Too often, the expectation of perfection – or at least, our expectation that a campaign or effort will turn out a certain way – makes it feel so much worse when something unexpected happens. Failure, however, is not just a weight we have to carry around. Failure can be a powerful learning tool, especially when we investigate failure with self-reflection.
In our fireside chat with Zaineb Mohammed, Director of Communications at the Kataly Foundation – part of Season 2 (Power) of our Equity and Justice in Collective Giving Webinar Series – we took a close look at what it means to embrace failure. The Kataly Foundation recently released a blog series about the unexpected power of failure in collective philanthropy: specifically, how learning from our past mistakes can make future efforts all the more effective.
“The stigma and shame surrounding failure can make us feel like when we fail, we are worth less – that we are replaceable. Failure can create opportunities for learning and growth, but too often the fear to acknowledge failure out in the open results in doing our learning in private, or not engaging in the learning at all.” – Zaineb Mohammed, Director of Communications, Kataly Foundation
- Naturally, it can be difficult, painful, and uncomfortable to acknowledge failure. In the world of philanthropy, coming to terms with a campaign failure, a bad decision, or a moment of poor communication with a grantee partner carries uncomfortable emotional weight. However, embracing this failure – in particular, looking at it as a learning opportunity – makes our next forays into similar projects, communications, or campaigns much, much stronger.
- In philanthropy, failure often appears in communication breakdowns between funders and their grantee partners. By looking back on past failures – mismatched grant expectations, for example – we can find new, more effective communication efforts that prevent future troubles.
- The Kataly Foundation learned from their own mistakes by encouraging team members to identify moments of failure, then learning from those moments as a group. They made this possible through a top-down method, as the CEO and team members at the director level shared examples of their own shortcomings. Creating an environment of trust and safety was critical to the Kataly Foundation’s success in embracing failure.
- Another common trend in “failed” philanthropy is “dancing around” difficult topics. For example, not being clear enough with a grantee partner that funding cannot be renewed. This creates a communication gap – and an uncomfortable conflict – when the grantee expects more from us than we are able to provide.
- We can move past failure by putting more weight in trust-based philanthropy. As funders, we should not be prescriptive with our funding, but we should also not shy away from opportunities to help our grantee partners, especially when they have specifically asked for our expertise, guidance, or suggestions. Sometimes, we miss opportunities to help our grantee partners succeed, either because we give too many instructions along with our funding, or because we refuse to offer guidance or opinions out of fear of being “too controlling” toward our partners.
Kelsey Barowich, Philanthropy Together [Starting at 03:18]: I am so excited to introduce Zaineb Mohammed. She is the Director of Communications at the Kataly Foundation. Zaineb is a writer, communicator, strategist; she served as the Director for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, where she led the organization’s work to change the narrative around punishment and public safety.
So, with that, I’m going to stop my screen share and we are going to get right into it.
Zaineb Mohammed, The Kataly Foundation: Hi everyone! Thank you so much, Kelsey. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you all today about reflecting on failure and how it relates to philanthropy and our work as grantmakers.
Kelsey Barowich: I would love for you to share a bit more about the Kataly Foundation overall.
Zaineb Mohammed: Just to start off, Kataly’s mission is to support the economic, political, and cultural power of Black and indigenous communities – and all communities of color. We believe that by transforming our relationship to capital, the planet, and each other, we will redistribute and redefine the wealth in a way that leads to transformation, abundance, and regeneration. That is our mission at Kataly.
To give you a sense of the foundation’s values, we have five values that lead our work. Those are regeneration, interdependence, experimentation, accountability, and healing. There’s certainly a strong relationship between failure and each and every one of those values. The Kataly Foundation has three separate program areas: the Restorative Economies Fund, the Environmental Justice Resourcing Collective, and the Mindfulness and Healing Justice Program. I’d like to share a little bit about each of those for folks who are unfamiliar with our programmatic work.
The Restorative Economics fund, or REF, is focused on closing the racial wealth gap and transforming our financial system. They do that by reinvesting resources into community-owned and community-governed projects that are led by people of color. That fund’s mission is to support projects that focus on shared prosperity and self-determination rather than an “individual riches” model of wealth.
