If you’re like me, you read through the 2014 Nonprofit Finance Fund State of the Sector report and breathed a sigh of relief. Not because the 2014 report paints a particularly rosy picture of where we are as a society and as a sector, mind you, but because the results of the 2009 survey are still seared into so many of our memories.
Yeah, you remember that survey--the one that spelled out so plainly what all of us were experiencing in our neighborhoods and our organizations: soaring demand for critical services (93% of organizations providing these services reported an increase in need) and plummeting resources (62% and 43% of organizations braced for foundation and government funding cuts respectively). The majority of respondents planned to operate at a deficit that year. Those were some pretty dark days, friends.
And like I said, it’s not that the 2014 report is calling for 7 days of high temps and sun. 80% of this year’s respondents are still anticipating increased need for their communities. But far fewer are operating at a deficit and the year over year comparison shows that funding prospects are essentially expected to remain level. So, while we're at a place where we're no longer in freefall, the sense memory of the freefall is still pretty acute.
What better time to have real conversations about the relationship between funders and grantees?
As you know from past posts, YNPN and EPIP have made a commitment to advancing the conversation about the power dynamics that exist between funders and grantees. We call this the Beans & Cornbread convo as a reference to the Louis Jordan & Tympany Five song about things that go together but sometimes just can’t get along. Rahsaan and I have been open about the fact that we don’t exactly have a 12-step plan for “advancing the conversation” but we do have a strong, shared desire to actively and thoughtfully experiment.
Members of YNPN & EPIP's NYC chapters talking funder-grantee relationships
As another step in the direction of figuring out how funders and grantees can go together and get along better, earlier this month we hosted a pilot dialogue circle which brought together 3 representatives from YNPN NYC and 3 representatives from EPIP NYC.
Over pizza and snacks, facilitator Lucretia John (formerly of the Funding Exchange) guided the group through some introductory questions about identity, hopes, and fears for the conversation, then opened up the floor for participants to reflect on three basic questions:
Who has power to create change in communities?
Who sets the priorities for change efforts?
Who defines impact?
As you can imagine, the responses to these questions raised even more questions. More importantly, early feedback tells us that the experience also highlighted the shared identities, goals, and attitudes of folks in the room, as well as an eagerness to learn more about each other and how we can use these stronger relationships to change how power plays out in social change work.
This is great news for the vast majority of this year’s NFF respondents who reported that they can’t have real conversations with their funders about anything other than expanding programs. And we all know that it takes more than that to build stronger communities.
You’ll be seeing a fuller synopsis of the pilot conversation and plans for next steps soon. In the meantime, check out the NFF Report and tell us in the comments below where you’re seeing signs of hope or how you think we should continue the conversation.
So it’s been about 9 months since you looked in your inbox and checked your Twitter feed, saw the words “Beans and Cornbread” for the first time, and thought:
Rahsaan and I sent out that note and posted this blog way back when, hoping to take a conversation that had been happening between the leaders of EPIP and YNPN National and put it where it belongs: out into our communities. You’ll remember, we said:
We got such a wide range of responses:
Some of you wanted to let us know that you were already building those bridges. (Shout out to all the EPIP/YNPN chapters that are already co-programming, like the Twin Cities chapters working together to build a cross-sector leadership development institute!)
Some of you YELLED AT US IN ALL CAPS FOR GETTING THAT SONG STUCK IN YOUR HEAD FOR DAYS! (#sorrynotsorry)
But, the VAST majority of folks we heard from wanted to say thanks. You talked about the fact that this issue of power is one that all of us struggle with--sometimes outwardly but often inwardly. And you were grateful for some space to sort it out and actually work through it.
Rahsaan and I were open and have continued to be open about the fact that we didn’t have much of a plan about the best way to create these spaces. Early on we agreed to be reflective and intentional about moving this conversation forward but we also agreed that it was okay to just see what opportunities to build momentum presented themselves.
And some great opportunities did!
