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.”
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!”
Our sector talks a lot about grants. Out of 380 posts on this blog, the most popular post of all time is “Answers on grant proposals if nonprofits were brutally honest with funders.” On GrantAdvisor (a Yelp-like website where you can provide anonymous review of foundations) the top complaints are about grant processes. I came up with the FLAIL Scale a while ago, a 61-point checklist for funders to measure how aggravating their grants are, followed up with the GRAVE Gauge, to determine the level of annoyingness of grantseekers. There are endless articles and workshops on how to increase your chances to get grants. And many foundations, to their credit, have been working to streamline their grant applications.
But maybe we are not having the right conversations. Maybe the question is not “how do we improve grant applications” but rather “are grant applications the best way for funders to determine who should be funded? Have they ever been? Is this tool broken or even harmful, and if so, can we afford to keep using it?”
Hi everyone, after talking to an ED of color who was on the verge of quitting the field after a horrible and demoralizing experience with a small grant that left her almost in tears, I started writing a post called “Funders, you are still very good looking, but your grant application process may be perpetuating inequity.” (It’s a working title).
That post will be published next Monday. I am trying to have a more balanced approach this year of not just pointing out weaknesses in our sector, but also highlighting awesome stuff that is going right. So while next week’s post will be critical of ineffective funding practices that disproportionately affect marginalized communities, this week’s post—written with help from the NWB Facebook community—will focus on examples of helpful things funders are doing.