The Environmental Justice Resourcing Collective is our participatory grantmaking program. That is a group of nine women of color environmental justice movement leaders. That Collective formed in 2020 and it resources work that builds power in communities of color and grows movements for racial, social, economic, and environmental justice. One of the things that’s really unique about that Collective is that they have a very intersectional definition of “environmental justice.” It touches on all social justice issues that we’re all familiar with. Because this is a participatory grantmaking collective, that work is truly led by people who have been most impacted by environmental racism, climate change, and unjust systems.
Our third and final program area is our Mindfulness and Healing Justice Program. That program builds power by distributing resources to mindfulness and healing justice organizations, networks, and practitioners. Specifically, that program area supports Black and indigenous people and all people of color who are healers, teachers, practitioners in spaces where mindfulness, healing, and transformational practice are held and sustained. One of the distinctive things about that particular program area is that the mindfulness and healing justice work that they resource is really in service of building power rather than only focused on an individual mindfulness practice.
Kelsey Barowich: I love that, and I love that y’all are funding healing and justice mindfulness work, from the standpoint of systemic change. It’s a super huge part of how we’re going to transform our world. Thank you for such an extensive background on y’all’s work. One of my follow-up questions that I would love to hear more about is, “Why failure? What caused you to embrace and write about failure?” You mentioned the values of your organization and how you see them intertwined with failure. I would also love to know how your team received the idea, because I could imagine you might have to share a little bit more with them about it. I’d love to hear that.
Zaineb Mohammed: Yeah, that’s a great question. Part of the idea for the failure blog series came from me. It came from a personal reflection on failure, and my own thinking and grappling with not always meeting my own expectations for myself. It’s that feeling I think many of us can relate to, say, “Oh, I’m going to do this thing; make a commitment to someone else, whether it’s a colleague or grant partner or whoever that is, and then fail to follow through on that commitment.” I think one of the ways that that can manifest itself is falling into this shame spiral.
What I tend to do is, I tend to either go to a place of intense shame over not doing the thing that I said I would do, or the other extreme of like, “Oh, it doesn’t matter at all that I didn’t do that thing.” I find it very hard to live in the middle of those feelings, and so it just was something I was reflecting on for myself personally. And then, bringing that to a work context, feeling like that’s ultimately not a generative space at all. It’s not a space for change, and it’s not a space for accountability. Accountability, you know, is one of the values that I mentioned for the foundation.
One of the things that I’ve felt really frustrated by working in philanthropy is how little philanthropy really grapples with our own failures. Every funder has a different position of power. Of course, foundations have a lot of institutional power, but even individual donors can have a lot of power, and it’s often people with the most power who are really not forced to reckon with their own failures.
So I guess I was feeling, in all of my relationships with other people in philanthropy, you will get these sort of snippets of funders reflecting on like, “Oh, this didn’t go the way that we thought it would.” But those conversations are always very closed. There are always reports and lookbacks on grantmaking programs or initiatives that didn’t go the way you thought they would, but those are very, very rarely made public. It’s all just something that’s held internally rather than shared transparently.
And so, you know, I really wanted to think about how Kataly could live into some of these values around accountability, around experimentation, around healing, too. I thought that one way we could do that, one way we could really genuinely do something different, is to share stories of our own failures, particularly with grantee partners who don’t typically experience a funder being very honest about their failures with them. That’s a lot of what led to the birth of this series.
Kelsey, you asked a good question about how the team reacted. I feel like the team really leaned into the exercise. I do think it took some uncomfortable moments, because some of these conversations happened [in the form of a] Q&A. It’s a really vulnerable place to speak so openly about failure, and particularly for people of color. It is a very, very vulnerable space to speak about failure, because, as we all know, people of color tend to be – in philanthropy, and not just in philanthropy – scrutinized, or tend to be punished for failures.
Kataly is largely a team of people of color, women of color, and so we have this position of institutional power as funders. But then, personally, there’s also a vulnerability there. So we’re really wanting to honor that people have to figure out what they feel comfortable sharing, and not wanting to push people to share more than what they were ready to.
