10 archaic and harmful funding practices we can no longer put up with

[Image description: A ring-tailed lemur, staring directly at the camera, looking very annoyed. Normally, these pictures have little to do with the content of the post, but in this case, this is how I look when I hear about inane, harmful funding practices, like the RFP that requires 20 paper copies to be hand-delivered, during a global quarantine…for $3500! No. Just no. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. I hope you are hanging in there. I’ve heard from so many colleagues of the devastating impact that COVID has had on organizations and people. Here are a few quotes from across the sector:

“My agency that serves people with disabilities is closed, except for essential staff. The other approximately 90 staff have been furloughed without pay or laid off.”

“I work at a food bank that serves people living with HIV and other serious illnesses, the majority of them are seniors. Demand is at an all-time high as clients are losing work or family/caregiving support. Our program is mostly run by volunteers, and we have lost hundreds of hours per week of volunteer support. We had to cancel three fundraising events and dozens of food drives, which would have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in food and cash. So basically demand is increasing sharply while funding and volunteer support is decreasing even more sharply. Many staff are immunocompromised and/or caring for children without childcare while trying to keep the place running.”

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Funders, this is the rainy day you have been saving up for

[Image description: A cat, grey and orange with a patch of white on their chest, sitting staring wide-eyed out the window, which is covered with lots of water droplets, indicating rain. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. I hope you are doing OK amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s scary. Take care of yourself while socially distancing. Most of us have never faced anything like this before, and we cannot take any chances. Cancel everything and stay home. I am in Seattle. My kids’ schools are closed for the next six weeks, possibly longer. It is going to be rough, but we are far luckier than most, as my partner and I both have flexible schedules.

A lot of folks are hurting right now. Small business owners, people without sick leave, gig workers, folks without childcare, those who have no emergency savings, incarcerated people, people experiencing homelessness, disabled folks, kids who rely on school for food, those who are undocumented—all face daunting challenges with no foreseeable end date. Meanwhile, nonprofits face drastic reductions in revenues because of canceled events and other factors, which means we are less able to help during a time when we are most needed.

Amidst all this, I got a message from a colleague saying that a foundation just informed its grantees that due to its corpus being affected by the stock market, in part because of the Coronavirus, it may cut down on funding, possibly not even be able to disburse committed funds.

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The problem with everything being all about relationships

[Image description: Two adorable puppies, one biting the other. The one that’s bitten seems to be a chihuahua with black and white face, wearing a…yellow onesie? The one doing the biting is fluffy and white, with beige ears and patch over the eye, but it’s probably an affectionate nip in the jaw. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, this week is Valentine’s Day, arguably the most annoying and stressed-filled day ever. I like it as much as I like infinity scarves. But at least we have #NonprofitPickupLines on Twitter. Go make that trend again. “Hey there, is your nickname Cash-Flow Issues? Because you’re constantly on my mind.”

Valentine’s Day, however, is a great time to talk about relationships. Namely, the philosophy that everything is based on relationships. Fundraising is about developing, maintaining, and strengthening relationships with donors. Hiring is often about who you are connected to. “Remember,” we are often told, and we often tell others, “it’s not about what you know, but about who you know.” In this blog post, written six years ago, I explain that “85% of 95% of grants is 90% relationship building” (Let’s just say math is not my strongest suit).

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Trust-Based Philanthropy: Imagining better, more effective partnerships between funders and nonprofits

[Image description: A black dog and an orange striped cat nuzzling one another. Or the cat just slammed into the dog, I’m not really sure. Let’s assume they’re friends, because that would make this image a lot more relevant for this post, because if dogs and cats can be friends, then maybe funders and nonprofits can be more effective partners. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Happy Lunar New Year. If 2020 has sucked for you so far, you have a fresh new start. May the Year of the Rat bring you joy, love, good health, multi-year general operating funds, and Oxford Commas.

Last week, I wrote “It’s 2020. Be bold or get the hell out of the way.” Our sector’s addiction to intellectualizing, equivocating, risk-avoiding, and time-wasting is lethal, and there are few places where this is more present than within philanthropy. Because of power dynamics, these philosophies and practices get passed down to nonprofits, rendering us all less effective, leading to the continuation of injustice. We need philanthropy to be bold.

Which is why I am so grateful that the Headwaters Foundation, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, and The Whitman Institute just launched the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project, “a five-year, peer-to-peer funder initiative with the goal of bringing greater vulnerability, transparency, and humility to philanthropy.”

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Time for our sector to draw a new fish!

[Image description: Profile of a longhorn cowfish underwater. They are yellow with grey blotches and light turquoise blue dots. They have a big blue eye set beneath two little “horns.” They have a pouty light-colored mouth with a grey ring around it. One small diaphanous blue fin rises out of their lower back like a magnificent tramp stamp. Wow, this is the hardest image to describe ever. This is not an attractive fish. I hope they have a good personality…Pixabay.com]

A while ago, I read about an experiment where kids were asked to draw a fish. One group was just told to draw a fish; the other group were told the same thing, but they were also given an example of a fish drawing someone else had drawn. The kids in the first group creatively drew all types of fish. The kids who were given the example, with few exceptions, drew fish that were very similar to the example. (I can’t seem to find this study or article again; if you know it, please put the link in the comment section).

I bring this up because it is yields a good lesson for all of us. And that lesson is: Flossing in an important part of good dental hygiene. OK, that’s not the lesson, but that’s still an important reminder. The lesson is that all of us in this sector have been given so many fish drawing examples—fundraising fish, capacity building fish, leadership fish, board governance fish, hiring fish, etc.—and they constantly and unconsciously affect how we think about and do everything.

If you think about it, so many of the things that we do are done a certain way because that’s just how someone else told us things should be done. There are few legal requirements. Which means most systems and practices are traditions that we pass down, and after a while, we just accept that that’s how we do them, the way the kids who were given a fish drawing example instantly assume that that’s the way a fish should be drawn.

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