Supporting Grantees Through Executive Transitions

Throughout our many years of funding social justice organizations, Veatch staff has heard a common refrain from executive directors:  they lacked the support they needed as they transitioned into leadership positions in social justice organizations. This concern was especially raised by those EDs who are women and/or people of color, who increasingly make the majority of the leadership of Veatch grantees, and of the movement as a whole.
To build a deeper understanding of the needs of executive directors during moments of transitions, in the Fall of 2020 Veatch commissioned long-time racial justice activist and movement leader Rinku Sen to survey more than 100 of our grantees and to conduct focus groups with over 20 of them. Here, we share some of our most important findings and what Veatch is doing to address this issue. With this, we aim to contribute to the conversation that we are committed to have with our partners in social justice organizing and in progressive philanthropy to correct this issue. 
I. What Have We Learned?

In line with the stories that grantees shared with us, we learned that:

  • New executive directors who are women and/or people of color are more likely to face scrutiny or receive less support than their white male counterparts

For example, 37.5% of new EDs who are men of color experienced funding not-renewals, decreases, or delays within their first two years in the position. The situation was similar for 31% of new EDs who identify as women of color, and 30% for white women. None of the white male EDs surveyed experienced any of these situations in the same period in their tenure.

  • The reasons funders cite for this added scrutiny reflect structural barriers and may reinforce bias against leaders who are women and people of color. 

For example, the most common reason (57%) that funders gave men of color EDs for delaying, decreasing, or stopping funding was that they wanted to “wait and see” how the organization would do with the new leadership. The same response was given to over one-third of women of color and one-quarter of white women.  

  • Funders sometimes perceive transitions as periods of instability and decide to pull resources away, as opposed to leaning into continuing or even strengthening support during that important time for an organization. 

Close to 30% of men of color EDs and more than 10% of all women EDs in the survey were told by a funder that they don’t fund during transitions as the reason to decrease or cut their grants.  Participants in the focus groups shared that knowing that this reaction is a real possibility, organizations become concerned about sharing the news of their upcoming executive transitions.

To learn more about our findings, click here. 

II. What Are We Doing About It?

The lessons learned from this research project and from the constant communication we have with our grantees and other partners in the field have helped us adapt and lean deeper into aspects of Veatch’s funding model that can better support our grantees directly, and contribute to build a menu of best practices with other philanthropic partners.

  • Hold funding stable in general, and especially during executive transitions.
  • Provide additional financial support and technical assistance during  executive transitions, as much as possible.
  • Invest time and resources to deepen our knowledge of emerging leaders and key staffers who are women and people of color, seek opportunities to amplify their leadership, and contribute to build their networks with other partners in philanthropy.
  • Give space to leaders to lead — but support them where needed.
  • Advocate for the adoption of these policies in the wider philanthropic community.

To learn more of what Veatch is doing to support our grantees through leadership transitions, click here.  

III. Additional Reading

Recent research and analysis support these findings and provide additional important context to the conversation on this issue. To learn more about some of these reports and pieces of research, click here.