I don’t want you to put yourself out there and then just be left out on this limb, right? But of course, we can try to be as transparent as possible. There was something about the practice of doing this together, that it wasn’t just asking one person to share their failure. It was asking everyone on the team to do that. And that happened really throughout the team, from our program staff to our operations staff. Our CEO closed out the series with her own reflection on failure, and I think doing that gave us all a little bit more safety.
But there were definitely some moments in these conversations where I would sort of have to come right out and be like, “Okay, so what was the time that you failed?” And that’s definitely an uncomfortable question to be asking a teammate.
But I think part of what helped was that in those conversations I was really clear with people: “Whatever you say in this space, I’ll work on editing it. You will definitely have the opportunity to review and tell me what you feel like you’re okay with sharing and not sharing.”
I’ll pause there, but that was a little bit of what the process was like.
Kelsey Barowich: I appreciate that, because one of the things that I’ve even realized – and it’s super silly, right – I was wearing this hat earlier. It says, “Failure is an option.” And when I first bought it I was like, “Oh, this is just a really great reminder for me to have and I’ll wear it, and it will be great.” I happened to also buy it on a day that I had a dance performance, so I was like, “This is a reminder that I haven’t been in a live performance in a long time, and if I mess up, it’s okay.” The first time I wore it out in public I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
I was like, “I have failure literally across my forehead right now.” I was shocked at how much it just – I was in the grocery store and I was like, “Oh, my God! What are people thinking about me?” And that was a moment for me where I was like, “Oh, wow! You thought you made a lot of progress on this. Good thing you have this webinar series coming up where you can have this awesome conversation.”
And so, you know, hearing you talk about that a little bit more, I know you mentioned [that] with your teammates, you said, “Hey, you’ll be able to look at this and edit it yourself.” But when you were starting to have that one-to-one conversation, knowing that many of the folks here today aren’t necessarily communications directors – they’re not necessarily going to be publishing similar blog posts, but they are hopefully going to be having conversations with their peers, their community members about failure – what are some of the tips that you would share with them about building that trust? About those ties to get to the root of those really meaty conversations that, like you just said, are super vulnerable? [How do you ask], “How did you fail today?” I would love to hear about that.
Zaineb Mohammed: For folks who are thinking about how to start more conversation around failure, I think what you said, Kelsey, is true. It definitely takes a lot of trust. One of the things that we think about a lot in our work at Kataly is around relationship building. It’s sort of the cornerstone, as many of us know, to the work that we all do in the social justice world. You have to have the foundation of the relationship to really feel vulnerable enough to share about failure.
So I think first and foremost, it is definitely about building trust with people. And people build trust in all kinds of ways, right? You can do that through personal connection. You can do that through work. Through working together, you can definitely build that faith in each other and allegiance to each other.
There have definitely been spaces that I’ve been in where I haven’t really known folks – in a conference space, for example – that well, and have tried to be as open as possible.
Part of it for me, you know, I wrote the first post in the series and tried to push myself to be as open and honest as I could be, because I was feeling like, “Okay, if I’m gonna ask other people on my team to talk about failure, I really need to go 110% on this, because if I’m gonna ask other people to meet me there, I have to model what that looks like.” So I tried to be really vulnerable in my piece and talk about the ways that I’ve struggled with shame and failure.
What I would offer [as advice] is that if it is a space that you’re comfortable in, we actually all have a lot of power, by being vulnerable and by being really honest, to change the tone of a conversation that we’re having. What I find is that when I open myself up and talk about, whether it’s flaws or failures or mistakes, that it can create space for other people to do the same. Making that space can be a bit of an invitation to other people.
This is where the practice of the series felt important to us as a foundation, because, like I mentioned, foundations are so reluctant to talk about failure. We were trying to do something that was a little bit of an invitation to the field. Like, “We’re out here talking about mistakes that we made in some of our grantee relationships and trying to make it so that if we can be open and honest about our failures as a foundation, hopefully that creates some amount of space for other funders to step up and do the same thing.” Being in that place of positional power – Kataly doesn’t have to fundraise. We definitely hold ourselves accountable to our grantees, but that question of “power over” [those grantees], we don’t really hold a lot of that positional power.
