Power dynamics, if not acknowledged, can affect the strength and quality of funder-grantee relationships.

There are inherent power dynamics at play in funding relationships, with funders holding a lot power and influence over grantees. Funders that acknowledge and, as far as possible, work to address these dynamics, create stronger and more successful relationships with their grantees.

“What they think is a friendly request can come across as a mandate.”

As with all funding relationships, GCE held the power in the funder-grantee relationship. But being aware and conscious of the effects of that power dynamic is an area where GCE could have done better, according to grantees: “in theory the money is open, but [GCE is] the least aware of the power and influence they have over their partners,” said one participant. The problems we heard stemming from this lack of awareness about power dynamics mainly fell into two categories.

First, participants mentioned to us that, when people who represented GCE made a request, they did not always feel able to respond with anything other than “yes,” fearing that seeming uncooperative might have a negative effect on their funding. This held true even when the request was presented as friendly or optional, or as personal rather than coming from GCE. Even people who feel confident about pushing back on topics directly related to their funding, like metrics, weren’t always willing to take the risk of pushing back on requests that seemed to be more personal or casual.

Second, we also heard from participants who felt that GCE had sometimes overstepped by contacting their networks. Speaking to people related to a particular organization is often a standard part of a funder’s due diligence process. When participants became aware of this due diligence after the fact, they often expressed feeling embarrassed and ashamed that their networks were contacted without their knowledge. These situations caused participants to worry that GCE had harmed their social capital by potentially presenting their organization in an unflattering or what they considered inaccurate light.

We heard from grantees that they often do not feel comfortable being honest about their areas of weakness in conversation with their ILs. When grantees conceal their weaknesses, it is sometimes motivated by the power differential at play. But it can also be motivated by respect and admiration. An individual who wants to be seen as successful and a strong asset to an organization they admire (e.g., Luminate) is not as likely to speak openly about problems.


“[Contacting other people in my network on an issue like this without involving me] was outrageous overstepping.”

“There’s some tone-deafness on questions of power.”

“I can’t think of anybody doing a better job [at addressing power imbalances]. It’s a problem with the whole space.”

“It’s a very Silicon Valley VC-style culture. Macho.”

“[When asked by ON] I responded that something ‘wasn’t in our roadmap.’ But I didn’t ask them: should it be? I don’t know!”

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