9 questions to ask yourself as you seek funding

your funder is not your friend, a dragon image by mazarine treyz

Are you trying to get grants right now? This is why your funder is not your friend. We’re going to look at how funders do not give most of their money to marginalized people led organizations, why objectivity is a myth, what to do to apply the scientific method, 9 questions to ask yourself as you look for funding, what’s UPSTREAM from this problem, and what could potentially help nonprofits more than just funder education on this.

First, have you looked for a grant recently? Here’s something to put in your back pocket as you look at which problems foundations are funding potential solutions to right now. And if you are a funder, feel free to ask yourself these same questions.

9 questions to ask yourself as you look for funding:

  1. 1. Where did that grant money come from?

  1. 2. Which questions are getting funded?

  1. 3. Which questions AREN’T getting prioritized?

  1. 4. 90% of funding goes to white led, snowcapped organizations. Most money flows to men. How can we correct this?

  1. 5. Who does it serve if you never question the upstream reasons for this imbalance of funding, power and misogyny?

  1. 6. Who does it serve if you “stay silent to get the funding?”

  1. 7. Who does it serve if you don’t look at the historical origins of the wealth you’re asking for?

  1. 8. Who does it serve if you uncomplainingly put in overtime, don’t get overly political, never take vacation, work until you’re sick?

  1. 9. Who does it serve if you’re always worried about being too fat, lazy, or broke? Why would it mean something wrong?

Objectivity is a myth

Why aren’t funders asking us to solve the questions of: “How do we recognize white supremacy inside our nonprofit system and government and work to change it?” instead of “How do we make another flavor of microfinance?”

Your funders are not objective.

Think about the scientific method. If you want to be able to arrive at results, if you’re conducting a study, you devise rigorous methodologies to name as clearly as possible any bias that we’re bringing to the table, and WHY.

Don’t just name your identities, but CORRECT for those biases to the best of your ability.

When we pretend we don’t have a bias, that keeps us from correcting for our biases.

Pretending to be neutral is pathetic. You have to own your positionality.

We don’t just to designate ourselves objective because we think it sounds fancy. All fields of natural science are best analyzed by the social sciences. This has potential consequences for most, perhaps all scientific practice. Men’s rights activists dominate the discourse on objectivity. It’s so frustrating.

Objectivity does not exist.

Therefore, the way we distribute funds is not objective. Funders’ attempts to redistribute small amounts of funds from ill-gotten gains is in fact brandwashing. They are obfuscating the truth-that we have been trained to think giving a pittance makes a difference. That we think “meaning well” covers all actual impacts of the roots of our extractative capitalism. Here’s just one example, below.

It says Independence from Shell. Shell Foundation is an independent UK registered charity that catalyzes enterprise based solutions to global development challenges. Our indepdence is key to our ability to deliver our charitable objectives and is maintained in a number of ways. This image is taken from the Shell Foundation front page. And it illustrates why your funder is not your friend.

As you can see from the disclaimer above, the Shell Foundation ASSURES us that is independent from Shell Oil. If that is where your money is coming from, how independent are you, really? Will they allow you to say things criticizing them? If not, then you are not independent. You are a marketing arm of a global brand that is destroying the planet.

We have been trained to think giving a pittance makes a difference

-Mazarine Treyz

What’s Upstream? (Why do we have this problem?)

An activist from #CharitySoWhite, Saba Shafi, spoke at my online conference, The Party at the End of the Patriarchy, and told a story that asked this important question. “Why do we never look UPSTREAM about the root problem?”

Did you know that investment in women of color led companies perform 63% better than all-male teams?

So why aren’t foundations doing more to invest in us? Why are only 3% of investment funds going to women? And really of that, 2.7% is going to white women, according to INC magazine, and less than .3% is going to women of color! Project Diane shows that investment numbers are up for Black and Latinx women in the US, but we still have a long way to go.

These are the numbers I could find for for-profit investment. Why isn’t foundation funding more transparent, as we ask business investment funding to be? Why are we not holding foundations to higher standards when it comes to giving money away to organizations led by marginalized and oppressed people? What motivation does your funder have to be better?

Why do we not look at the misogynist systems of patriarchy that enable the bias against women and marginalized people getting funding in the first place? Is it because it would THREATEN the current systems of philanthropy that allow the ruling class to look away from the rotten core of their wealth? Could this be why your funder is not your friend?

Part of the problem is the way we respond to the problem. 

We try to put a bandaid on a larger societal problem. We say we want to help marginalized people led organizations succeed, but we assume we have to buy into capitalism completely-hustle and compete, grind, work super hard, and never take a vacation, and burn ourselves out. Then if we haven’t made our income goals by the end of the first or second year, we call ourselves failures.

Sometimes working as an fundraiser or a founder can feel like wandering in an amoral maze of thought-terminating cliches.

Sample Fundraising Thought-Terminating Cliches:

  • “Married to the grind! #Girlboss!”
  • “Lean In!” -Cheryl Sandberg
  • “Hustle until you no longer have to introduce yourself”

What if our work isn’t meant to look like capitalist dudebro burnout?

Why not give Universal Basic Income to everyone and allow us the space to breathe and grow and change the systems without the oppression of having to earn a living in a job that doesn’t pay enough?

Socialism for them, Capitalism for Us. We Say Enough.

Amazon did not make money in the first 10 years in business, and Jeff Bezos was allowed to do that by investors who believed in him. Why do we give him leeway and expect our fundraisers to have to make money instantly? Do you see how it’s socialism for the ruling class, and capitalism for the rest of us? This is why your funder is not your friend. Especially if you’ve gotten loans to make your nonprofit go.

What if we could support our Black led nonprofits better, for example, as soon as you register your nonprofit, you get $100K in grants?

Instead we see Black nonprofit leaders filling out long complicated forms for grants when their nonprofits are in trouble, which is scary and can lead to more nonprofit failure.

Why are we not demanding better government systems to find nonprofits on the edge of going out of business, give people universal basic income, cancel rent, cancel mortgages, free healthcare, and stop these problems before they start?

If you would like to learn more about this, some ideas!

Alnoor Ladha’s interview on The Feral Visions Podcast, called Capitalists and Other Cannibals, Anjali Nath Upadhyay’s feminist Feral Visions podcast, the Upstream podcast, and the McMindfulness book by Ronald Purser.

If you would like to unlearn some of your biases around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, join us at A Path to Action Conference November 18-19.

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