Category Archives: Grantwriting

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

Brett Kavanaugh, and why we must stop intellectualizing and take more actions

[Image description: Brown-tinted picture of about a dozen round light bulbs lying on a flat surface. One bulb in the center is light up, others are dark. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. A quick announcement before this week’s post. My colleague and occasional drinking buddy Joan Garry has a free workshop being released starting next week that I strongly encourage you to check out. This series of videos covers strategies for running a successful nonprofit – stuff like how to build a great board, how to increase donations, how to inspire volunteers, etc. The workshop is helpful for new as well as experienced leaders. At the end of the workshop, Joan will introduce the Nonprofit Leadership Lab. I’ve been lurking in the Lab for a while and can vouch that it’s a great resource and support community at an affordable monthly rate. I never promote things like this, and in full disclosure, Joan is giving me a cut for any new members I end up sending her way, which will help defray the costs of running NonprofitAF. But I would not endorse anything that I don’t believe in. I have seen how useful the Lab is for its members. So sign up to check out the videos. They’re free and helpful even if you decide not to join the Lab.

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I am in a crappy mood, so my apologies in advance for the tone of this post. I am distraught and disheartened over the Supreme Court, and I know many of you are too. I want to provide some encouraging words, but I don’t really have any at the moment. This is horrible, and no amount of “we-are-in-this-together-and-remember-that-the-arc-bends-towards-justice-and-rainbows-and-unicorns” bromides is going to be enough this time. Continue reading

The game of nonprofit is flawed. Learn to play it so you can change it. 

[Image description: A raccoon, grayish brown, peeking over a thick tree branch, staring directly at the camera with its piercing dark eyes. Image from Pixabay.com]

Every once a while, an up-and-coming nonprofit professional would ask me, “What advice would you give us folks who are just starting in the sector?” This is how you know that you yourself are no longer an up-and-coming nonprofit professional. I am trying to embrace my status as one of the grizzled old-timers with the battle scars:

“When I entered the sector years ago, we had to walk five miles—in the snow!—to deliver a grant proposal. Back then, paperclips weren’t invented, and funders wanted the attachments to be clipped just right. We had to make paperclips out of pine needles. But, there were only eight pine trees west of the Mississippi, and they were fiercely guarded by vicious raccoons. I can still see their beady eyes, glowing red like those sticky dots people used to vote with during community meetings. Of course, back then, the sticky dots weren’t just something you bought at the store. They were gum drops we had to slice by hand. Problem with using those gum drop slices though was that they attracted the raccoons. We spent as much time battling raccoons as we spent running programs.” Continue reading

Philanthropy and the Destructive Illusion of “Leveling the Playing Field”

[Image description: Closeup of a person kneeling on a race track, as if in preparation to run in a race. They are wearing shorts and holding a baton. Image from Pixabay.com]

A few months ago a program officer and I were talking about the lack of funding that goes to communities-of-color-led nonprofits (only about 10% of philanthropic dollars go to organizations of color). He shook his head in sympathy and frustration, sipping on his coffee. “There has to be a way to level the playing field,” he said. This was probably the third time that quarter I had heard that phrase uttered by a funder. 

This concept of “Leveling the Playing Field” is very present in our sector in our society, like cats or skinny jeans, and we don’t really question it at all. We assume that it is a good thing. If we just make it so that competitions are “fair,” then the people/groups with the most merit, the best ideas and proposals, will win. If we can just make the field more even, then everyone will be able to play the game and everything is good. 

This philosophy has led some thoughtful funders to accept applications in Spanish or other languages, accept handwritten applications, or accept non-written formats such as videos or photos (Although, how effective is this last one when my one-man show, The Agony and Ecstasy of Capacity Building, has never resulted in funding?). 

Those practices are great, but can they level the playing field? Can the funding field ever be “level”? Continue reading