Category Archives: Fundraising

Why we need to stop asking “What do you do?”

[Image description: A right hand is in focus, extended toward the viewer, as if this person is offering to shake hands. The person is out of focus, but appears to be wearing a grey button-down shirt with a black blazer. The composition is focused on the hand and torso, so we don’t see the person’s head.]

A while ago, while I was seeking input for a post on how we can all be more disability-inclusive, a colleague mentioned that we should drop the get-to-know-you question “What do you do?” because people with disabilities face significant employment discrimination, and this question is often a painful reminder of that. Another colleague of mine who is brilliant and talented and hilarious and wheelchair-enabled told me she spent seven years searching before someone hired her. I can imagine all the times during those seven years when people asked her “What do you do?” and how she must have felt. This has made me think of the “to-do” culture that we have and how it’s been affecting our work.

I learned a few years ago, through my participation in the German Marshall Memorial Fellowship, that the US has a default “To-Do” culture. The first thing we ask someone we meet is about what they do. Actions, in our culture, define us. For other cultures, though, are more of a “To-Be” culture, and you are defined less from what you do, and more from who you are:  Your relationships, your family history, your beliefs, your passions, your haircuts, etc. Continue reading

4 poems by Richard Porter, Nonprofit Poet Laureate of the Milky Way Galaxy

[Image Description: A white and light pink apple blossom, with five petals, in full bloom, contrasted against green leaves. It has several purple pistils with orange tips. The composition places the flower to the left of the picture and in focus. On the upper right, in the background ad out of focus, is another apple blossom in bloom.]

Hi everyone. Today is the third day of the Lunar New Year, and the return of Spring, and according to traditions, one is supposed to avoid stress and arguments, as whatever one does and feels on these days sets the tone for the rest of the year. So I’ve just been stuffing my face with hard cider and dark chocolate and avoiding the news.

So, instead of writing a serious post today—several serious ones are coming—I had asked Richard Porter, our Nonprofit Poet Laureate of the Milky Way Galaxy, to write some poems that capture the essence of our sector. Richard, you may recall, won the first-ever Nonprofit Poetry Contest. His poem, replicated below, with its heartbreaking earnestness and yearning, captured the hearts of the judges. He follows it with three more poems. 

Our field is full of talented individuals, including many artists. Thanks, Richard and other artists, for illuminating our world.  Continue reading

The Nonprofit Serenity Prayer

[Image description: A light purple lotus, opened and with some yellow pistils showing, floating on a background of green leaves and dark water.]

Hi everyone. A couple of things before we start. First, NWB is changing its name. I’ve been thinking about it a while, having received some feedback from many of you. Most of it has been positive, but I realized that I’ve been preaching about impact versus intention, and while the intent of the name when I started this blog four years ago was light-hearted and humorous, the impact has not always been, and in light of everything happening currently, I want to set a good example. It might take a little time to find the right name, but just wanted to let you know this is happening. Thanks for your patience.

Meanwhile, my wife and I started sleep-training our kids this weekend. It has been rough these past few nights, with the anguished, tormented wailing lasting for hours. And that’s just from us. The kids are even worse! Anyway, because of that, I don’t know how coherent I’ll be for this post. Everyone in our sector has been on edge lately, so I wrote the Nonprofit Serenity Prayer. Here it is below. May it be a beacon to you in the bleakest of times. Continue reading

Grantseekers, how irritating are you to funders? Use this checklist to find out

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Hi everyone. Last week, I unveiled the FLAIL Index, a tool that allows foundations to see whether or not their grantmaking process will unleash the demon-god Cthulhu upon this world. I’m now calling it the FLAIL Scale (#FLAILscale), since things that rhyme are always more worth our time. I will be updating the Scale this week, based on your feedback, to increase the aggravation points for certain items, such as requiring people to get anything notarized, as well as add some redemption points. Thank you to everyone who tested the FLAIL Scale, especially those who are actually using it to make their grant process better. You are amazing unicorns, and may Cthulhu spare you in the coming Apocalypse.

This week, for balance, we present the other side: Things that we nonprofits do that make funders want to punch us in the jaws—or worse, not fund our programs. I asked the NWB Facebook community, and received nearly a 100 comments from current and past program officers. I synthesized them into the checklist below.

So here, I present, the Grant Response Amateurism, Vexation, and Exasperation (GRAVE) Gauge (That’s, sadly, the closest rhyme to “grave” I can think of). Go through the list below, add up your points (or, use this Excel worksheet), and see how your organization does on any grant proposal. Use this to improve your process. And of course, this is also in beta—and the point values are arbitrary, somewhat based on the frequency the item is brought up—so send feedback and suggestions for GRAVE v2. Also keep in mind there are exceptions and extenuating circumstances. Continue reading

Foundations, how aggravating is your grantmaking process? Use this checklist to find out!

[Image description: A from-the-waist-up image of a red plastic robot-looking toy. Update: It may be a Blockhead from Gumby. It has a square head, two googly round eyes that are looking down, a round yellow nose, and a yellow line shaped into a frown. The robot has two arms raised up to the sides of its head. The background is grayish blue.]

As we roll into 2017, there have been lots of articles about how philanthropy must adapt, including my post urging funders to increase payout and fund advocacy efforts, as well as this piece on moving away from “charity” toward “justice.” These conversations are critical and we must keep having them. While we figure that stuff out, though, let’s take care of a few logistical things foundations do that make us nonprofits want to roll up a printed-out copy of our tax filings and beat ourselves unconscious.

So, I asked the NWB Facebook community to name the things funders do that get on people’s nerves. I got over 350 comments. I’ve condensed them into the Funding Logistics Aggravation, Incomprehensibility, and Laughability (FLAIL) Index. Here is a list of things that make us want to punch a wall, scratch our heads in bewilderment, or crack up laughing. Or drink. [Update: The FLAIL Index is now called the FLAIL Scale, and was revised on 1-21-17] Continue reading