Last week in Tijuana at the Gender, Childhood, and Youth on the Move conference we closed the day with a session bringing funders and organisations together in a space for ‘frank and horizontal dialogue between donors and civil society organisations, with the goal of identifying shared challenges and building effective spaces for joint work and regional linkage.’
Representing Global Fund for Children (GFC) at conferences around the world, I switch roles, sometimes in the course of a single conversation, between grant maker and grant seeker. I’m always on the lookout for funding for GFC’s work, for funders interested in supporting our partners, and for great organisations to fund. I appreciate how our team created this space to break down the funder-grantee barrier that exists, sometimes explicitly, at meetings. As an activator for the new Trust Based Philanthropy Project, my ears were open for signals that we had created an atmosphere of trust. Had the funders in the room achieved enough trust with participants to enable ‘frank and horizontal dialogue’? I left the conversation convinced that we’d done the hard work to establish trust-based relationships with our grantee partners. What I heard from organisations in my group was not the audition for funding that would have taken place in other contexts. Instead, I heard from these grassroots groups an explicit and almost word for word desire for the very principles that the Trust Based Philanthropy Project encourages. Participants articulated the desire for more flexible and long term funding, for simplified paperwork, and for support beyond the check. In short, they asked for trust, not as a direct critique of funders in the room, but more as an appeal to encourage others to act in ways we’re trying to demonstrate is possible.
Organisations globally describe this challenge to me – while appreciating Global Fund for Children’s flexibility and long term commitment, they make it clear that we are the exception, not the rule, and that our flexible funding is great, but that they could use a lot more. Organisations accept highly restricted funding while their own ideas go unfunded along with the organisational strengthening work they’d like to do to be more effective.
John Hecklinger is president and CEO of Global Fund for Children