A few things are pretty commonplace when it comes to proposal development and reporting. You can expect to include your 990s and audited bank statements, your mission statement, details about your budget and a few other staples.
But there’s an old adage that says, “If you know one funder...you know one funder.” Because they are all different.
Just like pizza topping preferences, there are some funders who prefer to fund organizations that focus on education. Another may prefer mental health organizations. Another may only fund the arts (but not dance unless it is in a rural area). Finding the funder who wants to fund your programs is key (see my post on this).
But today let’s commiserate about all the hoops you have to jump through to get and keep funding and how each funder (or even individuals within a funding organization) create different hoops.
About a month ago I came across a powerful article by The NonProfit Times highlighting The Human Council of NY. The organization produced and aired a statrical video during their annual gala that has left fundraising professionals spinning. By using the metaphor of a pizza shop, the Human Council of NY shed light on the laborious and nonsensical ways nonprofits receive funding.
You can watch the six-minute video here. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Hilarious, right? The requests are outrageous. The requirements are unnecessarily tedious and specific. None of it makes any sense, but it is a completely accurate illustration of how nonprofits are funded. What I love about this video is that it’s deeply rooted in our realities. The video highlights some of the major headaches, but there’s so much more they left out.
I was really hoping the video would include some of these morsels:
“We noticed there is another pizza place a few blocks away. Before we buy from you, we want to know how you are collaborating with that restaurant to avoid duplication.”
Understandably, donors don’t want to pay for completely duplicative services, but different nonprofits really can approach the same issue in a unique manner: offering different types of solutions or services in a different way to reach a different audience.
How about this one? “Great news!!!! We are placing our order for 100 pizzas and we will pay for them just as soon as you get someone else to buy 100 pizzas too!”
Don’t we all have a love/hate relationship with matching gifts? Yes, they can help us leverage additional gifts from donors but they add tremendous pressure to fundraising staff, who don’t usually get any extra salary or time they need to redouble their fundraising activity (activities that the donors seldom fund, by the way.)
Or, “We don’t like it when restaurants pay consulting chefs to freshen the menu or dietitians to analyze the nutrients. We think the owner should be doing all the work from their heart.”
As a nonprofit professional, you are already wearing a dozen hats. There are very few executive directors who have the very specific skill sets required to manage people, design programming, create a budget, negotiate contracts, implement a development plan, research funders, write grants, evaluate programming, program and analyze data sets, manage social media, develop marketing materials, paint the boardroom, fix the leaky roof and replace the toilet. Hiring a reputable professional to lend those skills when they are needed is a responsible use of resources.
The video we watched makes a strong point: “How we fund human services needs fixing.” Over the last five years, I have seen the hoops my clients jump through multiply and become more complex - without a corresponding increase in funding. A $10,000 grant that used to require a one-page letter, a thank-you note and a copy of the annual report now requires a letter of intent, a site visit, a detailed online application with six attachments and specialized quarterly reports. Some funders even offer seminars on how to complete their application - requiring nonprofit leaders to spend valuable time and money traveling to and sitting through a seminar. Wouldn’t it be more philanthropic to make the application less daunting?
Despite a few truly sadistic philanthropists (my favorite oxymoron), many funders are lovely and most are truly committed to using their resources to make the world a better place. Some of their requirements actually drive innovation and excellence in nonprofits.
But funders, on whole, should consider doing what they expect nonprofits to do -- implement best practices to ensure effectiveness and efficiency in their processes; solicit feedback on their performance and implement quality improvements based on that feedback; and work with their peers to collaborate and eliminate duplication of effort. One of my recent favorite sites is GrantAdvisor, which allows grant professionals to anonymously rate and review funders.
Until the situation changes, we are here to help you navigate the complicated structure and streamline the process so that’s it’s as efficient and understandable as possible. But that’s the underlying issue: the structure. It is far from perfect, and it’s in dire need of repair.
But until that nonprofit funding model changes, you just need to ready to explain why your pizza shop doesn’t make falafel sandwiches.