Seattle Foundation Blog

Is Change Possible in the Funding World?

A Conversation with Vu Le and Tony Mestres


March 12, 2019

The dynamics in the relationship between a foundation (a funder) and a nonprofit (a grantee) can be complex, but two social impact leaders from our region agree on steps to make the collaboration more positive and productive for the long-term benefit of the community.

At the Puget Sound Grantwriters Association's annual meeting on Jan. 17, 2019, Vu Le, Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps, and Tony Mestres, President and CEO of Seattle Foundation, engaged in a candid discussion on trust-based grantmaking and how funders and nonprofits can work together optimally to support effective organizational management and advance equity and opportunity in our community. The conversation was moderated by Alison Pride.

We’re sharing video of this wide-ranging and rich conversation.

Le encouraged funders to support organizations led by and centered around the needs of people of color, with fewer requirements and hurdles. He said trust-based grantmaking should show confidence in the relationship and leadership while delivering multi-year support for an organization, not just projects or programs. He said funders’ demands for accountability can sometimes be punitive.

“So I would prefer for us to move towards integrity or responsibility, where we do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because someone is looking on and we could lose funding because of something we’re doing,” Le said.

Mestres highlighted many of the tactical and strategic changes Seattle Foundation has made in recent years to move toward a more effective funding collaboration with nonprofits.He also focused on how Seattle Foundation and other funders are trying to reinvent systems to address our great challenges like educating all children equitably, addressing homelessness and affordable housing challenges and more. He added that one of his goals is to unlock more wealth in our region to support nonprofit organizations in meeting critical issues in the community.

“We (funders) exist partially because of institutional racism,” Mestres said of historical wealth accumulation that supports traditional philanthropy. “We exist partially because of inequities and unfairness and privilege, and our board and our team authentically are trying to step up to the challenge of how to be good partners to you all today. And that doesn’t happen overnight.”

He added that income inequality is off the charts and only growing, so it’s critical to tap into that growing wealth of philanthropists to support solutions to our challenges.

“I consider it to be my accountability to unlock a lot more investment into our community. I believe that we as a region are punching way below our weight in terms of all the amount of investments that we could be making in organizations that you all represent,” he said.

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