Motivated by Love and Fear

By Janet Brown from her blog Better Together:

A very smart woman once told me there are two motivating factors in the world: love and fear. I’ve spent the past several years analyzing actions, events, and people under this framework and trying to assess my own motivations in different situations. It holds up.

When I apply this to philanthropy, it actually explains some of the practices that have always left me perplexed and a bit discouraged. I have come to believe that philanthropy is motivated by love but much of our grantmaking is administered out of fear.

Complex grant applications and rigorous reporting requirements are limiting efforts to support organizations that have not built the infrastructure needed to be in the fundraising game. Should a grant of $4,000 require the same application and reporting requirements as a grant for $4,000,000? Probably not.

Are we making it too difficult to fund small and mid-sized arts organizations that lack the kind of development personnel and resources to be competitive with large organizations that do? In many instances, we are.

As the field moves towards more equitable funding of artists, arts organizations of color, or small, emerging, and mid-sized organizations not traditionally in the “funding pipeline,” applications and reporting requirements become a real cause-and-effect dilemma. Organizations and artists don’t apply because the process is simply over-complex and intimidating - and funders may not be meeting their goals of equity because of it.

One of the challenges in this funding dilemma is that most grantmakers are understaffed. Their ability to identify and support organizations not already in the pipeline is extremely limited. We have become more dependent on technology to do the work for us. I see this dilemma play out in the good work of devoted program officers who simply do not have the time or resources to work individually with organizations. It is also complicated by the fact that as a field, we have invested little in an infrastructure that provides technical assistance in financial and artistic management and audience development.

What can we do?

  1. Analyze grant criteria and application process. Assess “money out for effort in.” Are grantmaking processes supportive or punitive? (Love or fear?)
  2. Provide general operating support. This demonstrates trust that an organization will spend its funds on its mission rather than forcing them to adapt or create programs to meet the mission of the funder.
  3. Seek out intermediaries familiar with communities that are underfunded and can provide support to organizations and artists without organizational capacities to make application or the 501(c)3 nonprofit statuses required by most funders.
  4. Invest in infrastructure to educate and support leadership in financial and organizational management, particularly for people of color, those living in rural areas, and emerging groups. We are short on affordable technical assistance as a collective industry. Does your community have a go-to mechanism for someone wanting to be a better manager of their arts business?
  5. Be willing to make mistakes and take risks. Overzealous reporting and application processes are driven by funders not wanting to misjudge an organization’s capacity to execute the project or their mission. Sometimes this happens and should be expected.
  6. Be willing to change. “Legacy funding” is alive and well, particularly in large, local foundations who have built traditionally funded arts institutions. Are these institutions now able to raise funds from their individual supporters? This frees up funding for less established groups or under-funded organizations. Is “we’ve always done it that way” driving your grantmaking process?

I am very cognizant of the fact that program officers and staffs of arts funders may be in conflict on some of these practices with the leadership and boards of trustees/councils of their own institutions. Change, risk and mistakes are not necessarily traits of the money management industries in which philanthropy resides. “Protecting our investments” frequently overrides the motivation to support new, innovative, and lesser known (to us) artistic endeavors.

But if we are analyzing who we are funding, why we are funding them, and how we might extend funds to underserved populations, we must be diligent, passionate,and persuasive in making the case to focus philanthropic processes more on the motivation of love and a little less on administrative practices designed out of fear.