Hi everyone. I have almost exactly one month left before the sun sets on my time as an executive director. (If you want to sound majestic and full of gravitas, just add “the sun sets on [someone]’s time” to anything; for instance, “We have ten minutes before the sun sets on our time together at this dive bar.” Thanks, Lion King.) I explained why I and a whole lot of other leaders, especially leaders of color, are leaving here.
Last week, I got an email from a colleague, a woman of color ED, asking me to call her back. There was no context. I knew what this meant. It meant she was leaving her position and wanted to give me a courtesy notice before the announcement came out. I was right. “I’m tired,” she said; I could hear the weariness in her voice. We were silent for a moment. I didn’t know what to say that didn’t seem trite or patronizing. “I’m sorry,” I said.
Quietly, nonprofit leaders are leaving their posts. And most of us ED/CEOs swear off ever doing it again. And younger folks, it seems, are increasingly reluctant to take up the mantle. Who the hell can blame them? The ED’s job has always been like Sisyphus pushing the fundraising boulder up a hill, but while the eagle of program impact is pecking out his liver; the Cerberus of board, staff, and community expectations is chasing after him; and he’s trying to avoid looking at the Medusa of cash flow projections.
Over a decade—and a million white hairs—ago I ran an after-school program serving low-income kids. The program went well, until one day when two-third of the kids didn’t show up. This was demoralizing. The program had started gradually decreasing in attendance, but this was the worst it had been. I literally slid down a wall and sat on the floor after the day ended, feeling like a complete loser. Strangely enough, the first person I thought about calling was one of our funders. So I called her. “Muriel,” I said, “most of the kids didn’t show up today! We are terrible human beings! Maybe you should just take the money back and give it to a program that isn’t garbage!”
Our sector talks a lot about grants. Out of 380 posts on this blog, the most popular post of all time is “Answers on grant proposals if nonprofits were brutally honest with funders.” On GrantAdvisor (a Yelp-like website where you can provide anonymous review of foundations) the top complaints are about grant processes. I came up with the FLAIL Scale a while ago, a 61-point checklist for funders to measure how aggravating their grants are, followed up with the GRAVE Gauge, to determine the level of annoyingness of grantseekers. There are endless articles and workshops on how to increase your chances to get grants. And many foundations, to their credit, have been working to streamline their grant applications.
But maybe we are not having the right conversations. Maybe the question is not “how do we improve grant applications” but rather “are grant applications the best way for funders to determine who should be funded? Have they ever been? Is this tool broken or even harmful, and if so, can we afford to keep using it?”
Hi everyone, before we get into this week’s topic, a quick shout out to colleagues at Momentum Nonprofit Partners in Memphis for taking a stand for equity on their job board by no longer accepting job postings for positions that pay less than $15, and also requiring all postings to disclose salary information. Y’all rock. You make me proud to have spent my high school years in Memphis (Central High! Go Warriors!). Other job boards should consider this.
Over the past six years, one of my greatest joys is being a father. I love it, even though I have little time to myself, and I have scars on my feet from stray LEGOS, and my diet is 85% leftover food that the kids refuse to eat. And the six-year-old thinks I’m going to die in the next ten years because “you are really old.” But it’s fun and rewarding. However, the kids fight constantly over things. When that happens, a quick resolution is to remove the contested item. Then neither of them has it, and the fight is over, and they hopefully have learned a valuable lesson about sharing and not bothering Daddy when he’s sitting fully clothed in the bathtub chanting “I love being a father, I love being a father.”
Unfortunately, I have been seeing these sort of dynamics happening in the sector, especially around funding. People and communities of color for some reason are expected to always get along, and when there is any sort of tension among us, folks with power and privilege freak out. A Black colleague told me “White people get terrified when two Black people argue in a room. I wonder what they think would happen.” It is especially alarming when funders are involved, because funding is often jeopardized under this paternalistic philosophy of “See, they can’t even get along; we’re not funding them.” Working with organizations led by and serving people of color, I’ve seen this multiple times with different funders who get upset or who roll their eyes and refuse to fund critical work because leaders of color have tension with one another.
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.
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?”).