Examining Power Dynamics

by Margaret Bresnahan

This year I’ve been thinking a lot about power dynamics and how power dynamics are perpetuated, reinforced, or upended by language. The word that I’ve been stuck on lately is one that is really fundamental to the work that I do every day: “grantee.”

I dislike how the word “grantee” centers another organization or person’s identity on my organization’s identify, specifically the power that we hold to grant or not grant funding to the person/org. It’s as if that person/org. wouldn’t exist to be described if it weren’t for me/us; it’s as if that person/org.’s work is about us, not about their mission or their clients. It perpetuates a distorted view of our world, one in which we (the “grantor”) are the controlling player. This perpetuates a distorted way of working and thinking and, by osmosis, perpetuates a distorted system of living.

As a small example, using the word “grantee” inherently limits our relationship with that person/org. What if, in addition to a grant, we also made an impact investment with an organization; would we then use two different words to describe the same organization, depending on the context (e.g. our grantee, X; our investee, X)? In some ways words like “grantee” and “investee” can be helpful, as they are a shortcut to describe the relationship, but more and more I see how the one-sided, power-focused words reinforce a skewed way of seeing and behaving in the world.

The word “grantee” has become a potentially damaging unconscious blind spot for the field of philanthropy. In this context, it perpetuates a patriarchal and colonial relationship of control, submission, division, and extraction, rather than a relationship based on mutualism, individuality, and cultivation, bonded by joint stewardship. We are in need of balance, and language is a part of that. As the architect Louis Sullivan wrote, “You cannot express unless you have a system of expression; and you cannot have a system of expression unless you have a prior system of thinking and feeling; you cannot have a system of thinking and feeling unless you have a basic system of living.”

I’ve been trying to find a different word to use when talking about groups of organizations that we have a granting relationship with, and I’m coming up short. A few ideas for alternatives are listed below; please email me directly (bresnahan@womadixfund.org) if you have suggestions, or comments or ideas.

Thank you,

Margaret Bresnahan is the Interim Managing Director of The Womadix Fund. She has a background in archives, museums, radio, and publishing houses.




he granted them leave of absence: allow, accord, permit, afford, vouchsafe. 

ANTONYMS  refuse.

he granted them $20,000: give, award, bestow on, confer on, present with, provide with, endow with, supply with.

I grant that the difference is notabsolute: admit, accept, concede, yield, allow, appreciate, recognize, acknowledge, confess; agree. 


(From Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus)



as in “receiver”

Synonyms for grantee

            acceptor, assignee, beneficiary

            cashier, collector, consignee

            creditor, customer, heir

            recipient, subject, target

            teller, trustee


Antonyms for grantee




(From Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition)



In legal language, "person to whom a thing is granted," late 15c., from grant (v.) + -ee.

(From https://www.etymonline.com/word/grantee)


partner, program director, organization, associate, fellow