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 →
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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 →
[Image description: An open silver briefcase with stacks of 100-dollar bills held together with rubber bands. Strewn around the briefcase are loose bills. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]
In a previous article, I mentioned that equity has been like coconut water. It’s all over the place. It’s flavored with pineapple, sometimes with chocolate. Everyone is drinking Equity; it’s on websites, in conference themes, and in those “word-cloud” thingies. Given how pervasive it is, it’s weird that we don’t seem to have a common, universally-accepted definition for it. As this article states “Very few foundations had a clear definition of what equity meant to them internally, and absolutely no one saw any common definition emerging from the field anytime soon.” So, after thinking about it for a while and talking to other leaders, here’s my take on it, at least in the nonprofit/philanthropic sense:
“Equity is about ensuring the communities most affected by injustice get the most money to lead in the fight to address that injustice, and if that means we break the rules to make that happen, then that’s what we do.”
Some of you are probably thinking, “Money? That’s your definition? That’s simplistic AF. Maybe you should stick to writing nonprofit jokes.” Yes. It’s money. Equity is about money and whether that money is going to the people most screwed over by our society. All of us need to stop avoiding this basic premise. Continue reading →
[Image description: Green stalks of wheat. It looks to be a closeup of a wheat field. The wheat flowers are silvery green, and the leaves are light green.]
Last week, my organization, in partnership with several other orgs, called for an urgent meeting between funders and nonprofit leaders. “Protecting Marginalized Communities During the Next Four Years.” It was just a few days of notice, and I was nervous people wouldn’t show up. Over 100 did, half funders and half nonprofit leaders from diverse communities. For three hours, we checked in with one another, shared stories and ideas, and discussed actions.
There are certain days in my career where I return home exhausted and drained, but simultaneously grateful to get to do this work, and to get to do it with brilliant and passionate colleagues. This was one of those days. Although many of the stories shared were painful and alarming—a Muslim colleague detailed the fear and danger she experiences every day taking the bus; two Native colleagues discussed the challenges their communities face at Standing Rock—the energy and support and sense of community were palpable.Continue reading →
A few months ago, our grantwriter and I dealt with a grant for $4,000 that comprised a five-page narrative and about 10 attachments. Luckily, of course, we have most of those documents ready in our Master Grant folder. The kicker, though, was the unusual requirement for us to print out a document with ten labels, each corresponding to one of the attachments, and literally cut out each of the tabs and paste it on to the attachments. So there I was, handling a glue stick for the first time in years, carefully pasting each tab. I was getting more and more irritated, gritting my teeth and wishing I had listened to that one palm reader in Saigon who told me to go into medicine or maybe law (I think my parents paid her).
I was gluing and fuming and writing a bitter, ranting blog post in my head. But then I realized that I tend to focus on all the irritating things some funders do, that I sometimes neglect all the great things that many funders do. Yeah, there are a lot of sucky, inequitable funding practices. But for the most part, there are lots of great things foundations are doing, and there many amazing program officers who make our work easier. It’s been a while since we provided our funding partners with some positive feedback and encouragement (see “Funders, thanks for doing these 12 awesome things.”) This post is to bring some balance by highlighting some specific things, big and small, funders do that we nonprofits really appreciate. Thanks to the NWB Facebook community, as well as my colleagues in Seattle, for providing input, which I’m quoting below.Continue reading →