Partnerships and Power Dynamics

It’s understood that with money, comes power. Funders can choose to amplify the influence of money, or diminish its role. Similarly, nonprofits can approach a funder ‘hat in hand’, or as pro-active partners. It’s in the best interest for both to neutralize the influence money brings. Here’s why:


While NGO’s may fantasize about ‘benevolent funders’, there are limitations to no-strings-attached funds. Funding without commitment is tenuous; a foundation for trust to develop doesn’t exist.  Further, when funders are focused on the immediate impact, opportunities to innovate are limited. Nonprofits will be afraid to experiment with new methods that could make a more significant improvements if they fear blame and financial loss. Ultimately, funders who are invested in their partners learning and growth, and share a commitment to the partnership are best positioned to have a transformative impact on society.

Funding relationships are ultimately human relationships- they grow through mutual understanding, learning and appreciation. Positive emotions like these build strong, trusting bonds. These relationships, while more complex, are also more satisfying – to funders, service providers, and the community at large.


The economic downturn brought many lessons about the importance of resilience. Equitable relationships are inherently more resilient than transactional partnerships. Maintaining an equitable relationship builds greater trust, more flexibility and less micromanagement.

When partners understand they share the same over-arching goals and measures of success for their work together, it’s easier to maintain equity. For funders, this could mean asking about the drain on human resources that will come from taking on new projects. For nonprofits, could mean speaking up if a funder is suggesting something that makes them uncomfortable.


Funding ignites a partnership and kindling keeps fires burning. Shared goals and communication create the kindling that keep partnerships alive. When partners involve one another, learn from one another, respect one another, and unite towards a common vision for success, people, partnerships and organizations can be changed in transformative ways.

Balanced working relationships benefit from diverse thinking, are more adaptive, and more sustainable. Funders and nonprofit leaders that understand how to discuss and navigate power dynamics forge trusting partnerships and make significant, positive impact, even during volatile times.