Blog: Amplify

Anatomy of a Global Grantmaker

At the Council on Foundations’ Global Grantmaking Institute (GGI) this week, participants are examining the essentials in the effective global grantmaker’s toolkit: our hearts, minds, stomachs, and ears.

First, let’s talk about the hearts and minds. Reflecting on the seeds of America’s fight for independence from England, John Adams wrote that the Revolution was born in the hearts and minds of the people. Today, GGI participants were asked to use their hearts and minds to retain an openness to others and cultivate trust in our grant partners by being trustworthy ourselves. We were also asked to engage our minds to understand and embrace a theory for change, and nurture patience and perseverance in our hearts. The question was raised: Is it realistic to expect that social change will be realized in a foundation’s typical three-year commitment to a community? Or should a foundation’s grant cycle conform to the pace of social change?

John Harvey, the Council’s managing director of global philanthropy, also asked us to use our stomachs to tolerate risk and potential for failure, and posited that this may be one of our greatest assets as grantmakers. Funders are accustomed to success, but we all have stories about the grants that went terribly wrong. The real failure here would be not learning from our mistakes; if social change was easy, none of us would be at GGI today.

Then there are our ears. We must always listen to the stories of the communities we seek to support. Recognizing the duality of the listening process is vital. As grantmakers, we need to cultivate our skills in order to truly listen to what we are hearing and what we are not. The spoken and unspoken tell the story.

Finally, what can our shoulders carry? What are we asking others to take on? The answer to this questions lies, in part, in what we learn when we engage our hearts, minds, stomachs, and ears in our grantmaking. The other piece of this rests in a sense of humility: We have money and other resources to offer, but our insights are not superior to those living, working, raising families, and trying to get by in the communities we support.

So what holds together these vital organs that make up the anatomy of a global donor? What fuels the ability for these essentials in the toolkit? To answer this, I returned today to the understanding that (1) the etymology of philanthropy is love of humanity and (2) respect for the communities where we work must be at the center of our global grantmaking strategies.

Susan Beaudry is a philanthropic adviser, an organizational development consultant, and the principal adviser for SB Associates.

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