Written by: Laura Blumenthal

Funder. Program developer. Subject-matter expert. Thought leader. Connector. Convener. Coach. CCI is wearing a lot of hats these days, and that comes with certain complications that can be tricky to navigate.

Coming from a funder organization, I am sensitive to the tacit power dynamic between grantor and grantee. When you’re the grantor, people answer your emails and phone calls more quickly, accommodate your schedule more willingly, seek to demonstrate results.

For a long time CCI mostly just played the role of funder and program developer. But over the last year we have been intentionally cultivating our internal capabilities so that we can play a more active role in the programs we run. With improvement science, human-centered design and innovation expertise in house, we can directly coach program participants on their projects.

This connection allows us to more deeply understand the journeys our participants undertake, and more accurately track and synthesize what we are learning. We believe that this approach will help us expand and refine our long-term impact on the safety net and vulnerable populations. I, for one, really value the opportunity to work more closely with our partners.

But moving into this new role comes with thorny questions that can make me uneasy at times. In particular, when we play both funder and coach.

Perhaps a grantee will be less likely to cancel a coaching call when the funder is on the other end of a line. But might we also be sacrificing candid conversation, or stifling a challenge to a coach’s suggestion? Will it mean less authenticity, less risk taking? This begs the question: who really gets something out of a coaching call, us or the grantee?

I think we can find a balance, but assuming the dual accountability and coaching role does require a greater deal of trust and intention in how we hold coaching calls. It’s an issue we are still wrestling with, and I’d welcome your thoughts or reflections. Have you experienced the tension between these roles, from either side? How important is transparency? What’s the best way to make sure everyone feels comfortable with these relationships? Feel free to email me or share your ideas in the comments.



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