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Money is a flashpoint. It illuminates existing and historic inequities in our movements and communities.  It often sparks organizational anxiety about competition. It stirs personal feelings around money and class. Network conversations around funding are conversations about power. Yet, to have impact at scale, networks must both leverage existing resources and raise additional new resources.

Many find ourselves asking: How can we build resources and use them to have impact (in the short and long run) without recreating the very inequities and power dynamics we are seeking to transform? 

There is no one right answer and in conversation with Eveline Shen, Gustavo Torres, Sarita Gupta, and May Boeve during the Network Leadership Innovation Lab and in other experiences with MAG clients some ideas and reflections have surfaced:

  • Start with clarity around strategy
  • Name and unpack power dynamics
  • Develop guiding principles
  • Be self-aware: examine personal roles and relationships to oney
  • Remember resources are more than money

We review each of these ideas in more detail below.

Start with Clarity Around Strategy

  • Be sure your network is aligned around strategy first.  Some use a planning grant in the early phases of network development to help support organizations’ participation — especially among those that have fewer resources or are closest to the issues on the ground.  Then as strategy emerges, embark on larger fundraising efforts.
  • Assess what capacities are needed to move both long- and short-term strategies, what currently exists and can be leveraged from among those in the network, and what gaps must be filled together.
  • Keep the long-term strength of your movement/community in mind, even while pushing short- term strategies.  How you win, and what you build in order to win, is often as important as the win itself.
  • Debates around money are often debates around strategy.  Sometimes in conflict it helps to make sure everyone is clear about how and why everyone is engaging in this strategy and then consider the implications for resource decisions.
  • Look to the values and principles established in the network’s formation to make sure there is alignment with the networks principles in both the decision-making and the decisions themselves.

How can we build resources and use them to have impact (in the short and long run) without recreating the very inequities and power dynamics we are seeking to transform?

Name and Unpack Power Dynamics

  • Name existing and historic power dynamics in your movement/community and how they affect current capacities and gaps.  You cannot step over these in the name of expediency, unity or comfort. Failing to name and discuss these dynamics will only allow them to bubble under the surface and potentially undermine long-term success.
  • Distributing equal amounts of money to everyone often deepens inequity.  Groups coming into the network aren’t resourced equally and so can’t participate on equal footing even when given equal amounts of resources.
  • Seek to understand and value what each network and movement player brings to the work regardless of budget and organizational size.
  • Begin building campaigns that leverage and strengthen larger and smaller players and their relationship to one another.  Determine the best specific roles organizations can play given who they are and what they do and the network’s shared strategy.   Identify what each organization needs to bring their best to the shared work.
  • Develop a collective stance with sources of funding.  Articulate shared strategies and principles for the work and be willing to push back on funder expectations when it is mismatched with those of the network.
  • The network’s capacity is built on each of the member organizations’ individual strengths. Be willing to lift up the work of network members with key funders to ensure their continued success.

Develop Guiding Principles

  • Develop a set of principles based on the network’s overall values and principles to guide how money will be raised and distributed. Ideally this is developed in the planning phase after a strategy begins to emerge and before large amounts of resources are in hand. Examples might include:  We expect groups to continue to raise money for their own work around this issue and leverage those resources for our joint strategy. We ask that you share information about your efforts so we can coordinate work and seek to fill gaps.
  • Directly decide who in the network is taking the role of fundraising for the network. Someone needs to take responsibility for driving the process forward; without that nothing gets done.
  • Determine who will be making decisions about how that money is spent and allocated within the principles. (Note that isn’t necessarily the exact same group of people who is raising the money.) It is critical that the network knows who to hold accountable for those decisions and how they can provide their input and concerns.
  • Be transparent within the network about how much there is and who is funding you. Be sure to be clear about why you are making decisions around resources, not just what these decisions are. And remember no matter what you do, some folks will imagine the joint pool of money for the network is much larger than it actually is and often wonder if they should be getting more.
  • Consider seeking outside perspectives, particularly those who will not receive money but are trusted within the movement and have enough information to help guide the decision making. This might be trusted funders, intermediaries, facilitators, or advisors. They can often resolve log jams and help maintain focus on the agreed upon goals and principles.

Be Self-Aware: Examine Personal Roles and Relationships to Money

  • Money in the U.S. is a powerful touchpoint for most individuals. Take time to explore your own relationship to money and class.  Be aware of the unconscious stories you tell yourself and how other aspects of your identity intersect. Pay special attention to feelings of:
    • Scarcity.  Fears about not having enough can trigger our survival mechanisms and close us off to creative solutions, partners, and strategic risk taking.
    • Avoidance.  Discomfort with discussing money will harm the network’s ability to have clear and transparent decision making.
    • Guilt.  Carrying unfettered guilt about having money, while others do not, leads to clouded decision-making and can disempower others.
  • Raising money for the network and having a leadership role in deciding how those resources are spent is a form of positional power. Determine how you and your colleagues will hold that power responsibly and be mindful of how it intersects with other forms of power.
  • No matter what is done, some people will never trust those with access to money and create a negative narrative.  Leaders in networks need to build the capacity to listen as well as to interrupt the conversations with alternative interpretations.
  • Acknowledge the burden felt by those who take on the fundraising for the network and how easy it is for unhappy members to find fault and even attack their leadership.  Humanize the process and those stepping up to lead.

Remember Resources are More than Money

  • Quantify staff time of member organizations and the network itself.
  • Capture direct costs for participation (like travel and lodging).
  • Find ways to leverage or align existing efforts in member organizations.  Build toolkits, training curriculum, media talking points, training modules, petitions, and other kinds of resources that members can use in conjunction with their current work to maximize alignment.
  • Be mindful of how the joint work is staffed. Consider focusing on the internal pool of activists first; hiring positions part-time or on-loan from existing organizations for time-bound and focused stints; bringing in consultants that might be hard for a single organization to access, making joint hires (where a member of the network and the network share that staffing resource), and/or utilizing hiring committees (so that a wider array of folks help to build relationships and awareness of the roles and skills needed).

Remember Success Is Possible!

Clear values and principles for the network and around raising and sharing resources, transparent and explicit conversations about power, attention to self-awareness, and expanded ways of thinking about and recognizing resources are the keys to making it happen.

Banner photo credit: Photo by Sharon McCutcheon | Unsplash

1 thought on “Raising and Distributing Money in Networks: Moving Through and Beyond the Prickly Parts

  1. Robin, This catches many of the issues that I have seen working with activist networks. While time consuming and often seemingly unnecessary, creating rules and procedures when everyone is getting along can really pay off for everyone when something happens and tension emerges. I have often seen as well that the wider the network, the more often people will bring in issues from their corner of the movement that others can’t relate to: NGOs can’t take money from a foundation that funded some now discredited practices 50 years ago, or some partners can’t be associated with funds from certain governments, etc. For most civil society organizations their number one asset is trust of their partners, so the "wrong" kind of money can endanger that. It can take time to work through these things, and the suggestions above certainly make that easier. Even with all that I have seen that there will still a be certain amount of debate that is not susceptible to rational argument — "No matter what is done, some people will never trust those with access to money and create a negative narrative" — and these moments can be among the hardest to navigate. Sometimes it’s good enough to agree to disagree, or to wall off certain funds for specific purposes.

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