Category Archives: Grantwriting

Paradoxical commandments for the nonprofit professional

[Image description: Two hummingbirds drinking nectar from a red flower, with a blurry green background. The bird on the left is grayish-brown, and the one on the right is blue and green. Both are trying to find general operating nectar. Image by James Wainscoat of unsplash.com]

Hi everyone. Before we begin today’s blog post, a couple of things. First, please go write a review of a foundation on grantadvisor.org (it’s like a Trip Advisor where you can anonymously review foundations). Second, if you’re an Executive Director or CEO of color, there is a Facebook support group for you, full of amazing colleagues: EDOC—ED Unicorns of Color, which stemmed from ED Happy Hour, which is open to all current and retired EDs/CEOs.

Speaking of amazing colleagues, one of the reasons I love our sector so much is the quality of the people we have. However, I’ve been encountering more and more professionals who have become increasingly jaded and cynical about the work.  It’s gotten worse since the election. This is understandable, as the last couple of years have been especially rough on all of us, and the current challenges have really highlighted just how awful and inequitable the systems—grantmaking, public policy, hiring practices, etc.—we work within are. Continue reading

Why it would be better for the world if we were all less mission-driven

[Image description: Three adorable baby ducklings floating in the water. There’s a yellow one, a white one, and a black one. This relates to a related post I wrote earlier called “I’m a duck, you’re a duck, we are all ducks.” Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. I am in Oxford, England for the Skoll World Forum, where I’m speaking on a panel. I’m super excited because this is the home of the Oxford Comma! (I think) I just got to my hotel ten minutes ago and am jetlagged and possibly hallucinating a bit. Yes, Paddington, I would love for you to join my board! Anyway, I’m not sure how lucid this post is going to be.

Before we start, though, today April 9th is International Unicorn Day. If you haven’t done so, get your official nonprofit unicorn name and title. Even better, I’m excited to announce that the book Jessamyn Shams-Lau of the Peery Foundation, Jane Leu of Smarter Good, and I are writing is done and will be ready soon! Pre-orders are available on Amazon, for May 15th release, but in the meantime, you can learn more about the book through this Medium article. For bulk orders, please email bulk@redpress.co.uk. Thank you so much to everyone who supported this project.

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The concept of mission-driven has been well-beaten into all of us. It seems that nothing is more important to our work than our mission. This idea has been baked into everything we do: fundraise, communicate, run programs. Concepts like “mission creep” (which sounds like the name of a really boring super-villain) are designed to instill in us this sense that our individual mission is pure and sacred, and that all of us must have as our highest imperative the unwavering devotion to it.

I’m going to say something kind of blasphemous, so hold on to your suspenders. I think we all need to be less mission-driven. “What? No! Oooh, he didn’t just say that!” Continue reading

The Ethical Argument for General Operating Funds

[Image description: An adorable little kitten, inside a pink play tube thing. It’s staring off into the upper left corner. It wants funders to provide general operating funds. Unrestricted funds will make this kitten very happy, and you want this kitten to be happy, don’t you? I thought so. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we begin, thank you to all the colleagues who donated to my organization on my birthday last week. It helps our mission of developing more leaders of color and strengthening organizations led by communities of color. If you haven’t donated, it’s not too late

This blog post is going to be a little more serious than usual. I’m going to say things that may be very difficult for many people to hear. Especially if you work for a foundation that provides restricted funding, please take a deep breath. I don’t expect everyone to agree, but we need to have this conversation. Next week’s post will be lighter. Unless something else comes up.

An exasperated colleague in an ED group I belong to quoted a rejection letter she got from a foundation: Continue reading

Marginalized Communities and the Audacity of Ambition

[Image description: A cute little brown squirrel, sitting up in the grass, staring straight at the camera. This squirrel has nothing to do with the content of this post. Or maybe it is a metaphor. Maybe all of us are this squirrel. Image by Vincent van Zalinge of unsplash.com]

A few years ago, I called up a colleague to ask for his advice on fundraising. It was my organization’s first year, and I was still stealing office supplies from other nonprofits (as we all do during the start-up phase and sometimes years after, am I right?). He is a well-respected leader in the field, and I needed some guidance on getting significant resources for my organization’s mission of developing leaders of color for the sector. What he said, paraphrased here, was one of the most honest and shocking things anyone has ever said to me:

“Well,” he said, “as a white guy who has done this for a while, my advice for you is to be more like a white guy.” I nearly choked on the bar of raspberries dark chocolate I was eating for lunch. “What do you mean?” I asked. Continue reading

Answers on grant proposals if nonprofits were brutally honest with funders

[Image description: Closeup of a raccoon, resting on a branch, its head on one arm, staring directly at the camera. Cute little creature. Not sure if this adorable raccoon has anything to do with the content of this post, but come on, look at those big eyes. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we start, if you haven’t written a review of a foundation on GrantAdvisor.org, or asked your grantees to review you, please take a moment to do so. GrantAdvisor was launched a few months ago to address a pervasive problem in our sector. No, not the mice problem, although that too is pervasive (#NonprofitMiceProblem). I’m talking about the imbalance of power between funders and nonprofits, which leads to a lot of no-good, very bad things such as the lack of honest communication and feedback between funders and nonprofits.

One area where this shows up is on grant applications. It’s not that we nonprofits lie when writing proposals, it’s just that…we’ve been trained to tell funders exactly what we think y’all want to hear, sugarcoating everything in jargon and BS. 

A while ago, a colleague imagined what our answers would be like on grant proposals if we nonprofits were allowed to be completely and brutally honest. Here are some of these honest responses, with credit to colleagues across the field, most of whom understandably prefer to remain anonymous; anything in quotes is someone else’s direct words. Apologies in advance for the sarcastic, possibly biting tone; the entire sector has been on edge lately: Continue reading