Tag Archives: power dynamics

Foundations, it’s time to stop using grant applications to distribute funding

[image description: a happy and very tiny little brown mouse, being held in someone’s thumb and maybe two other fingers. Their head is scarcely bigger than the person’s thumb. Their eyes are closed, and they seem to be smiling contentedly. Aw, what a cute little mouse. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Today’s post will be long and serious. But before we get into it, here are ways you can help victims of Hurricane Dorian. Also, my org RVC is growing and hiring a Capacity Building Lead. It’s an amazing position that combines capacity building and equity. Don’t take my word for it, here is a quick video from the team.

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?”

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We need to talk about the handwritten thank-you note

[Image description: A note with the words “Thank You,” on top of a beige envelope. On the top right corner there’s a hand holding a pencil. This makes no sense. The note is clearly in ink, so why is this hand holding a pencil? Unless, the Thank You part is already printed on this stationary, so this person didn’t actually write that. But still, who would write a thank-you note in pencil? Unless, they’re planning to draw their gratitude. Maybe I should have stuck to the usual picture of a baby animal. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we delve into today’s super exciting topic, in the spirit of ending the Nonprofit Hunger Games I am declaring this week to be Wear Another Nonprofit’s T-shirt Week. Let’s help promote one another’s organizations like the awesome unicorns of Equity that we are. Show love to orgs that you don’t work for and are not on the board of. Swap T-shirts the way that some professional sports players swap jerseys. Take pictures and tweet with the hashtag #NonprofitsSupportingNonprofits. At the end of the week, 10 winners will be randomly chosen to receive…the satisfaction of making the sector better.

OK, let’s talk about the handwritten thank-you note (HWTYN). First of all, I love them. I know many of you do as well, especially the fundraisers in the sector, who have turned the HWTYN into an art form. Some of the leaders I look up to the most have gotten so skilled at this that it seems they spend considerable time writing thoughtful and highly personalized notes—“Dear Vu, it was so lovely to have lunch with you today at Piroshky on 3rd! I am glad I took your recommendation and tried the borscht. You changed my mind on beets, and thus, you changed my entire life trajectory”—and YET are able to warp time and space so that their HWTYN arrives mere hours after I meet with them.

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How funder fragility is similar to white fragility and what funders can do about it

[Image description: Two adorable baby chickens, golden fluffy, standing in the dirt in sunlight. Image by Karim Manjra on Unsplash.com]

Hi everyone, if you are in Seattle this Thursday evening (1/31/19), come to RVC’s “Inside the Activist’s Studio” event, where one of our fellows interviews a community leader. This time, we’re featuring the legendary Trish Millines Dziko, co-founder of Technology Access Foundation. Details of the event here.

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At a group convening I attended a while back, we discussed some of the challenges facing leaders of color in the sector, including how 90% of funding still go to white-led organizations, how funders still use a very white lens in what is considered good data and effective programs, how the smallest and most burdensome grants are often the only ones accessible to marginalized-communities-led organizations, how white foundation boards are, the general lack of trust foundations have for nonprofits, and how progressive foundations spend endless amounts of time intellectualizing, which disproportionately harms marginalized communities because they cannot afford to wait months or years for funding decisions.

This was a group of all leaders of color, so it was cathartic and affirming for many attendees to hear that their frustrations were not imagined. As we started talking about potential solutions, though, the group’s conversation and energy quickly took a detour. A foundation program officer, who was of color, started talking about how the foundation she worked for was not like that, how they had been changing, how it felt like we were attacking and “vilifying” foundations, how we needed to not be “divisive,” etc. The previous momentum was cut off as several people in the group in succession started affirming this program officer and reassuring her that she and her foundation were great and helpful and generous and amazing. A conversation on systemic challenges suddenly became about one funder’s feelings.

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Book preview: “Unicorns Unite: How Nonprofits and Foundations Can Build Epic Partnerships”

[Image description: A diagram from the book, featuring drawings of cartoon unicorns holding bullhorns, illustrating the cycle of distrust between foundations and nonprofits]

Hi everyone. About a year ago, I mentioned I was co-authoring a book with two brilliant colleagues, Jessamyn Shams-Lau of the Peery Foundation and Jane Leu of Smarter Good. Many of you backed our Kickstarter project, and guess what? We actually wrote the book! OK, Jessamyn and Jane wrote the book, while I tagged along and tried to offer helpful suggestions like “instead of writing this book, how about we take the money and invest it in this awesome tech start-up I just heard about called Juicero, then get rich and start our own foundation but have headquarters in Oaxaca?”

Anyway, the book is called “Unicorns Unite: How Nonprofits and Foundations Can Build Epic Partnerships” and will be available this Spring, with pre-orders being taken on April 9th, 2018, which is coincidentally World Unicorn Day. Now, you may have some questions, so I’ve anticipated and answered them here: Continue reading

GrantAdvisor.org, a site for reviewing foundations, and why all the cool people are using it

[Image description: Four dogs wearing sunglasses, lined up, all facing right. The one in foreground is a chihuahua wearing black sunglasses and a black shirt, looking totally badass. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. I’ve been involved with a few awesome projects on the side, and one of those projects has now been launched. No, it is not the puppet show on the importance of general operating funds; that will come later. No, it is not Nonprofit Fight Club, because there is NO Nonprofit Fight Club, so stop asking about Nonprofit Fight Club, OK?

I’m talking about GrantAdvisor.org, a new website that allows all of us to anonymously review foundations. This has been a critical missing piece in the funder-grantee dynamics. Let’s face it, because of power differentials, we nonprofits do not always give honest feedback to foundations. And a common complaint I get from foundations is that they can never tell if we nonprofits are being open and transparent about what they could be doing better. Even when foundations solicit feedback, reassure grantees that they can be truthful, and give us each a basket of mini-muffins and a puppy, it is still difficult for us nonprofits to open up. Continue reading