy that dictate the resources available in the communities”.

During the robust discussion of the power of donors that occurred during this event, one Partner brought up the impact of unrestricted financial giving. While nonprofits depend on our donations and contributions for their work, they do not always express that some needs are more urgent than others. While many donors are happy to give to a specific sector or project within an organization, our Partner noted that many nonprofits struggle in gaining unrestricted funding that can be utilized to cover the overhead cost of a nonprofit. Transparency plays into this issue as well, as most organizations hesitate in asking for exactly what they need or, in Jaime’s shared experience, lowball their ask. How can we expect a nonprofit to deliver consistent impact and growth when it is struggling to keep its doors open in the first place?

We hope that a shift in common philanthropy practices is possible if the community, its donors, and nonprofits work together to create a more collaborative approach. It takes a willingness from all parties to embrace transparency, pool knowledge, and support each other where needed with integrity and acceptance of the real challenges that many nonprofits will face. As SVPAZ Partners, you have the opportunity to leverage your expertise to assist us in uplifting nonprofits in Arizona. Both in the relations with our Investees, and with those outside of our network, we hope you practice a willingness to embrace openness and encourage trust as it will benefit the overall nonprofit community in their aim to solve community challenges. 

Social Venture Partners Arizona has the pleasure of hosting frequent educational opportunities for our Partners to learn how to better invest in our local Arizona community. From Partner panels to presentations by experts from various niches, SVPAZ aims to foster a connected and engaged Partner network. This November, our Partners joined a conversation on the power dynamics between the community, donors, and nonprofits in need of support. We had the honor of being joined and led through this conversation by fellow Partner and Senior Vice President of Philanthropic Initiatives at the Arizona Community Foundation, Jaime Dempsey.

Jaime’s background with the Arizona Community Foundation allows her to uphold deep relationships with Arizona nonprofits by initiating conversations with nonprofit leaders on their needs. What she frequently discovered is that the relationship between donors and nonprofits can feel strenuous, with the nonprofit feeling the need to present its best face at all times to secure grants and consistent donors. This results in a forced facade of perfection when nonprofits are working in an environment that makes perfection near impossible. 

 

At the root of this dynamic is trust. 

 

When a nonprofit trusts its donor network, its team doesn’t feel the need to disguise the internal and external challenges the organization is facing and feels safe to ask for funds to address those challenges. Strong relationships between donors and nonprofits are rooted in shared understanding and openness. At SVPAZ, reciprocal openness is at the core of our Investee (chosen nonprofits) relationships. Our team works to gain a strong understanding of our Investees’ needs and we reward their honesty by helping them address those needs with the help of our Partner network. SVPAZ Investees know that the reciprocal nature of our relationship means that their honesty and willingness to work with us will only lead to a more collaborative and effective approach to providing support. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in all nonprofit and donor relations. Transparency, especially in grant applications, as Jaime explains, can often result in a lack of consistent funding. Established nonprofits have the resources and funding to source experienced grant writers to present their developments and organization in a positive light, while smaller organizations struggle to find the time to commit to the often lengthy grant writing process. Those organizations that clearly demonstrate an urgent need for funding often do not get chosen simply because their grant writing isn’t as eloquent and detailed as that of a well-established nonprofit. Jaime explains that the reason this is unfortunate and a disparity in power is that well-established non-profits already have a donor network and are not as dependent on grants to sustain their work. Jaime stated, “My goal and passion are to try to bend the common nonprofit practices to prevent monopolies in sub-sectors of philanthropy that dictate the resources available in the communities”.

During the robust discussion of the power of donors that occurred during this event, one Partner brought up the impact of unrestricted financial giving. While nonprofits depend on our donations and contributions for their work, they do not always express that some needs are more urgent than others. While many donors are happy to give to a specific sector or project within an organization, our Partner noted that many nonprofits struggle in gaining unrestricted funding that can be utilized to cover the overhead cost of a nonprofit. Transparency plays into this issue as well, as most organizations hesitate in asking for exactly what they need or, in Jaime’s shared experience, lowball their ask. How can we expect a nonprofit to deliver consistent impact and growth when it is struggling to keep its doors open in the first place?

We hope that a shift in common philanthropy practices is possible if the community, its donors, and nonprofits work together to create a more collaborative approach. It takes a willingness from all parties to embrace transparency, pool knowledge, and support each other where needed with integrity and acceptance of the real challenges that many nonprofits will face. As SVPAZ Partners, you have the opportunity to leverage your expertise to assist us in uplifting nonprofits in Arizona. Both in the relations with our Investees, and with those outside of our network, we hope you practice a willingness to embrace openness and encourage trust as it will benefit the overall nonprofit community in their aim to solve community challenges. 

WE HOPE YOU’LL JOIN US AT OUR 2023 EDUCATIONAL EVENTS!​

Thank you Jaime Dempsey for your work connecting Arizona donors and nonprofit organizations, and for your willingness to engage our Partners in this powerful conversation.

Thank you to Partner Jenna Biancavilla for hosting this discussion at your beautiful home.

Thank you Jaime Dempsey for your work connecting Arizona donors and nonprofit organizations, and for your willingness to engage our Partners in this powerful conversation.

Thank you to Partner Jenna Biancavilla for hosting this discussion at your beautiful home.