Balancing Power



Balancing Power


Independent Sector


nonprofit / charitable


program and service design
design process coaching
workshop facilitation


6 months


Building and sustaining transformative relationships between nonprofit organizations and their funders.


Independent Sector (IS) is a coalition of nonprofits, foundations, and corporations with diverse missions all united to advance the common good. After exploring the most pressing issues facing this charitable sector, the Programs and Practice team at IS realized that the power dynamics between grantees and grantors were inhibiting organizations’ ability to do their best work and have the greatest impact.

What strategies could be created to address this power imbalance and build healthy, productive grantee-grantor relationships?


As the IS team had already conducted a preliminary investigation of staff and executive desires, frustrations, and needs, our partnership began by analyzing the team's interviews with stakeholders around the country. 

After gaining perspective on the challenge, we convened a small group of professionals from grantee and grantor organizations from across the country to ideate and build in a hands-on workshop setting. Over the course of two days in Washington D.C., the diverse group generated 250+ ideas, dove into a bunch of the most promising, prioritized each on the basis of impact and difficulty, and then developed the front-runners into fully fleshed-out concepts. 

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“The Social Impact Studio took a tailored and thoughtful approach to our project…and challenged us to think of these issues in new, deep, and creative ways.


Using a combination of remote sessions and in person workshops, we led the Programs and Practice Team through the development of prototypes and subsequent testing with their stakeholders. Together, we co-created and tested two prototypes: (1) Social Impact Camp, an immersive experience for grantee project leads and grantor project officers to come together early in the project planning process to get to know each other, build trust, and to co-create project goals and metrics, and (2), an online grantee-grantor matching service that uses an algorithm to match organizations with similar values, interests, and priorities so they can start a conversation and explore shared interests.

The process additionally sparked a deep commitment to human-centered design within the organization. The Team integrated it into their work by creating a designated collaboration space in their office and actively adopting human-centered design mindsets and methodologies. IS has now made this a core part of its organizational strategy and has created a Director of Design role, held by the project lead from the Programs and Practice Team, to oversee its implementation across the organization. We reported on the lessons we learned throughout this process.

  • 56 stakeholders participated in design team led prototype testing sessions

  • 75+ IS members and stakeholders contributed throughout the process

  • 100% of IS staff have been exposed to human-centered design, and 25-30% of staff now actively work on a project using human-centered design