The TABridge network promotes dialogue across gaps of expertise and geography, but also across sectors. We were fortunate to have several donors attending from foundations that support fiscal and natural resource transparency around the globe.
Because of the spirit of trust and equality among participants, donors and non-donors were able to have forthright conversations. Too often, the traditional requirements of foundation giving and the practical realities of grassroots advocacy leave donors and grantees straining to meet each other’s expectations. This is especially true in technology projects, where many donors are less familiar with online tools and many NGOs are experimenting for the first time.
One NGO participant reminded the colleagues that, while foundation officers must make grants in accordance with foundation missions and their boards’ expectations, community based organizations are answerable to communities on the ground, and the vision that created an organization in the first place. Sometimes there’s a gap between what these two “constituencies” need from an NGO, and more than one participant talked about turning down grant money when the distance between mission and grant requirements was too great.
Like the realities on the ground in villages or in at-risk communities, good technology practices can put requirements on an organization that donors can’t anticipate, or write into grant terms.
The foundation members at the Bridging Session described how donors frequently need to look outside their institution for help reviewing technology proposals, to make sure the tech elements of a plan are well-integrated and effective. One donor said, “The measures of how you assess the value-add of tech to a project are less familiar to us so we need help to get that right.”
To avoid surprises and disappointments, another donor reminded NGOs in the room to keep relationships strong throughout the course of a grant. It’s harder to solve problems if a grantee waits until “month ten of a one-year grant” to mention them, “but if you’d told me in month five,” said the donor, “maybe there would have been something I could have done.”
A grantee in the same session said the key is to hold two-way conversations “early and often” with donors—conversations “about making sure we’re doing the best work,” and not just “making sure we’re sticking to the specs of the donor’s portfolio.”
One important way to improve grantmaking is to find, tell and promote inspiring stories about grants that made a difference. A memorable story teaches people more effectively than any manual or white paper can. Over the course of 2-3 sessions, TABridge participants developed ideas for an online “impact diary” that uses social-media-style tools to collect and organize anecdotes from the field about small and large outcomes from grant activities.
We’ll be posting more results from our cross-sector conversations, and emerging ideas for solutions, as the post-event collaborations develop.