Category Archives: Funder Relations

The ethical argument for foundations to increase their annual payout rate beyond 5%

[Image description: A lit candle in the darkness, being shielded by the wind by a hand. Image by Ai Nhan on Unsplash.com]

I know many of you are reeling from the domestic terrorism that happened over the weekend, committed by white supremacists, spurred on by the racist president of the United States, aided by coward Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who stopped two gun control bills passed by the House this year (HR 8 ad HR 112) from even being voted on in the Senate.

I wish I had words of comfort, maybe some inspirational quote by MLK Jr. or Gandhi about how Good Always Wins in the End, or something, but I don’t. I am just as sad and angry and heartbroken for all those lives lost as you are. My oldest child is about the same age now as the kids who were killed at Sandy Hook, and all I can do is send him off to his school each day hoping that some white supremacist won’t gun his class down. Same with the preschooler. I start having ridiculous thoughts about buying bulletproof backpacks for them, as if that would actually protect them.

This is where we are as a nation. The last few years have been hellish on all fronts, and things do not seem to be getting better, despite my best attempts at optimism. We nonprofits have been dealing with the increased challenges our communities, especially marginalized communities, have been facing.

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We need to talk about the handwritten thank-you note

[Image description: A note with the words “Thank You,” on top of a beige envelope. On the top right corner there’s a hand holding a pencil. This makes no sense. The note is clearly in ink, so why is this hand holding a pencil? Unless, the Thank You part is already printed on this stationary, so this person didn’t actually write that. But still, who would write a thank-you note in pencil? Unless, they’re planning to draw their gratitude. Maybe I should have stuck to the usual picture of a baby animal. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we delve into today’s super exciting topic, in the spirit of ending the Nonprofit Hunger Games I am declaring this week to be Wear Another Nonprofit’s T-shirt Week. Let’s help promote one another’s organizations like the awesome unicorns of Equity that we are. Show love to orgs that you don’t work for and are not on the board of. Swap T-shirts the way that some professional sports players swap jerseys. Take pictures and tweet with the hashtag #NonprofitsSupportingNonprofits. At the end of the week, 10 winners will be randomly chosen to receive…the satisfaction of making the sector better.

OK, let’s talk about the handwritten thank-you note (HWTYN). First of all, I love them. I know many of you do as well, especially the fundraisers in the sector, who have turned the HWTYN into an art form. Some of the leaders I look up to the most have gotten so skilled at this that it seems they spend considerable time writing thoughtful and highly personalized notes—“Dear Vu, it was so lovely to have lunch with you today at Piroshky on 3rd! I am glad I took your recommendation and tried the borscht. You changed my mind on beets, and thus, you changed my entire life trajectory”—and YET are able to warp time and space so that their HWTYN arrives mere hours after I meet with them.

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How corporate foundations and CSR need to evolve to be more effective partners with nonprofits

[Image description: An orange cat, resting their head on the keyboard of an open laptop, looking bored or sleepy. On the laptop screen, there’s a person wearing a lab coat gesturing at a chalkboard or something. Not sure what this has to do with CSR. But the cat’s cute, so that’s something, right? Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, I am back from vacation in Vietnam (and now am on jury duty). It was not exactly a vacation. Keeping vigilance on two fussy small children was exhausting. Also, it is an ancient Vietnamese custom for the relatives you visit to be blunt and loudly assess your appearance whenever they see you. “You got really old since you last visited,” said one, “Sheesh, what happened? Have people told you how tired and haggard you look? Seriously, your face is like a bag of lychee shells that’s been left to rot in the sun.” I know, Dad! You don’t need to tell me! (This is why I only go back every three years.)

Anyway, I am back in the US, and only slightly jetlagged and delirious, so it’s the perfect time to talk about corporate foundations and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). I realize that I don’t talk much about this. It may be because larger foundations tend to give bigger grants and so they get most of the spotlight and also more of the criticisms.

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Answers on grant proposals if nonprofits were brutally honest, part 3

[Image description: A meerkat, looking directly into the camera with their deep, soulful eyes. They look cute, but tired, like they’ve written a lot of grant proposals and are so tired of the BSing. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, a quick note before today’s post: If you haven’t written an anonymous review of a foundation on GrantAdvisor in a while, please take a moment to do so. GA has changed our rule so that all reviews are now public (instead of having to reach a threshold of five different reviews before a foundation’s profile goes live). You can save your colleagues from wasting their time and energy by writing helpful, honest reviews. Thank you for helping to advance our sector.

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Grant proposals, am I right? They’re so much fun. Like flossing. Or sticking one’s hand in the garbage disposal to remove a fork. We nonprofit professionals have gotten so used to writing proposals that we forget most of the time we’re actually just putting down what we think funders want to hear while suppressing our real thoughts. Imagine if we actually said what’s on our mind. Here, in the 3rd part of the series, we do just that (Read Part 1 and Part 2, which cover classic questions like “How will you sustain this program after our support runs out?”).

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Funders, you want to help build organizational capacity? Then stop trying to build organizational capacity and just give Multi-Year General Operating Dollars (MYGOD!)

[Image description: A super ridiculously cute tiny white kitten in a big reed basket! They are sitting peacefully in the basket and looking upward with these giant round eyes! This is the fluffiest, most adorable baby kitten ever. This kitten has nothing to do with capacity building, but you’re welcome. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, before we tackle today’s fun and exciting topic, a couple of announcements.

First, our administration is stepping up its concerted attacks on immigrants and refugees, preparing for further ICE raids to terrorize families and children. Here are few things you can do in response. Please take some time to do them.

Second, my organization continues to grow, so now we’re hiring an Organizational Learning Coordinator. This is an early-career position for those who love data and evaluation and learning and writing about all the cool stuff RVC and our partners are doing and the impact its having. Please check it out, and pass it along to your networks. Must love Oxford Commas.

Third, I will be going to Vietnam for the next three weeks. I wrote several blog posts in advance, so the blog schedule remains the same. However, since I had to write them quickly, the quality may have been affected. Apologies in advance.

I had written earlier about the Capacity Paradox, where foundations will not invest in an organization unless that organization has strong capacity, which it can’t build strong capacity unless foundations invest in it. It is a terrible Catch-22 that has screwed over many organizations, especially organizations led by marginalized communities. But now, there is another Capacity Paradox, where funders’ hyper focus on capacity building is precisely the thing that prevents capacity from being built.

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