I have a confession to make: I’ve never really liked the word “funder.”
It’s a word we use a lot in nonprofit circles: “So-and-so is one of our funders.” “Here is a potential funder.” (Or if you’re like me: “Why can’t we just find more funders?”)
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the word, really. It describes someone, a foundation or government department or even an individual, whose money is supporting a project. It’s just that lately I’ve realized that the word “funder” has always rubbed me the wrong way, and I think I’m starting to figure out why.
“Funder,” to me, is a transactional word. You (the funder) give me (the nonprofit) a check. I do the work. I report back to you (or maybe not, because you know I do such great work.) When I make another pitch or proposal to you for more funding, you write another check. And so on. You write the check; I do the work – it’s a transaction.
At least that’s the way we view it sometimes – and maybe the way we like it. To be honest, we may keep things transactional because it’s easier and we’re more comfortable in those roles, on both ends. I (the nonprofit) do the work I am best at. You (the funder) give me money because you have lots of it and you want to do something significant in the community. Done and done. No need to make things messy. (Obviously I exaggerate here, but I know this reflects my own attitude at times.)
Except for this reality: “Funders” are never robots or ATMs. They are people. People who have visions and hopes and dreams for the community we serve. And if we can treat them according to their visions and hopes, and not just their checkbooks, we may just move from transactional to transformational.
So, you may ask, should we stop saying the word funder; and if so, exactly what word should we use instead? And is this really all just semantics?
First of all, don’t feel obligated to stop using the word funder; it’s just my little pet peeve that I may need to get over. However, what I think we do need to change, on a deep down conceptual level in ourselves and in our organizations, is to start thinking of these funders as partners. Players on the same team, with different roles. People with tremendous leverage and capacity to make a difference in the community. People with valuable perspectives and insights into our community. And as we dialogue with them, and listen to each other’s expertise on the community we serve, and invite them into a partner relationship, we move from transactional to transformational.
I have never seen a “funder” turn down the opportunity to have a thoughtful conversation about the big picture needs in our community. Not a pitch, not a proposal, not a speech from a nonprofit, but a thoughtful conversation. And who knows how that thoughtful conversation may lead into opportunities for us to partner together down the road.
So, my challenge for all of us is to start thinking of our funders, or potential funders, as partners. Even if your funders think of themselves as funders, try treating them more like partners, and see what happens. Value their opinions. Invite them into your work and cause. Develop a relationship. And watch what kind of transformation happens in your community.
Executive Director, Springfield Christian Youth Ministries