Yep, we went there.
And… now that we’ve shamelessly gotten your attention, we’ll explain. After all, if you’ve worked in the nonprofit world, you’re nonplussed by scatological references. You’ve endured the real-world version from Executive Directors with social-anxiety disorders, do-nothing volunteers with a penchant for telling you how to adjust the table napkins “just so,” and donors demanding a photo-op and face-time with your Board Chair for a $500 grant.
No, you know all about Farts and Poops.
While rude-humor is often the bailiwick of Hollywood movies, it’s also the intellectual pinnacle of 10-year-olds the world over. Hell, there’s a YouTube video out there purported to be “actual footage” of a tween Alien asking a frightened human to pull his finger, so it might even be a Universal truth for all we know. We’ll keep looking and let you know, because after all, the truth is out there.
Anyway, 10-year-olds are not exactly the hallmark of our species. As Beverly Goldberg says, they can be delightful angel babies–especially Sarah’s. They’re adorable, truly, but we all know they’ve just started on this thing called life. Heck, a big deal for them, as The Flobots said, is to “ride my bike with no handlebars.” They’ve got a long way to go before they can split the atom, or even remember to wash their hands before dinner.
So, the last place you’d expect to find a reference extolling the intellectual prowess of a 10-year-old is in a Grant Workshop held by the de rigueur Foundation of the moment. But that’s exactly where Jon and Sarah found it – being bandied about like its sugared-up namesake when Nanna comes to visit.
“Before submitting your grant narrative to our grant review committee, give it to a 10-year-old to read over to make sure they understand it… because if they don’t, we won’t.”
Now to be sure, it’s time-honored advice when writing or crafting any message in general, to make it palatable to the greatest common denominator (i.e., dumb it down). The most profound communicators of all time have engendered a sense of connectedness to their audience by speaking in a parlance that was familiar.
This is different. Preparing a grant is not the same as standing on a podium and extolling a virtuous message to a crowd of ten thousand earnestly yearning for someone to make something great again. A foundation is supposed to be our partner in the trenches, learning the field and fighting the good fight. The best institutional partners are the ones that take the time to learn about the field and have the knowledge and experience to readily assess the grants and the organizations they are or aren’t funding. Further, when said foundation presents a set of guidelines for the LOI that is more complex than the instructions on building a nuclear device, yet can’t be bothered to Google basic industry terms like IEP, HIPAA, or ALICE, then there’s a problem in the process. And, for the record, it doesn’t matter if the award is $1,000 or 100,000. Grantmaking should not be whittled down to a bucket of roses and 100 desperate nonprofits, eager to do whatever it takes for the love of the trendy new local foundation.
And if it’s not the techno-jargon that causes the greatest offense, but rather our use of words like protean, plethora, or Sisyphean, still, are you really sure you want to stand in front of a room of 100 nonprofit professionals, many of whom are quite accomplished grant-writers and skilled fundraisers, and tell them how to write? It’s quite possible, that most of these folks can not only write an excellent narrative, but can also run your foundation.
This brings us back to a common theme in this blog. PHILANTHROPY IS NOT A TRANSACTION. It’s not a check box, multiple choice, T or F solution, or typically anything that can be tracked on a spreadsheet or metrics designed by Goldman Sachs. Philanthropy is a heartfelt investment in making the world a better place that requires knowledge, practice and a realistic understanding of what it takes to run the average nonprofit — large or small.
Taking a cue from our local foundation, here’s how you completely fuck it up: Create a LOI that requires 40 questions, 20 pages of written content; max word count at 200 word/question; and require sensitive financial information that is often not even required for the average grant. Step two, if a 10-year old can read your LOI and you get the royal welcome, the nonprofit enters into a Roman Colosseum-style battle of the nonprofits! In an exciting evening of live desperation porn, amongst your fellow community nonprofits, you get 5 minutes to present to the foundation just how sad the world would be without your services. The winner gets the big pot!
Circling back to the transaction and removing humanity from the equation…The disassociation created by some foundations is the first step toward embracing an “It’s not my problem” philosophy. Indeed, it is all our problem, even if you have the money to temporarily satiate the needs of a few this year. Dying children, poverty, abused puppies, end-of-life-care, hunger, whatever, it all affects us because they are all intertwined, inextricably. Just like we all drive the same roads and rely on the same governmental services to keep us safe (i.e., police, fire, military, etc.). We are all impacted, either personally or some member of our family, by these programs. I’m not suggesting that every nonprofit program is equal. The best run programs with the greatest impact should get more funding. Recognize, however, that with funding comes responsibility: learn the field and talk to your constituents, not just other funders, and treat those that you fund with an equal amount of respect and deference.
We’re in a funny industry. Not funny “Ha Ha” as Joe Pesci said, but peculiar. We panegyrize ourselves for being tolerant, welcoming, embracing, yet everyday we’re forced to endure the outrageous slings and arrows of classism, elitism, and a few other “isms” all in the name of the almighty dollar. Why? Because saving the world is hard and it costs money? Not astronaut on the moon money, although we have been known to fix a leaky O2 tank with duct tape and rubber bands on more than one occasion. We beg, plead, and otherwise prostrate ourselves – some Major Gift Officers would call it prostitute ourselves – and are made to jump through ridiculous, unimportant, and inefficient hopes for what… so that our patrons can feel good about themselves while maintaining a healthy dispassionate distance from the rabble covered in farts and poops? “Shhh, don’t make the funder feel intellectually inferior because you dared to use words with multiple syllables.”
So, here’s the wake-up call that every ten-year-old learns eventually – albeit some sooner than others. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU! It’s not about your grant workshop attended by the desperate masses. It’s not about your 20-page, 40-question, Letter of Intent. It’s not about your status as an up and coming Foundation.
It’s about the programs you’re trying to invest in, elevate, and buttress. It’s about the lives you’re trying to change. That’s why you, and everyone else creates a foundation in the first place. Right? It’s certainly not for a tax break — you really want to help people, right?
Reading a grant may be hard, but really, is it as hard as attending to a dying child in a hospital room; ladling soup into a styrofoam cup late at night so a homeless person can eat their first meal this week; or trying to calm an autistic child having a meltdown in the middle of a classroom?
If the prose and the jargon that we use are a tad too much, ask yourself how you’d react to a grant proposal submitted, double-spaced in 48pt sans-serif font, featuring a one-syllable, four letter word that begins with “F” followed by the word “Off.”
Not well, right?
Then don’t tell us to dumb down our applications to make it “easier for you to understand” because “Fuck Off” is what we’re hearing when you say that.
The world is a dark and scary place, and you need to know about every alleyway, tunnel, dead-end and burnt-out building. Because, as Tyrese said on The Walking Dead, how else can you really know “What’s happening and what’s going on.” Remaining willfully ignorant of a world you profess to want to help, just keeps you in the perpetual state of a 10-year-old riffing about farts and poops.
The nonprofit world is hard enough that we don’t need more 10-year-olds… what we need is for you to grow up.