Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Ending a Long-Term Funding Relationship in a Good Way

Jennifer Oldham

Our foundation, The Healing Trust, has evolved a lot over the past few years, beginning with our decision in 2019 to think more intentionally about healing and racial equity. We notified our grantee partners early in our equity journey that changes to our grantmaking would be forthcoming, even though we hadn’t worked out the details, yet. Then, over the course of the subsequent three years, we changed our grantmaking processes, changed who and where we fund, and revised our mission and values to be more explicit about racial equity.

We knew that we weren’t going to be able to live into our revised mission if we continued to only fund the same organizations, so we decided to focus our grantmaking on organizations that were BIPOC-led and/or intentionally working toward racial equity and anti-racism. This meant relationships with some grantee partners we had been funding for years would come to an end.

Ending a partnership can be difficult but there are ways to do it well. Here are some of the tools that we used during our grantee partner transition.

Empathy

We began notifying our grantee partners of our intention to become more focused on racial equity in 2020. Over the course of three years, we shared updates about our progress via our website, social media, targeted emails, virtual meetings, and in conversations with our grantee partners. After years of planning the implementation and ironing out the details, we were finally ready to announce our new direction.

The first thing we needed to do was to create a communications strategy. As is the case with all communications strategies, we needed to create the message, figure out the proper channels, establish the timeline, etc. However, prior to doing any of that, we needed to start with what is an often-overlooked part of creating a strategy: empathy.

With this in mind, we prioritized communicating with our grantee partners. In order to create a communications strategy that was specific to them, we put ourselves in their shoes and asked the following questions.

  • What is the best way to receive this news?
  • What would I want to know?
  • What would I need to hear?
  • How would I feel about this information?

Working through these questions helped us decide how we would share the changes, the timeline, and the messaging.

We decided to schedule and record a virtual meeting for all our current grantee partners in April of 2022. During the meeting, we explained our motivation, process, and next steps. We took general questions and offered to answer organization-specific questions offline. While the meeting was held “live” on zoom, we recorded it so the people who couldn’t attend on the date of the meeting would still have access to the meeting. It also served as a record (for us) of our commitment. We also invited peer foundations to join the webinar and announced the changes to the wider nonprofit community after we had communicated with our grantee partners.

At the suggestion of our board, we also gave our current grantee partners (who would not be eligible under the new guidelines) one last year of unrestricted, transitional funding to support them during the change. The changes to our eligibility criteria took effect in 2023.

Prepared Messengers

With our communication strategy set, we got to work on the messaging. We value transparency, so while we were happy to share the process that led to the changes that we were making, we also wanted to decrease the opportunity for confusion by ensuring that we were all saying the same things. We thought through the questions that our grantee partners were likely to have and assigned specific messengers to answer those questions. We also documented the answers to those questions and made them accessible to our whole team so there was access to the same information.

Our board members also wanted to ensure that they were sharing accurate information about the changes, so we created talking points for them and added an Equity FAQ section to our website.

Repetition

We communicated the changes to our grantmaking in a variety of ways. We emailed a meeting synopsis to everyone who was invited to the grantee partner meeting, along with a link to the recording. The follow-up email included a survey that we asked our grantee partners to complete. The purpose of the survey was to glean how they might align with our new strategic priorities. Our program team followed-up with everyone who completed the survey, and the website was updated to reflect the information that was shared during the meeting. The homepage of our website connects to a blog post that describes the changes in detail and includes the meeting’s recording. This information was also shared via our social channels and was included in our quarterly newsletter.

Ending a funding relationship with grantee partners is challenging, but it can be done thoughtfully. For other funders embarking on this process, we would share the following advice:

  • Put yourself in the shoes of the people that you are communicating with; be empathetic. In addition, communicate early and often.
  • Prepare your messengers. Make sure that the right people have the right information, that you are consistent about the information you are sharing, and can answer anticipated questions.
  • Don’t be afraid of repetition. Communicating information through multiple channels increases the likelihood that the information will be remembered and decreases the chances of your message being missed.

Jennifer Oldham is the communications director of The Healing Trust. Find her on LinkedIn and follow The Healing Trust’s work at healingtrust.org.

SHARE THIS POST
, ,
Previous Post
What Can Funders Learn from MacKenzie Scott’s Giving?
Next Post
Top 10 Most-Read Blog Posts of 2022

Related Blog Posts