This is a public health alert provided for our friends in the funding community: please be aware of a sudden uptick in cases of what can only be called Munchausen by Charity. Though the Nonprofiteer makes her living through funded consultancies, and therefore stands to profit from outbreaks of the disease, she nonetheless feels compelled to bring this most recent epidemic to the attention of those whose funds are being consumed in fruitless treatment of its symptoms.
Munchausen Syndrome, as readers may know from exposure to medical dramas, is a mental illness which expresses itself in faking ailments to secure the psychic benefits of being the center of attention. In Munchausen by Charity, an agency finds itself perpetually inadequate to its tasks, and therefore perpetually in need of consulting services.
While Munchausen by Charity presents in many guises, the version with which the Nonprofiteer is most familiar goes something like this:
The Board of Directors couldn’t possibly govern the institution without a strategic plan, so it hires a strategic planning consultant, who discovers that the Board is weak. The Board couldn’t possibly repair that weakness without hiring a Board development consultant, who attempts to shore up the Board with a clearer description of its tasks as well as a group of new members. The expanded Board couldn’t possibly take on its newly-clarified tasks without hiring a Board trainer, who provides the group with sessions of role-playing in which they can practice those tasks (e.g. asking for money) without ever actually leaving the safe confines of the group. The trained Board couldn’t possibly go out and ask people for money without hiring a development consultant, who draws pyramid diagrams showing that the biggest gift goes at the top and convenes meetings at which members of the Board try to remember if they’ve ever met anyone with any personal wealth. And so it goes–on, and on, and on.
What the Munchausen by Charity sufferer is experiencing, of course, is the euphoria of personalized attention divorced from the need to actually do anything oneself. If this diagnosis sounds harsh, consider that before discovering the Syndrome the Nonprofiteer believed serial consultancies were nothing more than a stalling tactic to delay fundraising, or a futile search for an expert who’d say it could be avoided altogether. But now she realizes what we’re dealing with is not a trick or a device but an illness, about which we should all be understanding.
If, however, the Nonprofiteer had the financial reins at foundations that give technical assistance grants, she might suggest a limit on the number of funded consultancies–something along the lines of “Three Strikes, You’re Out.” It only takes two hands to find your ass; it certainly shouldn’t take more than three consultants.
Or perhaps the epidemic will subside by itself–say, by next April Fool’s Day.
h/t Jan Stempel