For example, if we ask for grantees to be really open about failure, that’s a really challenging ask to grantees who have a lot to lose. If they are really open about their failures, they could do that with us, for sure, because we try to have that relationship with trust with grantees where they can come to us and say, “Hey, this thing didn’t go the way that we thought it would.” But there’s a whole range of funder relationships, and admitting to those kinds of mistakes could be detrimental to some of our grantees.
But for us as funders, I don’t wanna say there’s less at stake, but in a way it feels like there’s less at stake. It’s not like somebody is gonna pull resources. It’s not like somebody can pull resources away from us when we admit a failure. So it kind of feels like a way for us to use our power in a way that is strategic and in a way that again creates some of that invitation.
I think I’ve wandered away from your question a little bit, Kelsey, but I do [want to] get back to it a little bit in terms of how people can be in greater conversation about failure. There are a few things that I would offer: if you’re working on a project or an initiative together, one way you can make space for this conversation is [by] taking time throughout that project, or at least at the end of it, to reflect on how it went for you and whoever else you’re working with, and really ask the questions of what went well, and what we could have done differently. And again, the more that you are comfortable sharing, the more you can hold open that space for somebody else to offer their own self reflection, their own self-awareness.
Kelsey Barowich: I really appreciate that because what I’m hearing from you is that part of building trust is also being open and vulnerable. And like you just said, leading by example. One of the things that I’ve talked about with some of my teammates and in past work that I’ve done, is, when I’ve done some grassroots organizing work, the way I’ve organized my meetings is, at the end of every meeting, it’s action items, and at the beginning of every meeting it’s revisiting those action items, not necessarily from a place of, “Oh, you didn’t send that email, and we’re gonna publicly shame you,” but rather just a place of like, “Hey, we all know this is coming. We all know this is the space to say, ‘Hey, I totally dropped the ball. It didn’t happen.’” And also a space to say, “Hey, I dropped the ball and here’s how I could use some extra support to make it happen differently.”
Particularly what I’m hearing you say is [the importance of] the recurring practice. The key is that practice is so important, because, you know, if I just walk into a meeting with one of my colleagues and say, “How did you fail this month?” They might say, “Uh… I didn’t!” But if it’s something that we are constantly saying in every meeting, you know, just saying, “Where did we not meet our goals? Where did we fail to be a good partner?” Creating that space for the practice of it can help remove some of that personalizing of it, which we know happens so, so much.
You started to speak to this a little, but I would just love to hear about it more specifically. Can you talk more about the intersection of power, identity, social justice, and philanthropy?
You’ve teased it out a little bit, but I would just love to hear a deep dive into those topics.
Zaineb Mohammed: Yeah. So a very small question, huh?
Kelsey Barowich: Yeah, not hard at all for a Wednesday afternoon as we’re starting to like wind down mentally, or maybe wind up. Who knows?
Zaineb Mohammed: Yes. There’s a lot here to this question, and power is a fascinating thing to reflect on when we’re thinking about failure, which is why I’ve brought up power a lot. One of the ways that this comes up for us, at least at Kataly, is that our CEO Nwamaka Agbo often talks about our team as a team of what she calls “practitioner funders.” So a lot of the folks that do our grant-making directly come out of the spaces that they make grants in.
So Nwamaka is the Managing Director of our Restorative Economies Fund, and she really developed the framework for restorative economics and led these community-owned and community-governed projects in consulting work for many years prior to working in philanthropy. And similarly, in our Mindfulness and Healing Justice program, folks are practitioners in those spaces. They have been part of social movement spaces for a really long time.
So that really deepens the connection between the grant-making and the folks that are redistributing resources, and it also changes the power dynamics of those relationships, right? Traditionally, you might have somebody making grants who is very distant from the field that they’re making grants in, and that leads to a particular kind of power dynamic. And then when you change that relationship and when it’s much closer, when you’re potentially making grants to organizations that you’ve worked with in the past as a peer, the relationship is really different.
And that’s not to say that there isn’t still a lot of power dynamics at play, because we’re still a funder, and the organizations that we’re funding are still partners, and we have to kind of be really vigilant about acknowledging the power that we hold while not letting those power dynamics prevent us from engaging in meaningful relationships with our grantees.
