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.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I texted a friend, an executive director, to see how he was doing. “I share this in confidence,” he texted back, “current sitch, watching Frozen 2 in bed with [my daughter].” He sent over a picture of his TV, on which Anna was huddled against a rock, despondent, about to launch into a song about doing the next right thing. When everything was chaotic and stressful, it was nice to imagine my friend spending time with his little one.
It’s been more than a year since the pandemic started. All of us are overwhelmed and traumatized. And unfortunately, I still see many of us falling into the same terrible habits we had during the Before Times, when we met for lunch and dinner, orchestra music swelling as we embraced one another in slow-motion, golden sunlight burnishing our eyes into twinkling coins. (At least, that’s how I remember it).
Hi everyone. Please buckle up, because this may be a bumpy ride for many of you. One, because of the topic. But also because a racist misogynist murdered eight people, the majority being Asian women, in Atlanta last week because he had a “bad day,” so I am not in the mood to soften my messaging.
I am exhausted by the cycle of white supremacist violence and denial. I don’t have the energy to find something to say at the moment that others haven’t already said better. Here’s my friend My Tam Nguyen’s reflection, “Asian American Women Are Resilient—and We Are Not OK.” Please read that. And if your org hasn’t condemned the rise in violence against Asians, do that. Here’s an example, with lots of good resources.
But I do have the energy to discuss a related topic: The pervasive, deeply internalized philosophy that as fundraisers, our job is to connect donors to what they care about, make them feel relevant and appreciated, and by doing that we help them realize their goals of making the world better, and everybody wins. It sounds fine on the surface, even noble, and many fundraisers have internalized this message over decades. I find it one of the biggest contributors to the very inequities we’re trying to fight.
It is not a secret that I am not a big fan of the way grantmaking has been done in our sector. Often, the foundations who claim to be aligned with equity continue to use truly crappy funding practices that perpetuate inequity. As a reminder, only 7% of philanthropic dollars are targeted toward Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and POC communities, and 3% go toward serving disabled people, according to this summary by Candid. Trans communities, meanwhile, receive only .015% “or a penny for every $100.”
If foundations are serious about moving funding to the communities that are most affected by systemic injustice, then their funding philosophies and practices must evolve. My previous organization RVC and I collaborated to develop this Equitable Grantmaking Continuum, based on our experience working with grassroots organizations led by and serving marginalized communities these past several years, and taking a few pointers from efforts such as Trust-Based Philanthropy and Grantadvisor.org. Here’s the full-version, and here’s the one-pager you can print out and hang on your wall. Use this tool to analyze how your foundation is doing and then start taking action. Here are things to keep in mind:
Hi everyone. This post today will likely ruffle some feathers. I only ask that you read it with an open mind, and maybe while eating a bar of dark chocolate (it reduces stress). If you’re a regular reader of my ramblings, you know that I frequently point out various flaws in our field. I do this because I love our sector and the people in it, and I believe in our potential to be truly transformative, to be able to help create the kind of inclusive, equitable world we know is possible. We cannot achieve that potential if we become complacent or self-satisfied with the way things are.
Most of my criticisms have been met with openness, even in disagreement. When I point out how evaluation is so white and problematic, (for examples here, here, and here), colleagues in data and evaluation engage in thoughtful and constructive dialogs. When I provide hard feedback about capacity building (here, here, and here), colleagues in capacity building welcome the discussions.