Hi everyone, just a quick warning that this post will likely burn a few bridges. But as colleague Aubrey Alvarez quoted from a novelty flask, “May the bridges we burn light the way.”
Today I had breakfast with my friend Seth Ehrlich, an executive director who told me that for the third time during the pandemic a funder invited him to attend a forum where nonprofit leaders were asked to give feedback on how to improve that funder’s grant process. Foundations, please stop doing that. Here’s a checklist you can use for free. Stop wasting everyone’s time asking them how you can improve your process.
Hi everyone. Quick reminder: Please get flu shots for you and your family, if you are able to. Hospitals and healthcare workers are overwhelmed by COVID, so in addition to getting your COVID shots, get your flu shot. And then buy yourself a new house plant or some chocolate as a reward.
Every time I criticize foundations, someone steps in with “well, 80% of philanthropic dollars come from individual donors.” Usually it is a well-meaning statement, designed to give hope to those of us who are frustrated with foundations and their various archaic and ridiculous practices. And taken as a whole, it may be true. This report, for example, shows that in 2019, 69% of giving comes from individuals, 10% from bequests, 17% from foundations, and 5% from corporations.
If 17% of our revenues come from foundations and 5% from corporations, why should we spend so much time and energy bashing our heads against the walls, screaming in anguish at the foundations and corporations that require quarterly reports, make us use their own budget templates, or, worst of all, force us to remove Oxford Commas to stay within character limits? If they account for only a fraction of total philanthropic dollars, maybe we’re wasting time trying to get foundations and corporations to change and should focus more time rallying individual donors?
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.