Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, December 5, 2011

Interview with Author of Give Smart: Philanthropy That Gets Results

Give_smart_cover_220xVForbes recently published an interview with Tom Tierney, co-author of the book Give Smart: Philanthropy That Gets Results. An excerpt from the interview is below:

What is the donor-grantee trap?

Tom Tierney: When foundations (and other major donors) engage heavily with grantees, there’s an opportunity to add value beyond any money given. There’s an opportunity to collaborate in a manner that yields the greatest possible benefits for the causes, communities and beneficiaries they are both working to serve.

The “trap” is what donors and grantees fall into when – despite good intentions – collaboration between donors and grantees is ineffective, undermining results and shortchanging society. It is a trap created by pervasive bad habits.

Donors and grantees get caught in this trap when donors avoid investing in overhead that will strengthen a grantee’s management and infrastructure—and both parties accept that behavior as inevitable. They are caught when donors characterize their relationships with grantees as “partnerships” (when they are just as likely to be train wrecks) and grantees agree, afraid to speak truth to power. They are caught when donors require reports that don’t lead to performance improvement, and grantees comply, spending time and resources on measurement that doesn’t do any good, instead of on measurement that fosters learning.


How would you characterize the key challenges within this relationship, first from the donor’s perspective, and second from the grantee’s?

Tom Tierney: First, let’s set the context for donors: Donors hope to accomplish something by giving away their time and money. Yet in most situations, the “result” of any sort of philanthropy depends directly upon the performance of the nonprofit organizations on the receiving end. These are often independent nonprofits, with their own boards, strategies, and array of stakeholders.

Donors can exert influence, but not direct control—yet they usually have a point of view about the results they are trying to achieve. They may even develop a strategy to support their aspirations (whether or not it is well thought out). Quite naturally, donors are also wary of wasting their money, and want to see evidence that their grants are paying off.

Rahim Kanani, How to Strengthen the Donor-Grantee Relationship: A Roadmap to Collaboration, Forbes, Dec. 4, 2011.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Wealth Counsel) for bringing this article to my attention. 



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