Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Oh you silly funders

I am a grant writer.
I generally like it.

This is what I hate about it.

Most funders want to see a plan for "self-sustainability."
Usually, this consists of you saying that fees from the program will cover costs or that you are "identifying and securing additional funds."

I understand that they are working from the "Teach a man to fish" principle, and there are LOTS of worthy programs out there and they can't fund them all.
It does makes sense that it's better to fund a program that may generate its own income.
There's one glaring problem with that concept.

If you are a funder, you are funding nonprofit organizations.
The nonprofit sector sprung up to provide services that do not exist elsewhere - they aren't governmental and they often can't survive in a capitalist system.

If my organization offered our product at market value, few could afford it. But we, as a community, have decided that our product is a good thing and because our product is arts and culture - the government has offered the incentive of tax exemption to help keep its costs lower.

Except it still costs more than the market will bear, so we have to raise income from those who want to see it continue and are willing to subsidize the product by making it available at a lower cost.

If what we did was sustainable, it would thrive in the capitalist marketplace and therefore not require subsidy.

Consider a clinic offering free behavioral health services to those lacking health insurance. Until there is a systematic change that allows for universal health care, this clinic will always depend on donations to ensure the program's survival. What is their "sustainability plan?"

As a funder, you could choose to invest your dollars in advocacy to change the system - but the band aid is still necessary until the system changes.

So, sure - we're all trying to increase our sustainability - but wouldn't the organization's resources be better used towards meeting the mission than paying for someone (or a whole department) whose job it is to constantly look for new money.

Why not just decide to fund it and FUND IT.

It's a difficult series of choices for both sides, but STOP ASKING US TO BE SOMETHING WE ARE INHERENTLY NOT, which is consistently self-sustaining.

If we were in the business of turning a sustainable profit, we'd be drilling oil or investing in hedge funds, not bringing arts to students or providing free health care.

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