So part of what I mean by that is that some of our grantee partners might want direction or expertise from us, and sometimes in social justice philanthropy, there is a tendency for funders to not want to be overly directive or prescriptive with grantees, which I think is really, really important. But there’s a point at which, if a grantee is seeking knowledge that you have as somebody working in philanthropy or as a donor, that you’re actually doing a disservice by withholding that information or that expertise from them. There’s a way that being aware of the power dynamics isn’t strategically helping the relationship.
Drawing these really clear black-and-white lines is something we all want to do, but it actually makes us less effective. Part of the way that we think about power and identity and social justice is in embracing the fact that a lot of these relationships exist in that sort of gray space where we are both peers and partners and allies.
And then there’s also the funder and grantee relationship that’s at play there, and so there’s not some neat and tidy rule of how you engage with a grantee partner. It’s gonna change based on who the partner is, what your relationship to them is, what the questions are that are coming from them. Sometimes those relationships can make funders wary of conflict of interest, or like, getting too close. But by leaning into that gray space, we can enrich those relationships that we have with each other, and not distance ourselves so much from the work that’s happening.
Kelsey Barowich: I really appreciate you naming that. I was just having a conversation with someone who’s considering being a host organization for giving circles, and that “multitude of hats” dynamic was coming up, where the co-founders of the giving circle were envisioning the functionality of the giving circle very differently than the host organization.
One of the things that was shared with me was, “Yeah, I just don’t know why, but I’m really fixated on this.” And as we started to dig deeper, what we’ve realized is that part of the reason why this person was having such a hard time with it is because they identified with the identities of the folks founding the giving circle and didn’t necessarily agree with their political analysis. And so this whole time, they were trying to divorce themselves and keep just the host organization philanthropy hat on, while also recognizing, “Oh, this is personal for me, and I have personal thoughts on that.”
So I’m curious to see how you’ve seen some of your staff navigate that, and if you’ve been in a position where you’re navigating that multitude of hats. Where maybe you’re an ally to these grantees, or maybe you’re part of the demographic base that they’re organizing. What are some of the ways you can hold the multitudes of hats with grace, while also acknowledging power?
I know you started to answer that a little bit and I know that you aren’t necessarily as deep in the grantee work as some of the program officers, but we’d love to hear your thoughts. Particularly too, we always encourage collaborative giving groups to give beyond the dollar, and I can see spaces where that tension of like, “Yes, I have a background in Comms. I’m not saying you have to do it this way, but this is what I’ve learned over my life, and maybe try it. But also, you know, again, not trying to be prescriptive here.” I would just love to have you flesh that out a little bit more.
Zaineb Mohammed: Yeah, for sure. I think it’s a great question. And it’s very apt, because, like I said, as a team of practitioner funders, almost everybody wears multiple hats and serves on boards and as members of organizations that we have funder relationships with.
One of the things that’s really important is the trust and relationship aspect of it. If you have honest and transparent relationships with people, you can both acknowledge the power dynamics that exist in that relationship, while also having hard conversations or giving your opinion on something, and having the trust and faith that, because of this relationship, that person or that organization isn’t going to take what you are saying as the funder as a direction, or as a mandate, as something that they have to do. Part of it is understanding when our expertise is needed or wanted.
Certainly there are grantees that don’t need as much “technical assistance,” as we all like to call it, in philanthropy or expertise, or knowledge from us. The resources are really what they need, and that’s great. And then there are other grantees that will come to us with questions.
Actually, this has happened where a few of our grantees have sought communications strategy guidance from us. And so I have engaged with a few grantees to offer some thoughts on it, and because they’ve come to us with the question, and I have the bandwidth to be able to offer that advice, I don’t wanna have a policy of, “No, we’re not gonna do that because we’re the funder, and we don’t wanna influence your strategy.”
If they’re asking for that expertise, I feel like, because of the relationships that we have, I can talk to someone and be like, “This is what I think. This is my assessment of what could be helpful to you in this situation.” I can offer recommendations like, “These are some consultants or some organizations you can work with. These are some resources that might be helpful to you.” Then I have faith that that organization, that person, doesn’t feel that pressure to necessarily do exactly what I’ve outlined.
