Hoops and Hurdles

"Giving Money Away" or "Grant making 101" was not covered in my science major at University of Delaware or at Ohio State. To be honest, being helpful to people was always a passion of mine but never a skill developed through study. Left to my own devices, I had a "willy nilly" approach to trying to help people that, undoubtedly, would have left a wake of destruction and broken relationships behind me. I credit my father and our long Wednesday conversations as the guiding force behind how I learned to do this thing called "Philanthropy". And somehow, miraculously, our guiding values and convictions end up indirectly being affirmed in the fancy Chronicle of Philanthropy. I chuckle and ask, "How did that happen? How did we stumble around being generous and then inadvertently do something that was encouraging and not terribly damaging to non profits here and abroad?" Honestly, I have no idea. But I have some guesses. And it has a lot to do with listening and putting myself in someone else's shoes. (and I'm incredibly grateful that other people in fancy, high profile magazines are writing about this!)

My thanks to Jeremy Courtney (Preemptive Love Coalition) for bringing this great article to my attention. ("After 25 Years of Grant Making, I Worry We have Lost Sight of Nonprofit Struggles" Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 2016, pp28-31). He shared it to encourage us to keep doing what were doing. (We had no part in writing it or contributing to it) My only motivation in sharing our core values is to shine a light on the tremendous frustration among non profits having to make concessions, in so many ways, in their work because of  pressures from donors. I'm watching countless great non profits attempt to clear enormous hurdles to appease donors. 80 page grant applications!! They are forced to jump through unreasonable hoops to acquire funds (looking at you US government grants!) Hoops and hurdles are NOT the things that should occupy large chunks of a non profit leader's time. They have bigger issues to conquer! They're trying to save the world after all!

Below are the approaches that our grant recipients have told us "have been a blessing to them" and have made our relationships with these hard working folks so special to us.

1) Spend time with them. Obviously something drew you to their work. Look for more. Get to know them. Maybe even volunteer in their organization (especially before they know you are a grant maker). Ask people in the community how the work of this organization is impacting them. THIS will tell you the most about the effectiveness of their work and can not be validated by more paper work. 5 years of Profits and Loss Statements can be valuable (kind of...)  but should not determine whether they are worthy of your support. 

2) Invest in leadership. We all know great non-profit leaders.  Find out what they need to keep doing what they've been doing. Here are some non-traditional ways we've invested in non profit leaders:

  • funds for an assistant for leader of non-profit
  • prayer 
  •  board training
  •  staff retreats
  • matching grants (and training on how to raise funds)
  • sharing a vacation home with leaders in order to refresh, equip and encourage them to keep doing what they are doing! It's usually burnout of a leader that destroys a great non profit.

3) Give to General Operating Support. "Project funding" is the easy way to give. We get a false sense of control and have results at the end of our grant period. BUT do we really know what that leader had to do to keep those funds for that project? Maybe an employee didn't get paid or bills are now a month behind just to make sure that project was completed how the donor wanted it to be. If we truly trust the leader, let the leader decide how to use their funds. He/she knows the field far better than we do. Let your leader lead by giving them the freedom to apply funding where they can use it best.

4) Invest LONG term and tell them so. This in no way gives them a "free pass" to accountability. But what a blessing when they consider us to be a reliable source of income. That they can rely on our financial support for 5-10 years. (Can you hear them exhaling?)Don't misunderstand, we still hold them to a renewal of their financial documents and a meeting once a year (and maybe even a site visits) but we're there to work THROUGH their challenges with them in an honest and long term dialogue not cut them off as struggles arise. After all, we want their success because we are deeply concerned about their area of influence in our community and our world. Remember that? That's why we gave them the grant in the first place. We let them know we're behind them and pray for their success!

5) Minimize the application process. We request about 10 items in our application process that should already exist in some form in the non profit organization. We go to their website to learn about their missions and strategies. We discuss and meet and ask questions. We visit and participate and volunteer. This is how we get to know them. The paperwork part is straightforward and uncomplicated. We also ask for a non profit's opinion of our grant making process. Was it too challenging? Why? What information do YOU think we should know about your organization? By all means, share it with us if you have something you're proud of in your work as a non profit.

6) Don't unknowingly manipulate with funding relationship. Sometimes this is not because of the donor's actions but is a fear of the non profit that they will lose the funding if they don't accommodate the needs of the donor. For instance, I heard a story of an inner city ministry, supported by a large church. The large church organized a team of volunteers for the day to help with their mission. One volunteer commented to me "It felt like they didn't even want us there. They clearly have a system and it seemed like we were making them nervous just being there." What that volunteer perceived was probably true! The non profit was probably afraid to say "No, please don't come but we appreciate your financial donations". Create a relationship where the non profit leader is "safe" to express honestly, the best interests of the organization WITHOUT concern of displeasing and losing a large donor.

I hope that something here in our mission will be used to encourage relational, long term and collaborative giving and real, authentic support to those organizations that are choosing the hard road of forging social progress. Philanthropic allies are vital to their journey and we are dedicated to being just that with our non-profit partners. We are so grateful for you.