The following excerpt is an interview with Arts program officer Sarah Lovan from a new CEP report called Relationships Matter. Sarah was among the most highly rated program officers in CEP’s Grantee Perception Reports.
CEP: What experiences have shaped your philosophy on the importance of funder–grantee relationships?
Sarah Lovan: I went on a trip with First People’s Fund to a couple of reservations and had the honor of learning more deeply about native culture and the context of grantmaking in cultures that aren’t my own. I also learned about the ways I (I identify as a white woman) would go into a situation and how I need to alter the way I work or hold a conversation in order to respect someone else’s culture when I approach, or am approached by, communities in regards to funding. I also went through a process with Alexs Pate—he’s an amazing person, educator, and writer. He wrote Amistad. He did a process with a group of us called Innocent Giving. It’s based on something that he’s done in classrooms with teachers and students, and he’s created a curriculum for philanthropy. And that has really been instrumental in my understanding of how I can do better in this work—just by understanding how I may be perceived or how I perceive or how I show up when I walk into a room. I’m representing a large foundation. I appreciate learning from others about how to be more authentic and realizing where grantees are when you are having a conversation with them and being respectful of that power dynamic.
“There is not really a space, in my mind, for a foundation to tell an organization what to do. It’s not good grantmaking to be prescriptive in that way. I may have insights, experience, and thoughts that I can share with an organization, but to presume I know what is best for them to prioritize is not okay.”
— Sarah Lovan, arts program officer
CEP: What have you learned during your time as a program officer that has changed the way that you maintain relationships with grantees?
Sarah Lovan: I have learned that most of us are trying to do something to make the place that we live better. I try to always go in with an open mind and open heart. And listen. I think about where people are and what they’re trying to accomplish, and just really honor them and their efforts. Honestly, that’s what I’ve learned. I’ve also learned that I need, in this position, to understand race and culture in a deeper way. I need to not only read books, I need to have actual relationships with people that are not like me, who do not look like me, who do not practice the same things that I practice, and to not only seek out those relationships, but develop them. That sort of work is imperative to the foundation continuing its connections in an authentic way and doing good grantmaking—great grantmaking, actually. Strong grantmaking is when you listen and act with the knowledge and sharing of the people you are trying to connect to.
Sarah Lovan is featured in CEP’s Relationships Matter: Program Officers, Grantees, and the Keys to Success report.