In 2015, I continued supporting the grant management of the second phase of the China Social Sector Pioneers program. As the program manager, I spent more one-on-one time with the grantees to define project outcomes, refine project implementation strategies, improve their reporting skills, organize peer learning workshops, as well as support in other areas where they may have been gaps.
During the process, I learned that a grant maker has limitations and should set boundaries regardless of his or her enthusiasm or the potential seen in the organization. Even though we want to help, a grant maker is ultimately not part of the organization. Only the core team can truly understand their situation and make the best decisions accordingly. I can offer them tools, supply third-party consultants and create opportunities, but at the end of the day, change is in the hands of the organization.
This realization became more apparent when supporting an organization that provides support within the health sector. (As this situation is common regardless of the organization, I will keep the organization’s name anonymous and call it Organization A.)
Organization A launched a new incubation program where a patient support group already following the program is now facilitating the growth of a new patient support group. This program is different than the organization’s previous programs. Unlike the other programs, it requires more experienced supporting staff. Shortly after the due diligence phase, the most experienced senior supporting staff member leaves the organization. The only other staffer with the relevant experience is the Managing Director who is busy executing the bigger picture of the organization as a whole. The core team on this program is left without guidance and the know-how to execute. When the team approaches the Managing Director with questions regarding execution, he does not explain the reasoning behind his directions, which confuses the team further.
Identifying the gap in communication, I step in and offer myself as a resource in any way they need. I also try to talk to both sides to see if there is any way to improve the communication. However, some team members start to use me as a sounding board for their complaints and also want to take advantage of my position as the donor representative as a way of adding pressure to the Managing Director.
This is the point when I realize I might have crossed a line where the team considers me as part of the internal management. As an outsider, I will never know the whole picture and could never give the proper advice especially if the team believes I am part of the core team. After this realization, I recommend that the entire team meet together with a professional third party facilitator. This will create a safe platform for each team member to express his or her perspectives. It is up to them to use this opportunity to find better ways of communicating internally and find resolutions to their issues.
The China Social Sector Pioneers is a unique program within China especially in regards to its priorities and values. This is why I push our grantees to take the most advantage of the funding so that they can maximize their potential. I also realize that I have to find a balance between strong encouragement and allowing the organizations to seize the opportunities out of their own will. Even though I have been with this program since its inception, I continue to learn ways in which I need to grow to better fulfill my role.
Contributed by Sherry Chen