The Walking Dead is back on TV. After last season’s finale, and this season’s opener, I am not sure I will continue watching. But zombies do make me think of funding dynamics, so that’s why I am bringing it up. In The Walking Dead, the zombies are scary, but they are the least dangerous. Zombies eat brains; they don’t have brains; they don’t have hidden motives and plans; you know exactly what a zombie will do. It’s the humans who are terrifying. Pushed into survival mode, they calculate, lie, betray, and refuse to use the Oxford Comma (#OxfordCommaForever). No one trusts anyone, and it’s more often than not that groups of humans end up killing one another before a zombie actually gets to munch on anyone’s flesh.
What does this have to do with funding dynamics? Well, there seems to be a pervasive lack of starting with trust between funders and nonprofits, and it’s affecting all of us and our abilities to survive and do our work. The default starting relationship between funders and nonprofits is one of suspicion of the latter by the former, which leads to funders enacting policies and practices designed to make nonprofits more “accountable,” such as restricted funding, individualized applications, bespoke budget forms, customized reports, and other things that drive us nonprofits nuts. This in turns leads to nonprofits’ hiding of information, especially about challenges, from funders, which in turn reinforces the suspicion. All this perpetuates a depressing cycle of waste of time and energy and lots of complaining, usually at bars, and all that could have been used to deliver programs and services. Continue reading →
Hi everyone. Last week I was in Minneapolis for the GEO (Grantmakers for Effective Organizations) conference. I was there primarily to give a short talk called “Want to Help Communities of Color? Stop Trickle-Down Community Engagement” and avoid work. But I stuck around for most of the conference, mainly because funder conferences always have way better food and booze. I was trying to hoard appetizers, having developed this unconscious fear of being in places traditionally reserved for funders. If I was going to get found out as an unwashed nonprofit Wildling and asked to leave, by golly I was going to take as many grilled artichoke hearts with me as I could.
But then I realized that my organization, Rainier Valley Corps, is considered by many as a funder. Instead of giving financial support to organizations, though, we send resources in the form of full-time fellows of color, whom we train, to develop the capacity of host organizations led by communities of color. They apply to be a host org. No wonder these past two years everyone has been treating me nice, and no wonder I’ve suddenly become 27% more attractive to most people, despite being married and having two kids and basically having let myself go.Continue reading →
I’ve written before about double-dipping being one of the worst accusations you can leverage against a nonprofit. It makes for an effective insult: “Your ED is so dumb, he went on eHarmony hoping to meet a logic model.” “Oh yeah? Well your org is so unethical, it reported that one funder paid for some food for a community gathering, but then also told another funder that they paid for the same food!” (#nonprofitinsults, in case you’re bored and want to start a new trend on Twitter)
I don’t want to keep harping on this subject, but it deserves to be harped on from time to time. Last week, I had a meeting with my team to talk about our finances. Specifically, we are spinning off into our own 501c3, and some of our funders want information on how the money they gave us has been spent before we transition. For the next hour, we dove into it, and I want to capture the gist of the conversation here, mainly because I think it will make an excellent scene when I begin working on “Nonprofit: The Musical” in earnest.Continue reading →
Hi everyone, after talking to an ED of color who was on the verge of quitting the field after a horrible and demoralizing experience with a small grant that left her almost in tears, I started writing a post called “Funders, you are still very good looking, but your grant application process may be perpetuating inequity.” (It’s a working title).
That post will be published next Monday. I am trying to have a more balanced approach this year of not just pointing out weaknesses in our sector, but also highlighting awesome stuff that is going right. So while next week’s post will be critical of ineffective funding practices that disproportionately affect marginalized communities, this week’s post—written with help from the NWB Facebook community—will focus on examples of helpful things funders are doing.
Foundations, thank you for doing these things below. Or if you don’t do them, please start. We really appreciate it, because these things, as simple as some of them are, make it easier for us all to make the world better. Continue reading →