Funders have to adapt to movements, not the other way round

Martin Modlinger

I keep wondering why especially larger funders are bent on creating movements, but are then baffled when movements actually emerge, often even without – or despite – larger funder engagement. Maybe many larger funders simply are organisationally not capable of recognising and engaging with informal or unincorporated structures of dissent, vision and change, even if these demonstrate massive potential for mobilisation and (systemic) alternatives. Fridays for Future, for example, does not have a 20-year track record that could be evaluated, or financial audits that could be submitted, or a community of peers that would recommend them. They have never had funding, they ARE the community of peers, and their track record is happening right now.

Maybe smaller funders and so-called intermediaries are better placed to support movements, because they are often closer to and more familiar with movement structures and organising; because they (often out of necessity) connect more on eye-level; because they have already had to think of non-financial and non-harmful financial means of support; because they relate more on the basis of principles than of logframes.

This is not to say that larger funders are useless at supporting movements – on the contrary. With less than 1 per cent of all funding going to movements, we need larger funders to step in. We need their connections, their top-level vision, their experience and their financial stamina. But maybe some of them have to rediscover trust – trust in the people most affected by current power structures, trust in their emerging tactics, strategies and actions, and trust in the movements they wanted to see, but did not create. And this means NOT asking movements to adapt to philanthropy’s needs, but changing philanthropy in the service of movements and their genuine and legitimate leadership.

Martin Modlinger

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