I have observed that in our grantee relationships. I have offered guidance to grantees and sometimes they’ve been like, “Okay, like we’re gonna move forward with this, and then we’re going to do these other things, too.” Right?
That’s exactly what I want to happen. I want them to take the knowledge that’s useful to them and leave what’s not, and move forward based on what makes sense to them. It never hurts to name explicitly, “This is just my feedback, my guidance, my advice, based on situations I’ve been in in the past, and is not at all like an instruction or a directive for you to follow.”
I do think very, very often donors, program officers, [and] funders can get prescriptive around what they expect grantees to do. That’s a very real dynamic that still exists throughout philanthropy. It is important to say [that] there’s no pressure to do this thing. There’s no pressure to participate in this conference, or to participate in this conference, or to participate in this fellowship, or to use these resources in this way. This is just an offering, and that we trust you to do with that information what you want.
Kelsey Barowich: Yeah, I love that. One of the things I’m hearing you say it’s just the importance of that inner connectivity, right? You are all part of the same ecosystem. You wouldn’t be funding these organizations if you didn’t believe in the change that they were seeking to create, so why wouldn’t you offer your expertise when asked for, when sought after?
To me, it’s just snapping into place. Yes, ecosystem! Of course we’re all interconnected and want to support each other, while also naming, “Here’s my positionality in this, and knowing that, don’t feel pressure.” I love that.
You’ve started to talk about this a little bit, but I would love to hear more about how you all have offered care for your grantees when you failed? You talk about it a lot in your blog series, about what harm repair and trust building look like, and we have talked about trust building a little bit. I would love to know a little bit more about what that dynamic has looked like in addition to how you have shown care for yourselves.
It can be really hard to acknowledge that. Often when I was reading the blog posts, what I was walking away from it with was this piece of like, oh, wow! These moments of failure are also moments where folks maybe didn’t live up to their values as high as they wanted to. But that’s also very human, right? We have these,not necessarily high standards, but values that we try to work towards and we don’t always get there. So I would just love to know what the care towards the grantees, towards yourself, what all of that has looked like throughout this process.
Zaineb Mohammed: Yeah, it’s a great question. Thank you for that. So, in a couple of the pieces, specifically, our program staff reflect on very particular and specific mistakes they feel like they’ve made with grantee partners. One of those is from our Mindfulness and Healing Justice program.
Kataly is a spend-down foundation. Within the next 10 years we will have spent out all of our assets. One of the pieces of that is wanting to be really, really clear with grantees, right? This is not a foundation that will exist in perpetuity. These are not grants that are going to be renewed for 5, 10 years, because we’re not going to exist for that long.
And so they were reflecting on a miscommunication, lack of communication, regarding the spendout and thinking about, with a grantee partner, I think they sort of alluded to it, or talked about it, but maybe felt like they weren’t exactly direct enough. So when they went to the grantee and let them know this would be the last renewal, the grantee expressed some surprise. That really made them take a look at like, “Oh, where did we fail here? Where were we not clear?”
Part of that repair is just acknowledging what happened, right? So to say, “We weren’t clear in our communication about this. This is what we wanted to tell you, this is what we were trying to communicate with you.”
And then a big part of this whole process is also a commitment to move forward differently, because I think otherwise, we just make a mistake. We apologize, we acknowledge, and then we make the exact same mistake over and over and over again, right? So, a big part of the repair is moving forward differently.
One of the things that they reflect on in this piece is around how we can be really, really direct and clear about the timeline for grants. And so now, we’ve started to, rather than just talking about it verbally, it’s included more in written communication with grantees, like in grant letters.
It’s something that is repeatedly talked about, so that it’s not something that’s lost in one conversation. It’s brought up multiple times because one of the things that a spend out foundation can do to be accountable to grantees is to really prepare them for when the grants are going to end. Then, we make sure that they have the relationships with other funders and have the connections to other resources that can continue to sustain them after their grant from us is done. It’s really thinking about, “Okay, how can we be more direct? How can we be more communicative about this?”