At the Network level -
We learned via survey that there is great interest and excitement between EPIP and YNPN members to do more co-programming
EPIP opened up it’s annual conference to YNPN members in Chicago and invited Trish Tchume to take part. YNPN National selected Rahsaan to give a “Spark Speech” about power dynamics at their annual conference in Phoenix.
Beyond EPIP and YNPN
Trish and Rahsaan were invited to share this conversation with a wider group at the Whitman Institute Retreat in Santa Cruz, CA, where they co-facilitated a workshop discussion about power dynamics in the sector. Turns out younger leaders aren’t the only folks who are ready for this barrier to come down. The workshop included funders, grantees, younger, and older leaders - all of whom are calling for more spaces to work through these issues.
Following the Whitman Institute Jess Rimington of One World Youth Project decided to join Rahsaan and I as core organizers to move these conversations forward.
So what’s to come? We know that we need to keep widening this discussion to drill down to what people see as the true barriers and to work with those same folks to identify some workable short term and long term solutions. So our plan for now is to host a mid-sized gathering in New York to expand the conversation.
Where else are you seeing opportunities to address these issues on the ground. Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet feedback to #BandC_power. We’ll keep you engaged as well on how these conversations are developing and ways that you can connect to them virtually.
Because (sing it with us) Beans and Cornbread... we go hand in hand!
This video - Dan Pallotta's The way we think about charity is dead wrong - has been rocketing around the internet over the past couple of weeks. Numerous people have emailed it to me and a couple have shared it on my facebook wall. All of them have been asking what I think.
I finally had a chance to sit down and watch it a few days ago and, honestly, what strikes me most about it is not the central message about how our emphasis on overhead misses both the point and the potential of the nonprofit sector. I don’t think Dan Pallota is saying anything that folks like Kim Klein or GIFT have been making for years - though I always appreicate when someone’s able to underscore an important point eloquently. Mr. Palotta does just that in his TED Talk, so I am very grateful to him.
What struck me most about Dan Pallotta's talk is that he’s trying to shine a bright light on something that isn't necessarily controversial. The vast majority of us agree that the way we think about nonprofit operations is broken. Even folks outside of the sector who don't have an understanding of the ins and outs of running a nonprofit organization understand the simplicity of the argument that you can't solve big, complex problems with meager investments. What's difficult is where to and how to begin to change something that has become culturally comfortable, however dysfunctional. What are the first steps an individual, let alone a sector takes in making a fundamental shift in the way that it thinks and operates?
Last month, Rahsaan Harris, executive director of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, and I posted a blog and sent eblasts to our respective networks about something else that most of us agree is broken - power dynamics between funders and grantees in the nonprofit sector. We titled the eblast Beans & Cornbread - Rahsaan's tongue-in-cheek reference to the Louis Jordan & Tympany Five song about things that go together but sometimes just can't get along. But we also talked seriously about this need for a fundamental shift in the way that these dynamics play out and what we see as the role of our generation in facing these issues.
What Rahsaan and I found in our conversations surrounding the post was that agreeing that the fundamental relationship between the nonprofit sector and the philanthropic sector is problematic wasn't hard. Agreeing that EPIP and YNPN have a unique role to play in addressing these dynamics wasn’t hard either. It’s a conversation that our organizations have actually been having for years and our members are very ready for based on the numerous responses we got to the survey that accompanied the post. What's hard is figuring out what to do next.
After we sent out the post, many responded enthusiastically, “Saying, okay - what’s the plan?” Here’s the honest answer - we’re not really sure. EPIP and YNPN have taken important steps by co-facilitating power dynamics workshops together but know that this is only one piece of the puzzle. We know that it’s important to set the stage at the National level but also need our members to be talking one on one. We know that this conversation has and will take years (as fundamental shifts tend to) and it will take many of us working patiently together. So we're as curious and excited as everyone else to see where it will lead.
What we do know is that folks are ready - they’re past ready. So we’re ready too. And we’re looking forward to figuring this out together.