I’ve been spending a lot of time flossing while thinking of how to categorize the challenges in our sector (What, like your quarantine activities are so much more interesting). Many of the stuff we deal with falls under the category of “well-meaning people inadvertently making nonprofits’ jobs harder.” Here are a nine. I’m going to call them paradoxes, though some of these are not paradoxes exactly, but are more like dilemmas, conundrums, or shenanigans. I’ve written about a few of them, but they keep coming up and remain a problem, so it’s good for us to review and have common language to push back. If we want our sector to succeed, we need to be aware of these paradoxes and control for them.
Hi everyone. Before we start, if you haven’t written a review of a foundation on GrantAdvisor.org, or asked your grantees to review you, please take a moment to do so. GrantAdvisor was launched a few months ago to address a pervasive problem in our sector.
Today, we talk about a problem that is pervasive in nonprofit. No, not the mice problem, although that too is pervasive (#NonprofitMiceProblem). I’m talking about the imbalance of power between funders and nonprofits, which leads to a lot of no-good, very bad things such as the lack of honest communication and feedback between funders and nonprofits.
One area where this shows up is on grant applications. It’s not that we nonprofits lie when writing proposals, it’s just that…we’ve been trained to tell funders exactly what we think y’all want to hear, sugarcoating everything in jargon and BS.
A while ago, a colleague imagined what our answers would be like on grant proposals if we nonprofits were allowed to be completely and brutally honest. Here are some of these honest responses, with credit to colleagues across the field, most of whom understandably prefer to remain anonymous; anything in quotes is someone else’s direct words. Apologies in advance for the sarcastic, possibly biting tone; the entire sector has been on edge lately:Continue reading “Answers on grant proposals if nonprofits were brutally honest with funders”
We nonprofits deal with unique challenges that our for-profit colleagues never have to think about. If you ever sat in the dark for hours listening to REM and eating Otter Pops and wondering what it would like for a large for-profit like Apple to have to run like a nonprofit, wonder no more! I’ve done it for you this week! (What, like your vacation is so much more interesting). And I asked NAF’s web designer and artist, Stacy Nguyen, to draw up some comics.
At the retail store
Customer: Hi, I’d like to buy this latest iPhone. How much is it?
Apple employee: $700 dollars.
Customer: Here you go. But I want most of this money to be spent on direct costs. No more than $70 should be going to indirect costs like rent, insurance, etc. I also don’t want any of this $700 to go toward advertisement or staff salaries.
Apple employee: We’ll designate these restrictions in our systems.
Customer: At the end of the year, I’d like a report on what you spent this money on.
Apple employee: We provide quarterly financial reports, and would be glad—
Customer: No no no. I don’t want the financial reports on your entire company. I only want a report on what my $700 specifically was spent on. Only my $700.
During a drink with one of my favorite program officers, I brought up some feedback about how onerous their grant reporting process was. Even though the foundation is really flexible on how the funds can be used, they still ask for exactly how much of each line item the foundation pays for. And their line items don’t line up with ours, so we have to spend significant time translating our budget into theirs. And once the report is submitted, it affects what we report to other foundations, leading to a funding Sudoku that wastes endless hours of my and my team’s time.
All right, business pals, we need to have another talk. First of all, I love y’all. I just moved into a new house this week, and spent time at a hardware store trying to find these little thingies that hold up the shelves in my kitchen cabinets. They’re called “shelf pins,” and you can move them to different holes to lower or raise the shelves. Without some business somewhere making these little pins, my cabinet would not be able to fit my really tall bottles and it would just look awful. So yes, I am deeply appreciative for all the businesses out there doing all sorts of useful, interesting, and important stuff. I am glad you exist, and I am glad to pay money for the stuff you make and do.
But dude, the condescension needs to stop. Recently, I’ve noticed it has been in the form of explaining to us simple nonprofit bumpkins just how much better off we’d be if we just acted more like for-profit businesses. Sometimes it is conscious, most times it is not, but always it is irritating.
One time, I was showing a potential board member our Saturday morning program, which served 150 kids. It was his first visit, and he launched into a lecture about having a business plan. “We have a three-year strategic plan,” I said, and before I could elaborate, he interrupted to explain what a business plan was. He interrupted several times to explain various Important Business Concepts to me.Continue reading “Dear business people, please stop bizsplaining things to us nonprofit folks”