Foundations, please get over the urban myth of “tipping”

[Two donkeys, peeking their head over a fence. Image by mvdsande on pixabay.]

Hi everyone, before we get started, it’s been five years since Unicorns Unite: How Nonprofits and Foundations Can Build EPIC Partnerships, a book I wrote with co-authors Jessamyn Shams-Lau and Jane Leu, was released. Here’s a free webinar taking place on February 14th at 10am PT to discuss what we’ve learned since then. Auto-captions will be enabled. Also, please use promo code UNI50 here to get 50% off your copy of the book.  

Today, we talk about an issue that many of us probably had no idea existed, but one that is very annoying to those affected, and it perpetuates inequity. The concept of “tipping.” This is basically the idea that if a foundation gives a nonprofit “too much” funding, it would “tip” that nonprofit into becoming a foundation itself, which would then open a hole in the fabric of spacetime and an ancient evil would breach our dimension to rain chaos and destruction and there would be fire and brimstone and terrible wifi.

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Greek Myths if They Were Set in the Nonprofit Sector

[Image description: A stone statue of Heracles against a blue sky. He is standing, clad with a cloth around his waste, one hand resting on the head of a lion. Image by FelixMittermeier on Pixabay]

Over the past several months, my kids have been obsessed with Greek Mythology, thanks to a podcast they listen to called “Greeking Out.” Greek myths are awesome, and there’s a lot they can teach us. Actually, many of the terms we use in this sector have Greek origins. For instance, the word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek “philos” which means “love of” and “anthropos” which means “burdensome and pointless grant applications.”

Anyway, while listening to Greeking Out with the kids, I couldn’t help but imagine these iconic stories being set in the nonprofit sector, so I wrote some of them out below. Enjoy. (And stop judging. Like your Saturday nights are so much more interesting.)

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What Loot, the show on Apple TV+, gets right and wrong about nonprofit and philanthropy

[Image description: A yacht at a port in Corsica France. Image by markusspiske on Pixabay]

Hi everyone. It’s been a while since I’ve written about a TV show. I was scarred by Game of Thrones and its outlandish, horrifying ending (turns out Daenerys, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, stole classified nuclear documents, kept them at her castle, and engaged in espionage for the White Walkers). But so many people (2) have asked for my opinion on the new show Loot, that I am compelled to dust off my TV analysis skills, which got a significant number (4) of endorsements on my LinkedIn profile.

For folks who have not seen it, there will be **SPOILERS** so please feel free to skip this post if needed. We will be back to regular rants and shenanigans next week.

Loot stars the amazing Maya Rudolph as Molly Wells, who lives a ridiculously lavish life—she gets a yacht on her birthday, and David Chang is her personal chef—with her billionaire tech tycoon husband John Novak (played by Adam Scott). She finds out Novak has been cheating on her, files for divorce, and keeps 87 Billion dollars. Hurt and untethered, she parties hard, embarrasses herself in public, which leads to a phone call from Sofia Salinas (played by Michaela Jaé Rodriguez), the ED of her foundation. Molly had no idea she even had foundation. The ten short episodes follow her as she learns about philanthropy and nonprofit, rediscovers love, and grows as an individual. Clearly this is at least partly inspired by MacKenzie Scott.

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Roe vs Wade, and a wake-up call to progressive funders everywhere

[Image description: A protest, one person holding a cardboard sign that says “protect voting rights. Abortion = healthcare. End the filibuster. Codify Roe vs. Wade.” Image by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash]

Hi everyone, I’ll be taking a break next month, so this will be the last post until August 1st. It’s probably good for me to take a break, because considering the rage I’m feeling, I might say things I’ll regret later. I know many of you are devasted by the overturning of Roe v Wade, and fearful of what is sure to come next: The reversal of marriage equality, the ending of rights to contraception, the further erosion of speech and other freedoms, among other horrible things.

(By the way, if you are a supporter of forced pregnancy who is celebrating this decision by five fascist Supreme Court Justices, get the hell off my blog and out of my life; you are not pro-life, you are pro-death, because this decision will kill millions of people, especially those of marginalized identities. I am not here to debate with you about basic human rights; take your 1850’s-era morality elsewhere).

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Subtle ways power dynamics manifest between nonprofits and funders

[Image description: A cute little brown squirrel, standing on a log, staring off to the left. Very fluffy tail. Image by Sebastian Latorre on Unsplash]

Last week, a colleague told me they wrote a grant proposal that totaled 72 pages, for a $5,000 grant. I really hoped that this was a piece of performance art, titled something like “The Ontology of Philanthropy and the Meta-Futility of Existence.” But no, it was real.

Power imbalance is pervasive in our sector, as ubiquitous as hummus, though not nearly as delicious. There is always asymmetry in power when one party holds resources that another party needs. This imbalance leads to all sorts of awfulness. There are endless horror stories like the above. Power differentials warp people’s minds, allowing for the internalization of toxic philosophies like strategic philanthropy, which leads to the perpetuation of crappy funding practices.

Unfortunately, people often think it’s something that only other people are guilty of, that they themselves don’t perpetuate it. There are lots of great program officers, and they are probably just as horrified by a 72-page grant proposal as the rest of us. But power dynamics can often be more subtle, to the point that we don’t recognize it, and even nice program officers are caught up in it. Here are some examples:

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