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!”Continue reading “It’s time to completely reimagine the role of foundation program officers”
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?”).Continue reading “Answers on grant proposals if nonprofits were brutally honest, part 3”
Hi everyone. This post will likely be controversial, so grab a bar of dark chocolate, or, if you are in Seattle, a warm cup of hemp milk and some kale chips. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about our philosophy on donor engagement, and I think we need to have a serious discussion. Honestly, I am starting to believe that the way we engage donors, and habits and patterns of thinking we reinforce among ourselves and our donors, are possibly damaging to the work and to communities.
But before we go further, I want to try something different. I often speak from the nonprofit perspective, because I love nonprofit work and I love the people who choose to be in this beautiful and frustrating sector. But I also donate to several organizations; with two small kids, it’s not always as much as I would like, but I still donate. In fact, I am willing to bet that everyone who works in nonprofit also donates to other nonprofits. That means all of us are also donors. So instead of speaking from the nonprofit perspective, for this post I am going to speak from a donor’s perspective. It might be a little weird, but bear with me (here’s a picture of a baby bear for being awesome).Continue reading “Sometimes the best thing we donors can do to advance social justice is to just write the check and get out of the way”
Hi everyone, this post is going to be very serious. The last few weeks have been difficult. The images of women and kids being tear-gassed at the border haunt me. It makes me think about how effective we nonprofits and foundations are, and what’s keeping us from being able to stop these horrible things from happening.
I know many of us are having similar thoughts. Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Edgar Villanueva, the brilliant author of Decolonizing Wealth, a critical book that highlights something we actively avoid talking about: the history of philanthropic dollars, which is rooted in the genocide of Native peoples, slavery, and other abuse of and extraction from marginalized communities. I highly recommend the book. And it is an encouraging sign that foundations have been at least willing to engage with the topics that Decolonizing Wealth, along with Anand Giridharada’s Winners Take All, have been courageously bringing up.
But there is a potential challenge that I can see: The public embrace by foundations of these two books—and other forms of criticisms—is at danger of being another form of intellectualizing, with the reflection generated by these important books serving as a self-congratulatory proxy for actions, as has happened over and over. How many more books need to be written? When will we see fundamental changes to how philanthropy operates? Continue reading “10 things progressive funders must learn from conservative ones, or we are all screwed”
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.
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 “Brett Kavanaugh, and why we must stop intellectualizing and take more actions”