When funders wear multiple hats — as individual advocates as well as representatives of a funding organization — it can be unclear which role the funder is playing at any given time.

The power dynamic of the funder-grantee relationship is always present, even when the individuals from organizations are interacting in other contexts. If funders are also going to be active in the spaces where their grantees work, then they need to clearly communicate which role they are in, so as not to unintentionally overstep or blur the funder-grantee relationship.

“You can’t participate in civil society if you are a funder. You never get more than 50% of what is going on.”

The confusion was exacerbated by the fact that GCE saw itself as an “operational funder” (and still does as Luminate). This can be broadly defined as a funding organization that engages in direct advocacy as well as also supporting the policy and advocacy goals of organizations in the field.

Challenges arose when members of GCE’s staff were seen to be wearing multiple hats – as individual advocates as well as representatives of a funding organization. When individual staff express support for something, people hearing it are not always able to determine if the statement of support means 1) this is interesting work that someone should be doing that aligns with GCE’s priorities, 2) this is a priority for a direct operational play by GCE, or 3) this is critical to the social-political moment in general.

Some participants voiced concerns about funders also acting as advocates, as funders naturally have a position of power in the space and have access to knowledge not available to other advocates. Others pointed out that GCE’s success depended on its staff taking the time to develop very clear opinions and stances on particular issues, which naturally leads to a more “activist” position.


“Social change is political.”

“What is the end game here? Building effective organizations, or political change through supporting organizations?”

“They really encourage their ILs to ask questions, talk to a lot of people, and dig into an issue before committing to a strategy and a set of grants.”

“This is [Luminate’s] moment. If they’re willing to step up, they could have huge potential in this sector.”

”[Luminate] has tremendous potential to be a major influence in the philanthropic and advocacy space and I encourage them to seize the moment!”

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