How do funders need to BE to be in allyship with social movements?

A sub-question for the Resourcing Movement inquiry is around what a funder ally to social movements might look like in practice, and how traditional power dynamics between grant givers and grant recipients can be transformed. 

Jenny Oppenheimer has been Inquiry manager at LCF since 2018 and has built relationships with movement leaders and organisers and those relationships could hold clues as to what being a funder – movement – accomplice might look like.  Before going on sabbatical in June 2022, we asked six movement leaders who have worked with Jenny about what kind of practices and ways of being they find most helpful in funders. This is what they have said so far.

Roles movement organisers appreciate funders taking on

People described several funder roles outside the money-giver script as helpful to movements:

  • Translator and broker: Someone who creates a safe space to explore ideas, who offers clarity, who interprets and who gives constructive feedback. Someone who creates and spots opportunities that are strategically aligned with movement goals.
  • Mentor and coach: Someone who is a sounding board for movement leaders, offers quality advice when asked and actively nurtures the leadership of partners, asking generative questions that help them find their answers.
  • Advocate and challenger: Someone who uses their role and privilege on behalf of movements, who champions their work and who has practitioners’ backs while holding other funders to higher standards of practice – especially when that means taking personal risks.

Practices and ways of being movement organisers value in funders

So much more is possible in the presence of trust. But trust is not something that can be assumed, claimed or expected – trust is an action. Practices movement leaders identified that help build trust with funders include:

  • Mutuality and collaboration: Viewing the relationship as a two-way street, sharing the cognitive burden of the work and approaching each other as peers in a partnership.
  • Listening first: Listening with the whole body in order to understand – not to impart knowledge, information or instructions.
  • Presence and consistency: Making yourself available, being generous with your time and attention and reliable by following through on commitments.
  • Clarity: Being able to convey the parameters of the relationship in a direct and accessible way, including boundaries.
  • Political analysis: A deep understanding of systems of oppression and how they both necessitate and impact the work of social movements.
  • Challenging your assumptions: Funding priorities are not ‘objective’ and have vast implications for the kind of work that is being resourced. Using a robust, intersectional analysis in any decisions you make and being prepared to change your view as a way to move towards more just funding.

Actions funders can take to align with social movements

There are also structural things movement leaders talked about that are needed to bring about broader shifts in the power dynamic between funders and organisations:

  • Support core funding over longer periods of time: Commit to resourcing the livelihoods of the people doing movement work and the infrastructure required to maintain it over the long run, so movement practitioners can focus their full attention on realising their vision.
  • Take and absorb risk on behalf of movements: Challenge yourself to fund groups outside of what is familiar to you. Defend their work to those who challenge it, especially when it’s uncomfortable and risky to do so. Act as a buffer so movement leaders can focus on doing their work rather than having to justify it.
  • Take an ecosystem approach: Resist getting attached to a small circle of movement people who supposedly represent everybody – movements have many leaders. Find ways to engage those who have less practice in navigating wealthy and predominantly white spaces. Avoid placing too much pressure on intermediary bodies as a shortcut. Understand and take responsibility for the impact funders’ actions can have in movement spaces.

Graphics created by Federica Ciotti