Category Archives: Grantwriting

The urgency of making big funding bets on organizations led by marginalized communities

[Image descriptions: Four stacks of coins of ascending height in a straight line from left to right, with a large filled with coins at the end of the line. Each stack of coins as well as the jar has a green plant with multiple leaves growing out of it, the size of the plants also increasing with the height of the stack of coins or jar. They appear to be outdoors, with an out-of-focus outdoorsy background. Image by Pixabay. Description, as always, by Vu].

Last week, SSIR published a case study I co-authored with David Bley of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation detailing Gates’s significant investment in my organization, Rainier Valley Corps (RVC). Our partnership started with 1.1 million over four years to launch RVC’s fellowship program to bring more leaders of color into the nonprofit sector. These brilliant leaders would run programs, fundraise, set up systems, mobilize community members, and do whatever else the organization needs to be effective. About half the fellows are hired full-time at their host organizations during or after their fellowship, a critical outcome when only 18% of nonprofit professionals are people of color.

After running our successful fellowship program for a year, RVC learned several significant lessons, including the fact that the philosophy that grounds organizational development does not work for organizations led by communities of color. This philosophy, as I’ve pointed out before, is basically to force all organizations to be generalists, so that even small grassroots organizations must scramble to do HR, finance, payroll, evaluation, communications, legal compliance, contract monitoring, etc. And the ones that cannot do all these highly complex tasks simultaneously and with a degree of quality are punished.

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Can we stop assuming that people with corporate or academic backgrounds can run nonprofits and foundations better than nonprofit folks?

[Image description: A white sheep sticking their head out of a wire fence. They have an annoyed expression. This is basically what I look like when thinking about how many people who have little to no experience working in nonprofit but who still have significant power on nonprofits. Pixabay.comm]

Recently I learned that a colleague of mine didn’t get a job leading a major organization. It was confusing, since all signs had seemed to indicate she was a good fit. After weeks wondering, she got a you-didn’t-hear-this-from-me from one of the hiring team members that the board had decided to go with someone with a corporate background. Someone who had no experience working in nonprofit was now going to lead a large and influential one, over my colleague who had years of relevant experience.

This happens frequently in our sector among the largest and most influential organizations. Foundations are especially guilty of this. According to this report from CEP that looks at the leadership of the largest 100 foundations in the US:

Experience as a grantee, if you exclude colleges and universities …. isn’t much valued by foundation boards when they’re searching for a CEO. In 2012 we identified just 14 foundation CEOs with immediate previous experience at an operating nonprofit that wasn’t a college or university. Today, that number is even lower — just 10.”

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Happy Lunar New Year! Here’s your organization’s fortune for the Year of the Pig

[Image description: Two very cute and happy-looking piglets playing outside. They are pink with splotches of grey and black. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. I was going to write a Very Serious Post about something Very Serious, but then realized that this week (beginning February 5th) is the start of the Lunar New Year, an important celebration in many cultures. This is a time for new beginnings, joy, celebration, and, for some mid-age men, getting drunk on rice wine and passing out onto a plate of sticky rice cake (However, I did apologize and would appreciate it if we all moved on).

Our friends at Fakequity.com wrote an informative article on the Lunar New Year, so this post here delves into your organization’s fortune, as fortunetelling is a custom in some parts of the world for around this time. I did some “thorough research” on the Chinese Zodiac and came up with these “fortunes” for your “organization.” To find out which animal your organization is, go here and enter the date your organization was officially incorporated or signed the MOU with your (first) fiscal sponsor. Then find your org’s fortune below:

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Imagine if we talked to other professionals the way people talk to nonprofit folks

[Image description: An irritated-looking lemur, white with grayish fur, with brown eyes, starting directly at the camera, surrounded by some leaves. This lemur is me when someone who has no nonprofit experience gives me advice on running a nonprofit. Image by Michelle Phillips on Unsplash.]

Happy Monday, everyone. Before we get into today’s post, a quick announcement: My organization is now accepting applications for our first-ever Green Pathways Fellowship program, which we are launching in collaboration with our awesome partner Got Green. This cool new program will diversify the environmental movement by finding awesome leaders of color and supporting them as they work full-time at environmental organizations. Check it out!

Nonprofit work is great, but we do deal with all sorts of headaches. But many of our friends and families and even board members may have never worked at a nonprofit before, which means it’s hard sometimes for them to understand what we go through. Here is what it might be like for other professionals if they got the nonprofit treatment.

Apologies to Shannon Reed for forgetting to credit her hilarious article in McSweeneys (“If People Talk to Other Professionals the Way They Talk to Teachers”) in the earlier version of this post.

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OMG, can we please stop saying “there’s only so much funding to go around”?!

Hi everyone. I just finished reading Edgar Villanueva’s important and illuminating book, Decolonizing Wealth. It highlights something we actively avoid talking about: the history of philanthropic dollars, which is rooted in the colonization of Native land, slavery, and other abuse of and extraction from communities of color. The book also presents a hopeful path forward. I highly recommend it, and will be discussing it more in depth in one or more future posts, so please check it out.

[Image description: An adorable little brown weasel with a white underbelly. It’s crawling out from under what looks like a wooden porch. This weasel has nothing to do with this post. And jokes about its resemblance to the author are not appreciated. I probably should have used a squirrel. Pixabay.com]

I’m slightly grumpy right now due to the news, and also my two beautiful small children who threw tantrums this evening over something ridiculous. The five-year-old because he had to trace all of four words for his kindergarten homework, something he literally could have done in 30 seconds if he hadn’t spent 30 minutes crying about how much work it was; the two-year-old because his banana had a single bruise spot on it. So keep this in mind as you read. The ornery tone of this post, it’s not you. It’s me. But it’s also possibly you.

A few weeks ago, I gave a keynote, and during the Q&A, someone got up to ask a question:

“I really appreciate how you are trying to move us away from scarcity and martyrdom, but…”—I knew what was coming next— “how do we do that when there’s only so much funding to go around?”

Well slather me in hummus and call me Randall, there’s only so much funding to go around?! Continue reading