What We're Reading: 10 condescending funding practices funders need to stop doing
"In this line of work, I have met lots of amazing funders. Shoutout to all the brilliant philanthropy professionals who are working hard and often without much fanfare to change the ridiculous systems that make fund seeking so painful and ineffective," said Vu Le for Nonprofit AF. "On the other hand, many foundations have a condescending belief that they know what’s best for nonprofits, and that they are like a mentor to these poor misguided organizations. A sort of 'benevolent paternalism.' It leads to some terrible funding practices that we need to do away with."
1.Requiring funds to be matched by other sources: “We’ll give you money, but you must match it by raising money from other sources.” This practice has been so ingrained that we don’t stop to question it; some of us even start to think it’s a good thing, like funders are in with us on a used-car sales tactic: “We have a funder willing to fund this project, but only if we match it. Can you help us get this matching grant?” sounds like “My manager says we can’t go any lower on this 1993 Honda Accord, but I can probably convince her to take off another $500 if you’re willing to sign today.” Gross. Let’s stop playing games and just provide the funds needed for critical work to get done. Stop requiring matching funds.
2.Having a challenging application process to teach nonprofits: One time I encountered a grant for $5,000 that required a six-page narrative, bespoke budget, logic model, workplan, and six or so other attachments. When I asked why this grant was so complicated, the program officer told me it’s because the grant review committee wanted to help nonprofits develop grantwriting skills, so they made their process complex and time-consuming on purpose. This is a bizarre and self-fulfilling loop: Let’s create a burdensome process to teach nonprofits skills to deal with burdensome processes. No one needs you to teach them anything, and it’s not your job (which is to provide funding). If you want to be helpful, just accept grant proposals that have already been written.
3.Requiring board approval and board signatures: Some foundations require a board officer’s signature on applications. On one occasion I had to drive an hour in Seattle traffic to get my board president’s signature because he didn’t have the tech skills to do an electronic signature. When I asked the program officer why this was necessary, the response was that the foundation just wanted board members to be in the loop before they provided funding (of 10K). We are grown-ass adults here. Nonprofit staff don’t need approval from their board as if they were kids needing their parents’ permission to go on school field trips. And here’s a secret: Because of how ineffective or destructive many boards are, sometimes boards are kept out of the loop intentionally; that’s how a lot of good work gets done!
4.Tapering funds down from year to year: For the rare multi-year grants that are given, some funders like to do this thing where they taper off the funds, for example $75K the first year, $60,000 the second year, $50,000 the last year, etc. Tapering sends the message “You’re a freeloader and we actually don’t trust you to do your own planning to stop being one, so we’ll need to put mechanisms in place to wean you off our funding, you raggedy parasite.” If you trust grantees and want to work as partners, talk with them to determine the best way to allocate the funding. Maybe they may need it in equal installments, or perhaps they would benefit more from having a smaller disbursement now and bigger ones in later years. And honestly, we need grants to be at least 10-years at a time if we want to see changes.