Hi everyone, with the collapse of the Afghanistan government, the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and the worsening pandemic, you might be thinking there are more important things to talk about than something as insignificant as character limits on grant proposals. I am writing about it because I need something concrete that I can focus on. But also, because minor things like character limits are symptomatic of some serious issues in philanthropy.
“Describe the program for which you are applying and how it helps to fight racial disparities in health care or food insecurity. Share whether this is a new or existing program. Provide specific data-driven information that shows a clear understanding of what the need in your community is. (700 characters).”
I wish I had made that up. But no, a colleague sent that to me just a couple of weeks ago, an excerpt from a grant application. 700 characters is fewer than 3 tweets. Here are some common problems around character limits:
Around this time last year, the pandemic was getting into full swing, and all of us were terrified. I found out that some foundations were still requiring the printing-out and hand-delivery of grant proposals. These funders’ cluelessness was no longer just annoying, it was literally endangering people’s lives. I turned into a nonprofit Hulk and start smashing things around the house. But being vegan, I didn’t have the strength to do much damage. And so instead, the hashtag #CrappyFundingPractices was born on Twitter.
Over the course of the year, colleagues direct-messaged or emailed me the ridiculousness they endured—from funders refusing to pay for staffing, to others requiring quarterly or weekly reports, to one who waited 30 months to make a grant decision—and I would call these funders out by name using the hashtag. Colleagues would pile on, retweeting and commenting. Sometimes we hear nothing from the funders. Other times, they respond with committee-written malarkey, and on some occasions, they actually apologize and make corrections.
Hi everyone. Please grab your favorite beverage and sit down, because we need to discuss the idea of “diversified funding.” It is one of those concepts—like putting out campfires fully and not microwaving metal—that is just taken as gospel. Funders ask about it all the time. Development staff create plans around it. Fundraising gurus hold workshops about it. EDs look at what percentage of their revenues come from grants, and if it’s too high, start panicking.
I don’t like it. I think the whole concept is problematic and it’s time we move away from it. Yes, I know the main argument for having diversified revenues. What if you rely too much on a foundation, and that foundation decides—like foundations often do—to shift priorities? Well, you and your nonprofit are screwed. Just like with buying stocks (whatever those are)—it’s bad to have all your eggs in one basket and whatnot.
Hi everyone, this Friday is my birthday. If you want to help me celebrate, please donate to Mujer Al Volante, an awesome organization with the mission of helping “immigrant women become independent and empowered through obtaining a driver’s license, financial sustainability, and community support.” Mujer Al Volante does amazing and important work; thanks for supporting it. Don’t worry about me; I got myself some dark chocolate and a 3-pound bucket of Maldon salt, so I’m good until next year.
Grant reports. We all love to hate them. A reason is that like most things related to grants, we’ve learned to tell funders what we think they want to hear. Imagine if we could be honest, though:
Hi everyone. This post today will likely ruffle some feathers. I only ask that you read it with an open mind, and maybe while eating a bar of dark chocolate (it reduces stress). If you’re a regular reader of my ramblings, you know that I frequently point out various flaws in our field. I do this because I love our sector and the people in it, and I believe in our potential to be truly transformative, to be able to help create the kind of inclusive, equitable world we know is possible. We cannot achieve that potential if we become complacent or self-satisfied with the way things are.
Most of my criticisms have been met with openness, even in disagreement. When I point out how evaluation is so white and problematic, (for examples here, here, and here), colleagues in data and evaluation engage in thoughtful and constructive dialogs. When I provide hard feedback about capacity building (here, here, and here), colleagues in capacity building welcome the discussions.