Vladimir Nabokov wrote, "Satire is a lesson, parody is a game."
Grant T. Goldhammer and Ophelia Pain's article entitled "A Strategic Nonprofit Reorganization Plan" is just the type of satire the sector needs to drive home some critical lessons about improving relationships between funders and grantees.
In it, the authors (one of whom, according to the Nonprofit Quarterly, on whose pages both have appeared, created the Philanthrobabble Generator) satirize several common dynamics between funders and their grantees, attempting to turn the relationship on its head, in the form of a letter - really a manifesto - from a nonprofit to its funders. For example,
Program autonomy. We will no longer seek funding for specific projects of interest to the foundation community; instead, all future grants will support activities at our organization’s sole discretion. This change will allow us to develop programs that best meet the needs of the communities we serve and provide for greater public input and accountability.
Streamlined grant-application process. We send you an invoice, you send us the money. No staff or board review on the funder side. This streamlined approval process will reduce meetings and bureaucracy as well as free up foundation staff and funds for expanded grantmaking.
While, as satire, the piece clearly goes to an extreme, it makes some important points:
- Nonprofits need general operating support. This has been a much-discussed topic in recent months (and years!), but little has changed in terms of the numbers of grants awarded for general operating support versus program grants;
- Funder-grantee dynamics. Funders have money. Grantees want money. Funders ask grantees to do things. Grantees want money. Grantees therefore do things. Those things are not always the best use of the grantees' resources. Collaborations are great, for example, and funders are frequently in an ideal position to identify potential collaborations. Requiring specific collaborations is another story, and not necessarily beneficial to all paries;
- Streamlining grant applications. While the segment quoted above clearly takes it to an extreme, streamlining the grant administration process has benefits not only for the grantee, but also for the funder.
What do you think? What lessons can we - as a sector - learn from this satirical send-up of the funder-grantee relationship?
Nabokov monument photo from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monument_Nabokov_Montreux_23.12.2006.jpg