Process, Power, and Pain: How Grantmaking Systems Build and Break Trust

On Wednesday, May 25, the grants management team at the Kataly Foundation hosted a webinar to discuss the complex power dynamics in the grants administration process, how to build trust into systems, and how funders can ensure that infrastructure serves, rather than challenges, movement groups.

We were honored to be joined by our grantee partners, Corrina Gould from Sogorea Te’ Land Trust and Denise Perry from Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD), for this conversation.

During the webinar, Corrina and Denise shared insights about the challenges caused by lack of coordination and lack of process within philanthropy, as well as reflections on what authentic relationship-building and trust-building looks like between funders and social movement groups.

Check out the full video of the webinar, and read on to learn some of the key insights that our speakers shared during this conversation.

Introduction by Nwamaka Agbo, CEO of the Kataly Foundation and Managing Director of the Restorative Economies Fund

Introduction to Kataly’s grants management team: Ray Holgado and Danielle Royston-Lopez: 04:20

Power dynamics and grants administration 05:45

Kataly’s relational approach to grants management: 13:40

Panel Discussion: 19:30

Grantmaking Practices and Tools and Kataly’s Next Steps: 1:03:40

Q&A: 1:16:00

Key Learnings and Reflections:

On what trust means to us at Kataly:
“Trust is earned — it’s not given, and it can’t be assumed. It’s something that’s maintained through our actions and how we consistently show up. Trust is determined by who our grantees know us to be through our actions, not through just our words and our pledges, but how we show up in community with them.” — Nwamaka Agbo

On the reverberating impact of internal trust at Kataly:
“Ultimately the trust that the board and our leader has extended creates a spaciousness for how we orient ourselves to this work. And the way that this plays out for grants management and more broadly for operations is that we are in a position to really orient ourselves to our true constituents. So I don’t need to put the will and desire of the board and the executive over our grantees. Danielle and myself work in service of our grantees, and by extension we work in service of our program staff because we understand they are doing the deep and hard work of building those relationships. They are the tip of the spear in building that genuine community with our grantees.” — Ray Holgado

On centering grantees in systems and structures:
“Kataly really centers the self-determination of Black and brown community groups in our mission and in our vision, and therefore in our practice. What this really looks like is at every point and every turn of creating systems and structures for grants administration, we ask ourselves: who is at the center of the decision-making process, who is at the center of the experience of the process itself? — Danielle Royston-Lopez

On how movement groups are impacted by lack of coordination in philanthropy:
“The lack of coordination amongst the foundation world in philanthropy makes this such a tiring process on our end. Everyone has their own grant process and questions and portals and what you need to do when and how. If you are an organization that runs at about a $500,000 budget, that’s at least 10 different funders whose systems you are chasing.” — Denise Perry

On how funders can build relationships with movement partners:
“Some of the best foundations that I have had relationships with were those that have actually come to see the work, that have actually spent time, like quality time — not just dropping in for half an hour. Let’s dream together what this could be. If we could just put aside all of the structures, if we could put away all of those hierarchies, let’s sit down together and let’s dream.

It really is about that relationship of seeing each other as human beings, and not seeing each other as a piece of paper or something in a portal or even a picture.” — Corrina Gould

On how lack of process can be harmful to social movements:
“The lack of process and structure tells me you’re not looking at the infrastructure needs we have, which is fundamentally critical. A piece of infrastructure that would be a game changer is purchasing healthcare for everybody so that an organization doesn’t have to grind and wring their hands about healthcare.

I don’t think philanthropy is being very imaginative around what are some collective things that are available because of the deep pockets of resources.” — Denise Perry

On reimagining relationships between funders and grantee partners:
“When I’m looking at philanthropy, it’s a paternalistic kind of relationship — we know what’s best for you, this is what we’re going to give you. We’ll give you $5,000 rather than $50,000 because we want to make sure that you don’t mess up this money.

Today, people from all over the country are writing where they are from, whose land they are on, and understanding that relationship. This philanthropy world has to go beyond that land acknowledgement and understand the relationship to the people that are on the land that they’re on, both Indigenous people and other people that are doing the work on the ground. What’s the next step to build those relationships?” — Corrina Gould

On the complexities of evaluation and who evaluation serves:
“Kataly is holding the question of how to approach the complexity of evaluation. We are trying to look at some key data points and really trying to hold the complex and challenging history of evaluation and what’s that looked like in philanthropy, and also in the non-profit industrial complex as well as other institutions that have used evaluation as a guise for wanting to help communities, but have also done some real harm. How do we center evaluation that’s focused on our self-accountability? How do we explore engaging with grantees? How do we do the work in partnership rather than from a high and far off place that has long been done in the past? If we can’t back up the questions that we’re trying to ask with any rationale then we probably shouldn’t ask them. It brings us back to the question of who is evaluation for? What end does it actually serve? How can we serve the needs and aspirations and self-determination of community groups through this process?” — Danielle Royston-Lopez

On how people working in philanthropy can interrogate their work and assumptions:
“Institutional philanthropy as a career, especially for people who come from various backgrounds, lived experience, we enter this field on tenuous ground. We take what’s given to us as law: this is how you do this job. There is this process of having to pull apart what is necessary. Now I have the great advantage of a team that’s not afraid to let me know when something is not necessary or to question the “why” behind the processes we’re building. What that also allows for is a space in which we are really in conversation. There is little that should be assumed about how this business should operate because this business shouldn’t exist.” — Ray Holgado

Further reading and resources:

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The Kataly Foundation

The Kataly Foundation moves resources to support the economic, political, and cultural power of Black and Indigenous people, and all communities of color.