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Sara Slaughter & Derek Mitchell: Proximity and Radical Humility in Grantmaking


In this episode, Rhodri talks to Sara Slaughter, Executive Director of the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone Foundation, and Derek Mitchell, CEO of Partners in Schools Innovation about their relationship as funder and grantee, and how they have worked together to move towards to a new focus on equity and justice.


  • How and why has Stone Foundation changed the way it does grantee convenings? What do they get out of it as a funder, and what do grantees get out of it?
  • How difficult is it as a funder to convene without being directive?
  • Do we need to shed some of the technocratic language that tends to dominate philanthropic funding?
  • What is “radical humility” and why should funders embrace it?
  • Do we need to redefine what counts as success and failure in grantmaking?
  • Is racial injustice such a big/cross-cutting issue that it should not be seen as a cause area, but rather as something that is the responsibility of ALL philanthropic funders and nonprofits? What does this mean in practice?
  • In trying to convince philanthropic funders of the need to shift power is it better to make a moral case (i.e., that they should do it because it is “the right thing to do”) or a practical one (i.e., that it will make them more effective as grantmakers)?
  • Are there challenges for traditional grantmakers when it comes to bringing communities and people with lived experience into decision making processes?
  • How do you balance the value of experience and the value of expertise?
  • Is the process of giving power away uncomfortable by necessity?
  • Is there a danger that even well-intentioned funders inadvertently distort the work of their grantees by virtue of the choices they make about what to fund and how to fund it? How can funders check their own power and thus avoid this risk?
  • Is it always best to shift power? Or are there situations where funders should “lean into their power”, because they are better placed to undertake advocacy or influencing?
  • How important is physical proximity in making trust-based relationships work?
  • How can funders and grantees manage the tension between urgency and patience?
  • Is philanthropy a reflection of those “circumstances of economic injustice” that Dr Martin Luther King identified, and therefore too often part of the problem? How can we make it be part of the solution?

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