Foundation Hall of Shame: First Nominee

My thanks to the anonymous correspondent who offered this first nomination for the Foundation Hall of Shame.  This one’s particularly great because it critiques the institutions and not individual functionaries:

I can think of a category of foundation behavior that any of us who’ve worked our butts off to capture a grant will recognize. This one seems pretty universal to foundations, a function of hiring young, personable, smart and as-yet uninformed program officers and then giving them too much work.

The Foundation that solicits a proposal, never acknowledges it when you send it, then demands a rewrite — due in 24 hours for their Very Important Grants Meeting. And the rewrite requested completely alters the concept of your program. And, mostly, you give them something. And, sometimes, they fund it. And, if you are smart, you do what you were going to do anyway because nobody reads the damn reports — they just have to have them properly filed.
The nominator adds,
Don’t imagine that was quite what you were looking for, but the experience is one too many folks I know have had. Anonymity would be a good thing, as, though I don’t have to do this particular form of fundraising anymore, I do sometimes attend funder conferences with my clients.  Wouldn’t want to get them in trouble. Funders mostly already know I despise them.

2 Responses to “Foundation Hall of Shame: First Nominee”

  1. Grantmaker Concerned with Grantmaking Says:

    As a funder this is a refreshing forum,and one that has some possible utility, as well. Gossip and ridicule are often important tools of social change when power is so drastically out of balance.

    Pointing out funder foibles may lead to moments of self-recognition for some grantmakers (myself included). Even more likely, it will make the victims of funder foolishness feel a little better.

    I would urge the enlightened readers of this blog to keep a couple of things in mind:

    First, funders are not ALWAYS wrong.

    Second, when they are it is usually because of some combination of laziness (universal), boredom (against which even the Gods contend in vain), fear (of their own bosses) and lack of imagination (near universal). To be fair, I see plenty of all four in the grant-seeking world, as well.

    Finally, most funders are not born bullies. They were not the kids taking away other kids’ milk money on the playground. If anything, they tend to be sheep in wolves’ clothing. They sometime become bullies because people treat them with agonizing deference. (I often wish some of my grantees would save some of the syrup for their waffles.)

    Years ago I phoned a grantee and told her that even though she needed something like $25,000 for a project we were interested in, we had decided to give her $13,000. She did not disguise her displeasure.

    I immediately realized that we had made a mistake. There might have been reasons for us to pick $13K, but we had kind of done it on autopilot, without nearly enough thought given to the consequences. (Laziness, boredom, lack of imagination. See above.) I feel like I owe her a debt of thanks for making me better at my job by standing up to me.

    I think it would be great if grant-seekers would stand up to grant-makers more often. Its just very important to do it in the right way — firm, respectful, and to the extent it is appropriate, focused on the process, rather than the outcome. (There is no right to get X dollars from Y foundation, but there should be an expectation of receiving treatment that is thougtful, in every sense of the word.)

    The last dirty secret: While program officers can screw you over because you stand up to them, most probably don’t have the, um, intestinal fortitude to do it. Going out of their way to derail your proposal for personal reasons entails extra work and risks for them, too. (Laziness. Fear. See above.)

    Look forward to following the discussion. Keep those examples coming, and I will work harder not to be the subject of one!

  2. Nonprofiteer Says:

    Thanks for the words of wisdom from within the belly. I doubt anyone would argue that funders are always wrong, or that they’re generally intentionally malevolent. Much of the attitude of operating charities toward funders is simply the wages of dependence: don’t we always hate people on whose favor we’re forced to rely? And much of the rest is actually resentment of ball-hiding: too few program officers are honest about the philanthropy’s goals, and the extent to which they don’t coincide with those of the charities.

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