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, a couple of things before we get started. First of all, April is National Poetry Month, and to celebrate, Unicorns Unite (a book I co-authored on funding dynamics) is having a #NonprofitHaiku contest on Twitter. Tweet out a haiku by 4/12, tag it with #NonprofitHaiku, and by 4/15 I and the Unicorns Unite team will select five winners based on random and arbitrary criteria that we’ll make up later. Feel free to write as many haikus as you like. The winners will get a copy of Unicorns Unite. Possibly chocolate. Maybe a piglet*
Second, we had a blast with last week’s April Fool’s joke about “Fundr,” a fake app to match foundations and nonprofits. GrantAdvisor.org, however, is real. It’s a website to provide foundations with anonymous, honest feedback. The more reviews you write, the more helpful the site is, so every time you apply to a foundation (whether you get the grant or not), please take five minutes to provide a review. It helps the entire sector.
Speaking of helping the entire sector, we need to end the Nonprofit Hunger Games and do a better job not just working on our individual organization’s survival, but on the effectiveness of our field as a whole. Our missions are interrelated, so it is silly to constantly be in cutthroat competition with one another. While we work on the systemic factors that perpetuate the Games, here are some other few simple things we can all do right away to help one another, which will better our entire sector and community:
Hi everyone, I have super exciting news. As some of you know, for the past year, I have been on the Leadership Panel of GrantAdvisor.org, which is basically a TripAdvisor-type site where nonprofits can anonymously provide feedback about funders. So far the site has had over 1700 reviews of nearly 600 foundations across the US. This is a great way for foundations to get honest feedback, and for nonprofits to be able to help one another out. It takes only five minutes or so to write a review, so please write one today.
Anyway, after analyzing reviews and talking to various sectors leaders, a common complaint we saw was that the grantmaking process is too cumbersome and time-consuming. So after talking to some tech folks, Nonprofit AF, GrantAdvisor, and Grant Professionals Association have been working on an app that will revolutionize the way we do things. There is a full press-release, but I know that only three of you would click on it, so I’m just going to copy and paste it below. It’ll take a few months for the app to “get out of beta,” but I am excited, and I hope you are too.
[Image description: Closeup of a person kneeling on a race track, as if in preparation to run in a race. They are wearing shorts and holding a baton. Image from Pixabay.com]
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 adorable red panda, staring directly at the camera with its piercing, soulful eyes. It looks like a raccoon This red panda has nothing to do with the content of this post, but every post can be made better by inserting a picture of a red panda. Image by Marcel Langthim of Pixabay.com]
Hi everyone. It’s been a rough few weeks, but I’m starting to feel hopeful again. Before we begin this week’s not-serious-at-all post, thank you to all the monthly patrons of this blog on Patreon. We are more than halfway to our goal of 250 patrons. Once we reach that, I’ll eliminate all the random ads from this blog (The ads on the side will remain). Also, I’m working on recording blog posts for patrons so you can listen to them while running or cooking or something, but it’s been rough, because hearing my own voice creeps me out. I’ll work on it.
Meanwhile, please go on Grantadvisor.organd write anonymous reviews of foundations you’ve interacted with, or if you are a funder, encourage your grantees to do so. It’s like a Yelp for foundations, and the more we use it, the better and more useful it becomes.