Hi everyone, with the collapse of the Afghanistan government, the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and the worsening pandemic, you might be thinking there are more important things to talk about than something as insignificant as character limits on grant proposals. I am writing about it because I need something concrete that I can focus on. But also, because minor things like character limits are symptomatic of some serious issues in philanthropy.
“Describe the program for which you are applying and how it helps to fight racial disparities in health care or food insecurity. Share whether this is a new or existing program. Provide specific data-driven information that shows a clear understanding of what the need in your community is. (700 characters).”
I wish I had made that up. But no, a colleague sent that to me just a couple of weeks ago, an excerpt from a grant application. 700 characters is fewer than 3 tweets. Here are some common problems around character limits:
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.
everyone. I hope you are hanging in there. I’ve heard from so many colleagues
of the devastating impact that COVID has had on organizations and people. Here
are a few quotes from across the sector:
“My agency that serves people with
disabilities is closed, except for essential staff. The other approximately 90
staff have been furloughed without pay or laid off.”
“I work at a food bank that serves people
living with HIV and other serious illnesses, the majority of them are seniors.
Demand is at an all-time high as clients are losing work or family/caregiving
support. Our program is mostly run by volunteers, and we have lost hundreds of
hours per week of volunteer support. We had to cancel three fundraising events
and dozens of food drives, which would have raised hundreds of thousands of
dollars in food and cash. So basically demand is increasing sharply while
funding and volunteer support is decreasing even more sharply. Many staff are
immunocompromised and/or caring for children without childcare while trying to
keep the place running.”
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.”
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?”