P O S T E D B Y A L B E R T
We can start by contemplating, then rejecting, the following two widely held notions. Ready? Say omm ...
1. It’s my job as a funder to separate the wheat from the chaff, the bad nonprofits from the good. I reward the effective nonprofits by giving them money (for a few years anyway); I discourage the ineffective nonprofits by denying them funding.
What images come to mind when you hear grantmakers describe their relationships with applicants and grantees? A judge who listens with strained solicitude to an attorney’s pleas? A pioneer who circles the wagons against marauding Indians? A benefactor who becomes peevish when his ward speaks out of turn?
The tropes we live and work by might not seem important, but they reveal a lot about attitudes and habits of mind that keep us mired in the transactional, unable to make that important shift to the transformational.
The funder who sets himself up as judge makes two critical mistakes, in my view. First, he fails to see applicants and grantees as potential colleagues working toward a common goal.
The second mistake is a little more subtle.
If you’re a funder, isn’t it really your primary responsibility to achieve your mission—to feed the hungry, to help people quit smoking, to produce plays of the highest artistic quality? If so, achieving your mission might require you to help certain underperforming nonprofits do their work more effectively. Their leaders, for example, might be long on vision but short on management skills. By focusing exclusively on an impoverished set of performance measures, you might miss key opportunities to advance your goals. You might also end up missing the point entirely.
2. Different funders have different missions and therefore different funding priorities. Thus it’s perfectly appropriate for some funders to forego supporting “overhead” and other organizational strengthening costs like board development, the upgrading of financial reporting systems, and the like.
That’s like saying you’ll support all the consonants but none of the vowels in a commissioned report.
Don’t let yourself become a philanthropic freeloader, a tick on the body of responsible grantmakers. It’s every grantmaker’s responsibility to support overhead and organizational development costs. I’ll go further: Because almost all nonprofits benefit from organizations like the Foundation Center and Independent Sector, it’s every grantmaker’s responsibility to help underwrite the costs of these organizations as well.
Image source: All-American Ads of the 30s