Advancing Equity by Undoing Nonprofit Power Dynamics: An interview with Amanda O’Meara of the Weissberg Foundation & Adventure Theatre’s Michael Bobbitt

June 21 is Get a BEER* and Undo Nonprofit Power Dynamics Day (GBUNPD) – a day when funders and nonprofits across the country will get together without an agenda. GBUNPD is the brainchild of nonprofit leader and blogger Vu Le, who has long recognized that the power dynamic between funders and their grantee partners gets in the way of social change. The only rule of GBUNPD events is that there can be no agenda!

Since WRAG is committed to advancing equity in the social sector and in our region, we were happy to sign on with the Weissberg Foundation, GEO, NCRP, and United Philanthropy Forum to co-sponsor a local GBUNPD happy hour (details!). To shed light on why undoing funder-nonprofit power dynamics is critical to advancing equity, we talked to Amanda O’Meara, program officer at the Weissberg Foundation, and Michael Bobbitt, artistic director of Adventure Theatre. Amanda and Michael are participating – together – in WRAG & LGW’s Putting Racism on the Table: Expanding the Table for Racial Equity learning series. We thought that this shared experience may have revealed new insights for them on the relationship between funders and nonprofits.

WRAG: How has participating together in these challenging conversations about race and equity changed the dynamic between the Weissberg Foundation and Adventure Theatre?

Amanda: I have been fortunate to participate in several trainings and conversations with Michael around racial equity through this series and through the Weissberg Foundation’s Diversity in Theater cohort. I have learned so much from Michael and continue to be inspired by what he does on a daily basis to advance equity. I think learning alongside him as a partner in this work has been beneficial. It has allowed us to have open conversations about how challenging this work can be, and helped to build a stronger relationship where we rely on each other as thought partners.

Michael: The Weissberg Foundation staff have provided such amazing training and educational opportunities around racism, equity, diversity, and inclusivity, that I came into this series with a strong foundation for deeper learning, activism and a more sure-footed ability to add to the conversation and perhaps help others see and hear more deeply. What I love most is that Adventure Theatre’s board and staff have increased their knowledge and our EDI efforts have shifted from conversation and placation to excitement and operationalizing.

WRAG: What would you say, Amanda, to grantmaking colleagues about the value of attending an event like GBUNPD?

Amanda: As an introvert, it is easy for me to stay at the office and communicate via email and phone, but it is harder to build meaningful relationships with grantees and other funders that way. Attending an event like GBUNPD is a great way to break out of my usual routines and get to know our grantee partners and colleagues on a more personal level. As it turns out, the people on the other side of those emails are fun to connect with in person!

WRAG: Michael, it probably goes without saying that funders often get unsolicited asks for support, and that those encounters can be really uncomfortable. What would you say to your colleagues from nonprofit organizations that see GBUNPD – inappropriately — as an opportunity to pitch potential donors?

Michael: This event should be a day to get to know people. Get to know them on a personal level and hopefully, you’ll find a connection that may lead to support for your organization, but make the personal contact first.

WRAG: What do you think is the biggest barrier to correcting the power dynamic between funders and nonprofits? What do you think would be the most effective way to get funders and nonprofit organizations to see each other as true partners for social change?

Amanda: I think one of the biggest barriers is the willingness to engage in honest conversations. We have tried to break the power dynamic by participating in our Diversity in Theater convenings with our grantees as a cohort member. As a group, we have all shared our successes and our shortcomings, and I believe that openness and vulnerability has been powerful. It has helped to build more meaningful connections and opportunities for collaborations in the future.

Michael: Money is a difficult conversation. Funders have money and nonprofits need money, so it’s just awkward. Get to know each other and share in the conversations, obstacles, vulnerabilities, joys, accomplishments. This relationship has a common goal – to make the world a better place. Funders need nonprofits to do this work and nonprofits need funders to support this work. It’s easy when the vision and goal is shared and the relationship is deep.

Funders: Click here for event details and to register yourself and your grantee partner(s). We hope to see you on June 21!

*According to Vu Le, BEER stands for “Beverage to Enhance Equity in Relationships,” and does not have to be alcoholic