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Breaking Beyond Founder’s Syndrome

Antonis Schwarz, Dec 2022

This year has been a special one for the Guerrilla Foundation. To really walk the talk about justice in giving frameworks, we decided to separate grantmaking deciding power from the source of funding, and implement a participatory grantmaking approach. 

curb your ego. Karma-washing and ego-driven intentions are usually the factors undermining a founder or funder’s drive to fairly redistribute their assets. Illustration by Berenice Zambrano

For this, the team set up the 11-member Activist Council, consisting of seasoned activists across Europe with a deep knowledge of European activist scenes. The activist council is responsible for scouting new potential grantees, as well as evaluating action grant proposals (amounts over €10k) supported by the team. They are also involved in the governance and strategy making of the foundation. This is the new engine of the Guerrilla Foundation. 

in solidarity we shape the world and ourselves (and force can also be radical & tender). Illustration by Berenice Zambrano

In order for the Guerrilla Foundation to also broaden its funding base and move away from a single major donor (myself), the team was able to find 8 individuals who together pledged almost half a million Euros in funding. Hence, roughly 40 percent of the GF budget now comes from other sources, which we would ideally like to expand. Personally, I see it as a huge validation of the work of the Guerrilla Foundation that other people with financial privilege have decided to support the foundation. We have come a long way after almost six years of operations. I feel pride and gratitude, in many ways, for what the team and all the people that supported us so far have achieved.

When I started the Guerrilla Foundation in 2016, I didn’t really know where the journey would take me. In fact, at the very beginning I wasn’t even planning on starting a foundation but rather to hire a personal assistant responsible for grantmaking. In the early days, when the team was much smaller, I was very involved in day-to-day operations. Going from being very involved to only being marginally involved (with no grantmaking power) was and is a challenging personal process, which I am actually enjoying. Not least because stepping back from the Guerrilla Foundation has freed up time I can spend on other projects. 

the world is obsessed with individualised fame & recognition which fuels non-collectivised ambition & vanity

In the early days, one could say I was a bit paranoid about donating money, since I wanted to be sure that this money would have the highest impact or not be misused somehow. The annual donations I am making into the Guerrilla Foundation represent a significant percentage of my total wealth, so instinctively I wanted to make sure that this project became a success. I think that the world of impact investing and business school also influenced me in trying to push for the maximal potential results, leading to micromanagement in certain instances. Did I have a Founder’s Syndrome? 

“The difficulty faced by organizations where one or more founders maintain disproportionate power and influence following the effective initial establishment of the organization, leading to a wide range of problems.” – Source Wikipedia

To break this definition down, I held (and still hold) “disproportionate power” given that I was the single funder of the foundation. It is highly unusual to be giving away € 550-750k a year and have close to no say about how the money is used from day one. Developing enough trust to give away such amounts of money took time. And yes I did use my power from time to time, very much to the detriment of the team. I also probably stopped less than a handful of grants to be made over the 5 years of operation. When you compare it with the 250+ grants we have made, I’d say my interference in this regard was limited. But it was there. 

digital culture is also fixated on ‘the self’, ‘selfies’, ‘selfishness’, ‘selling oneself’, time to break free of that

Yet, I don’t think that my interference led to a wide range of problems. I always trusted the team to do their job well. We were never the traditional foundation with fancy offices and famous people on our board. From the beginning Guerrilla was about finding and supporting the raddest activists out there, not promoting my image. I’d say even before the switch to a much more participatory grantmaking model, we already had activists on our board that co-decided with the team and myself. The seeds were there and were sprouting. 

In our previous model, I insisted that we have at least one person with financial privilege on our board, which was Paolo and later Julie and Anton. Although the team was not keen about giving power to the privileged, I think this experiment was very successful. It not only motivated them to engage with the topic of philanthropy but also helped us find Marlene, our inaugural volunteer-intern, who was later followed by Stefan (who she connected us with) and they are now both (along with Paolo) on our Funders Circle. Categorically excluding people with financial privilege might prevent them from learning about and becoming supporters of social justice giving and participatory processes.  

while of course it is okay ‘to found’ things, it is more inspiring to share the vision and co-lead than to cling to power

Recently, the Guerrilla Foundation team together with members from the Activist Council and the Funders Circle came together for a three day retreat near Berlin. After those days it became clear that we forged strong bonds. Cooking food, sharing meals, going for walks in the woods, spending some quality time talking into the night about childhood memories and our visions of the future, cleaning up the house together. Small moments of domestic care alongside good-old-hanging-out breaks down the invisible boundaries bred by systemic economic inequality. 

Money in far too many cases means disproportionate power. That is the way the world largely works under the chokehold of globalised neoliberalism and systemic consumerism. At the Guerrilla Foundation, through our participatory grantmaking experiment we want to show that money doesn’t have to mean power, but that it can mean many other things, such as community healing, political disruption, egalitarian decision-making, and fuelling of grassroots struggles to push the world into deeper solidarity and collective care. It takes time to unwrap the layers of privilege one holds when growing up with an unbelievably large bank account. Myself and others in the Funders Circle have taken on this challenge by sharing our money stories and decolonizing our wealth. If these experiences and reflections resonate with you in some manner and you feel like joining this clan, simply reach out to us  (  

this image is self-explanatory.