Category Archives: Fundraising

The Ethical Argument for General Operating Funds

[Image description: An adorable little kitten, inside a pink play tube thing. It’s staring off into the upper left corner. It wants funders to provide general operating funds. Unrestricted funds will make this kitten very happy, and you want this kitten to be happy, don’t you? I thought so. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we begin, thank you to all the colleagues who donated to my organization on my birthday last week. It helps our mission of developing more leaders of color and strengthening organizations led by communities of color. If you haven’t donated, it’s not too late

This blog post is going to be a little more serious than usual. I’m going to say things that may be very difficult for many people to hear. Especially if you work for a foundation that provides restricted funding, please take a deep breath. I don’t expect everyone to agree, but we need to have this conversation. Next week’s post will be lighter. Unless something else comes up.

An exasperated colleague in an ED group I belong to quoted a rejection letter she got from a foundation: Continue reading

Marginalized Communities and the Audacity of Ambition

[Image description: A cute little brown squirrel, sitting up in the grass, staring straight at the camera. This squirrel has nothing to do with the content of this post. Or maybe it is a metaphor. Maybe all of us are this squirrel. Image by Vincent van Zalinge of unsplash.com]

A few years ago, I called up a colleague to ask for his advice on fundraising. It was my organization’s first year, and I was still stealing office supplies from other nonprofits (as we all do during the start-up phase and sometimes years after, am I right?). He is a well-respected leader in the field, and I needed some guidance on getting significant resources for my organization’s mission of developing leaders of color for the sector. What he said, paraphrased here, was one of the most honest and shocking things anyone has ever said to me:

“Well,” he said, “as a white guy who has done this for a while, my advice for you is to be more like a white guy.” I nearly choked on the bar of raspberries dark chocolate I was eating for lunch. “What do you mean?” I asked. Continue reading

Answers on grant proposals if nonprofits were brutally honest with funders

[Image description: Closeup of a raccoon, resting on a branch, its head on one arm, staring directly at the camera. Cute little creature. Not sure if this adorable raccoon has anything to do with the content of this post, but come on, look at those big eyes. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

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. 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

#metoo and the nonprofit sector

[Image description: Black and white image of the silhouette of a figure with shoulder-length hair standing in front of a large window. Image by Alex Ivashenko of unsplash.com]

Hi everyone. I haven’t talked about the #metoo movement, even though it’s been on my mind. This is mainly because as I identify as a man, I should be listening and not mansplaining. Also, others have discussed this intersection of #metoo and nonprofit a lot more authoritatively, and I’m afraid to screw up in whatever I might have to say, if I had anything worth saying at all.

However, this movement is a discussion all of us need to have in the sector, and making mistakes and learning is a part of it, especially those of us who have positional authority due to our titles.

In the past few months, I’ve been reading up on others’ stories and thoughts. This blog post is a reflection on a few things our sector must do, prompted by various articles written by other professionals in the field. As such, it might not be very eloquent or comprehensive. But I hope one or more of these points might help to facilitate some discussions and actions. Continue reading

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