Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Don’t Let Anyone Look Down Upon You Because You Are…A Nonprofit

How often do you encounter people who believe that your organization is damaged because it is a nonprofit? How do you react to this irrational and illogical attitude?

Case One: A nonprofit organization does everything possible to get a grant project running in the proposed timeframe. Along the way, they encounter numerous delays including building completion challenges, staff departures and equipment failure. During a site visit, a staff member from a local granting agency is unsympathetic. She accuses the nonprofit of mission creep by applying for the funding. The Executive Director ignores the comment.

When the visitor leaves, the Executive Director addresses his staff. “While this project does lie at the edge our mission, the real challenge was the timing. Until someone walks in my shoes and runs a nonprofit and fights for every dollar to help people in need-- as we do—they haven’t earned the right to criticize us for seeking funds as we deem it appropriate.” In this case, this response was to avoid investing any effort to enlighten the grant agency staff, but instead to use the situation as opportunity to educate his staff.

Do you agree with this response? Would you have responded differently?

Case Two: In a report, a name brand foundation outlines how it, by design, includes requirements in their grant application for nonprofits to build capacity before funding. The report shares how they added requirements to their applications, not for items they need, but instead items that they believe will help the nonprofits.

While you, like most nonprofits leaders, want to improve your capacity; you probably don’t hanker to do so as part of a grant application with a deadline. You might respond to this situation by forgoing the opportunity. And seek only funds from donors willing to enter into partnerships with you and who refrain from dictating a “for your own good” to-do list. Another alternative involves telling the foundation about your needs and enlisting their help. In this case, you in your application you write, “Thank you for asking us to complete this capacity building step. Listed below are the three most critical capacity building this organization faces. The project budget includes funds to complete them. Once completed, the next capacity building step needed is the one you request. This will be completed before the end of the grant. Its costs are also included in the budget.”

Do you agree with either of these responses? Would you have responded differently?

What other cases of the damaged nonprofit worldview have you experienced? What response did you make? Is there a response, you wished you made?

In a New Testament letter, St. Paul admonishes Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.” Let’s rephrase it slightly: “Don’t let anyone look down upon you because you are a nonprofit.“

How might we live this out?

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