[That experience] was a moment for them to reflect on how, when you have a hard conversation, when you’re gonna tell somebody something that they don’t wanna hear, we can all have a tendency to sort of dance around it and be indirect. That really can do a disservice, right? Because it could mean that the person on the receiving end doesn’t really understand what you’re saying.
So, we can just be really upfront about what we’re trying to say. If this is the last grant, we have to say that. This is something funders do all the time, we come up with sort of euphemisms to avoid telling people bad news. But the news is still bad! So we have to just be more straightforward about sharing that news.
Another example is from our Restorative Economies Fund team. Because that team does loans in addition to grants, they had talked about an interest rate for a loan with a grantee partner. This was very early on in the life of the fund, while they were still figuring a lot of things out, so then, when they went back to the grantee partner, we had changed some of our guidelines and policies on how we structured some of the loans, and so the interest rate had changed. The grantee partner raised it with us, and we went back to see, “Okay, well, can we honor what we originally told them?” And ultimately we could.
So that was one way to repair that harm, to be like, “Okay, thank you for pointing this out to us, that what we told you initially is not what we came back to you with.” And how can we honor the original commitment?
But one of the things that the team reflected on was that, as we were figuring out whether or not we could hold this original interest rate, we weren’t communicating that to them. We were just doing that internally. So that’s another place where we could have shared more throughout the process.
Again, there’s that tendency of wanting to get everything just right before you share it with someone else, and I think we can all understand and empathize with the desire to do that, but a lot of times when we do that with our grantees, we really just leave them twisting out there, and they don’t know, “Oh, they’re actually trying to make this work for us, or they’re trying to get more funds for us, or they’re trying to gather more resources for us from other places.”
This kind of goes back to the power dynamics thing – if we see our grantee partners as partners, then they can be helpful to us in those situations, too. And by not sharing as much information as early and as often as we can, we might be doing [our grantees] a disservice. They might be able to tell us, “Oh, well have you tried this?” or, “This is something we’re doing that relates to what you’re doing.”
And so again, it’s a point for thinking about, how do we move forward differently next time? If there is this misalignment of expectations, how can we communicate more often earlier on, “This is how we’re gonna try to make this right. Let us come back to you once we’ve figured it out.”
Kelsey Barowich: I love that. One of the things that I’m sitting with is, in my work at Philanthropy Together, I’ve done a lot of work around trust based philanthropy. One of the core questions that we get from collective giving groups all the time is, “I only raise a small amount of money – one of the core tenets of trust based philanthropy is giving over multiple years, but I don’t have the capacity to do that. How do I handle that tension point?”
And you just had an answer right there: clear, honest communication from day one.
If you’re going to give a grant that’s only going to last a year, that’s okay. Just make sure that you’re communicative. I love how you all offered an element of grantee education within it, because organizations that you’re giving to might not know when you say “spend out” an organization, what does that actually mean In practice?
So often in philanthropic spaces, whether it’s a more institutionalized, formalized foundation or a more grassroots giving space of collective givers, not every grantee is gonna know what certain jargon means. And so I’ve really loved hearing you say that piece.
I would love for you to just offer core, key pieces of advice that you would give folks who are engaging in this sort of everyday collective giving, who want to be more comfortable about embracing the ways that they may have failed, or at least changing their behavior for transformation.
Zaineb Mohammed: Some final thoughts I’d offer there, I think one thing for all of us to really lean into is to think about unlearning perfectionism as a core tenant. [Think about] what you can do to be more reflective about failure. I think it’s that desire for perfection that can really prevent us from moving differently, from being accountable, for recognizing that we failed in the first place. We can push ourselves to think about not needing everything to be perfect the first time around, in whatever your collective giving goals are, to really think of it as like, “Okay, I can try something. I can experiment with something. It doesn’t have to go exactly the way that I think it will.”
That is actually a really important learning option, and as long as we make space to talk about, “Okay, how did this go? What was unexpected? What could we do differently next time?”, then it doesn’t really matter that it didn’t turn out the way that you thought it would, because really, nothing tends to turn out the way that we think.