Hi everyone, before we get started, next week, May 23rd, at 10:30am Pacific Time, Edgar Villanueva (my brother from another mother and also another father) and I will once again be having a session of “Decolonizing AF.” It’s an informal Instagram Live conversation where we talk about nonprofit, philanthropy, and whatever else is on our minds, with much cussing. Captions auto-generated by Instagram. See you there.
Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been using the hashtag #CrappyFundingPractices to publicly call out funders who were doing ridiculous and/or harmful things. Well, several years have passed, and it seems some funders are still doing crappy things. In fact, there are several innovative new shenanigans! Thank you to all the funders who are awesome. However, we still have many funders whose unreasonable and clueless requirements are jeopardizing nonprofits’ work and thus harming people.
Here is a list of #CrappyFundingPractices that have been called out under the hashtag. If you are at a foundation, please check that you’re not doing these things below, because your foundation may be called out by name:
- Excessive requirements for small amounts of funding: No one should be required to prepare a five-page narrative, eight attachments, and sign a blood oath to give up their firstborn, for a $1,000 grant.
- Making nonprofits translate their budget into a funder’s budget format: It is ridiculous and self-centered for any funder to expect anyone to convert their budgets into the funder’s format, especially if the funder’s format is in—gasp!—Microsoft Word!
- Insisting that grant applicants print out and mail in or deliver grant proposals: Let that be an option in case some applicants can’t email their proposal for some reason. Requiring it of everyone, however, is environmentally insensitive and time-wasting.
- Not funding overhead: Funders who are still allergic to overhead, or whatever their misguided perception is of overhead, need to be called out publicly. We have been battling this for years, and we’re losing patience.
- Not funding staff salary: Some funders are ok with funding some overhead, just not compensation for the people doing the work. Who do they think is doing all the work? Elves? ChatGPT now, I guess?
- Restricting the funding of overhead to a certain percentage, usually 10%: If you have any sort of percentage restriction, you are insisting you know more about how a nonprofit should do its work than the nonprofit does. You’re silly, and you will be called out.
- Cutting off accepting grant proposal submissions after a certain number has been reached: This is one of the “innovative” new shenanigans. To only take the first 100 LOIs or the first 200 proposals or whatever means hundreds of people wasted thousands of hours doing work for nothing. Unconscionable.
- Requiring any sort of documentation of board approval for the grant application: Grants are operations, which the board should not be involved in. Stop forcing nonprofits to blur the lines of autonomy and responsibility between board and staff.
- Having nonprofits to farm for votes in popularity-based contests: If you require nonprofits to waste their time harassing their networks for votes or likes on social media, you will be called out. Forcefully. I cannot stress enough how shitty and demeaning this practice is.
- Making nonprofits make an online account to view grant questions and requirements: Please, we’re mentally exhausted and can’t keep making new online accounts for everything, especially just to see if we even qualify to apply for a grant!
- Not allowing questions to be seen in advance in online applications: People need time to see the overall grant in its entirety, not just one question at a time as they answer each section like an animal.
- Having LOIs that are basically a full grant proposal: The LOI (Letter of Interest or Letter of Intent) is the first step that many funders take to determine whether a nonprofit may be a good fit. It should be no more than 2 pages and requires no attachment.
- Requiring grantees to pay an application fee: This is rare, but we’ve seen it. Just like with application fees for renting apartments or for college applications, this is inequitable and most hurts the organizations led by and serving marginalized communities.
- Not revealing character limits on online applications at the onset: Nothing more frustrating than to write detailed grant responses only to find out that the grant portal only allowed for 500 characters or whatever.
- Requiring the entering in of information that can be found on an attachment: This is as annoying as job applications that require the resume to be attached, but also makes the applicants type out their job history into a separate form. Maddening.
- Making application or report due dates December 31st, January 1st: This is when many people in the sector take a break. Don’t ruin one of the few times they get to rest and recharge.
- Requiring more than annual reports/surveys: Some require a quarterly report. One funder required a weekly report. Another requires a NOTARIZED report every 60 days. No one has time to deal with the level of micromanagement.
- Having ridiculous character limits: You know how I feel about character limits in general. They are an abomination. But asking grant applicants to write the community needs, programs, and evaluation strategy in 700 characters (approximately 3 tweets) deserves to be specifically and publicly shamed.
- Asking for excessive or nonsensical information. One funder asked for the “names, dates of birth, postal codes, and genders of all program participants.” Sure they may be violating clients’ confidentiality, but at least they used the Oxford Comma.
- Having ridiculous and nonsensical questions on impact: One funder literally asked, “How will this grant allow you to scale your impact?” It was for a $1000!
- Demanding that nonprofits be financially self-sustaining: The sustainability question will never not annoy me. Requiring that nonprofits demonstrate they will be financially sustainable shows complete cluelessness about how nonprofits work, and what the role of funders is.
- Requiring attendance at quarterly trainings or meetings: The grant money provided is to fund nonprofits work. If funders want additional attendance at meetings, trainings, gatherings, etc., outside of reasonable requests, provide additional funding.
- Asking nonprofit to return grant money for ridiculous reasons: One funder asked a nonprofit to return funding because the nonprofit had to delay the launch of their program due to COVID.
- Rescinding funding because a staff said or retweeted something negative about the funder or about funders in general: If your ego is that delicate, you won’t like it when you’re blasted all over the internet.
This list is by no means comprehensive. There are many other things funders do that are annoying and harmful. I think we’ve been nice enough. It’s time to ramp up the campaign and turn calling out #CrappyFundingPractices into a full-fledged movement with lots of people involved (and not just one sexy but very tired vegan rabblerouser).
We’ll determine the details later, but it will at least include communicating with folks who are forced to endure crappy funding practices, formulating responses for social media, amplifying these call-outs, creating a “Crappiest Funding Practice of the Year” Award, and also simultaneously recognizing funders who do #AwesomeFundingPractices.
Anyone who is interested in working on this, please sign up here. We’ll come up with a cool name when we meet virtually.
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