Funder as Convenor: Part 2

February 2, 2012 3 Comments

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A year ago I blogged about the critical role of convening in collaborative multi-stakeholder change work, particularly as it plays out through a funder.  Having been in Michigan last week working with a group of diverse foundations in a customized Facilitative Leadership session, I have additional thoughts to offer stemming from a very productive and provocative conversation about how to address and manage power dynamics when one attempts to initiate a partnership or collaborative effort and one is holding the purse strings or a significant portion thereof.  In a brainstorm exercise and subsequent conversation, participants prioritized the following considerations and “best practices” to ensure that there is appropriate and effective wielding of one’s power.

  • Manage and be explicit about expectations regarding the desired outcomes and process of the convening
  • Meet people where they are, both physically and in terms of their knowledge
  • Make sure to co-create ground rules/working agreements for meetings
  • Be mindful of language and reduce barriers by eliminating jargon and culturally-biased terminology
  • Name the power dynamics – acknowledge that they exist
  • Define “value” broadly in terms of what different stakeholders bring to the process
  • Engage in “social leveling” by going beyond formal roles, being real, breaking bread together
  • Be clear about who needs to be at the table and don’t default to titles and the usual suspects
  • Allow for the expertise of people’s diverse experiences
  • Explicitly define key words – “power,” “partnership,” “collaboration”
  • Be present, physically and spiritually – exercise one’s right as a stakeholder

Certainly all of this will continue to be discussed during the upcoming convening hosted by the Council of Michigan Foundations on the current opportunity gap.  And curious to hear your thoughts of other ways to responsibly and effectively work with power in the fine art of convening.


  • I would add – Be willing to leave the room. I’ve seen too many meetings that didn’t talk about what they needed to talk about because the funder was in the room. Even if they are the convenor, the funder needs to be willing to let the fundees talk among themselves. It’s one way to maintain the balance. Do that enough times and you won’t have to anymore. Your willingness to excuse yourself tells others that you trust them.

  • Curtis says:

    Agreed, Mark. I would also say be careful in assuming that it is a good idea to leave. We’ve seen examples of funders doing this and essentially leaving everyone constantly guessing where the funder stands. Best to “delegate” when it really makes sense.

  • It’s great that you are getting ideas from thks article aas well as from
    ourr discussion made here.

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