Reflection as a self-congratulatory proxy for action
December 10, 2018 8:31 AM   Subscribe

"Conservative funders focus on the big picture, act quickly, do not micromanage, provide significant general operating funds, fund for twenty or thirty years, support leaders and movements, engage in policy and politics, and treat grantees as equal partners. Progressive funders—with a few exceptions—intellectualize, are severely risk-averse, focus narrowly, fund isolated strategies and programs, avoid politics, and treat grantees like parasites and freeloaders." 10 things progressive funders must learn from conservative ones, or we are all screwed.
posted by showbiz_liz (30 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
(I am a grant writer. This is all so on-point it hurts.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:41 AM on December 10, 2018 [6 favorites]


there's a reason I mostly stopped applying for grants ... getting on thirty years ago now.
posted by philip-random at 8:54 AM on December 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


In case anyone else was having trouble figuring it out, the author of this piece is a guy named Vu Le. (It does have a copyright notice at the bottom of the sidebar, I just wasn't successfully deducing that the first bit was a person's name and the subsequent bits were a company name.)
posted by XMLicious at 8:54 AM on December 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


You know, I think that when something has been brought up time and again over decades and no change has resulted, this is because the people involved do not want to change.

Rich white men actually want the policies for which they advocate - which is why, as the article says, rich white men who head foundations are in tune with their foundations' constituency.

I would argue that rich, majority-white liberals don't actually especially want the policies for which they nominally advocate - they're often lovely people and in a general way they want society to be nice, adorable children of all races to dream of being astronauts, cute upper middle class gay couples to get gay-married, etc etc. But really wanting equality means really wanting to no longer run the show - an equal society simply would not sustain massive foundations which set political agendas, because that kind of concentration of wealth would not exist. Really wanting equality means not wanting people like you to have disproportionate power, and the type of people who are attracted to large scale charitable giving tend to be attracted to the power and attention it brings.

The board problem is a hard one, IMO, because most board members are supposed to raise a lot of money themselves (at least among the nonprofits I'm familiar with) and that is yet another factor skewing boards toward rich people - to meet your fund-raising obligations, you need some combination of personal wealth, connections to rich people and free time to fund-raise, and that makes it a lot harder for non-rich people to participate. (In theory, of course, you can raise money in small amounts from non-rich peers, but in actual fact this takes a lot of time.)
posted by Frowner at 8:58 AM on December 10, 2018 [62 favorites]


Show me the process in which equality is achieved by rich, powerful people voluntarily give up being rich and powerful.

I’ll wait.
posted by The Whelk at 9:16 AM on December 10, 2018 [34 favorites]


I'm not that convinced. First, all political movements think their side is a shambling mess and the other side is laser-focused on their evil plot. I'm sure plenty of right-wing grant recipients feel micro-managed - not to mention those that get treated like the hired help by the Kochs and Aldesons of the world.

Second, funding long-term and giving recipients free rein is how Matthew Whitaker gets $900,000 to sit on his ass (sorry, "on a board") for a year, waiting for the right job opening. Wingnut welfare is easy to do - just write checks to whatever grifter says what you want to hear on Fox News. There probably would be genuine value in paying a bunch of third-rate left-wingers to go on TV and spout talking points every Sunday, but there are other priorities.

The points about foundations are well taken - they should basically be set up to drain themselves over the course of a few years, rather than try to be self-sustaining over time. But all the incentives point in the other direction.
posted by five toed sloth at 9:19 AM on December 10, 2018 [4 favorites]


GOD. I have so much to say about this shit and while I am technically on the deep details hobbled by ndas I can absolutely fucking tell you that yes, wealthy white philanthropists are by and large a fucking nightmare.

Restricting grants: christ where do I even begin. Everyone wants a pet project with their name on it that they can tell people about. No one wants to fund the actual salaries and expenses of the people doing the work, because where's the fun in saying "well actually MY grant allowed a bunch of people making a difference in this community to earn more than minimum wage for their 70h work weeks".

Small amount grants for large projects: again, people just want their name on something. And nickle-and-diming people is the bread and butter of wealthy donors. They don't want the grantees to feel ~*spoiled*~ after all.

One time grants for ongoing problems: if you're not willing to actually work on something long term then essentially what you're doing is setting up grantees and programs for failure. I personally watched essential, fucking VITAL programs literally SHUT DOWN, unable to provide services anymore, because funders got bored with giving 10k per year, 1/3 of the program's entire budget, and not having the larger issue solved 100%, forever.

Funding poc orgs: at least 1/4 the roughly 10,000 grants I handled over 10 years were reciprocal grants between pet projects of wealthy white people for organizations that were abandoned after 5 years when the wealthy white founders got bored. Steering our funders towards community organizations run by poc in poc communities took so much of my energy and time and sanity and as far as I know, every single one of those grants were abandoned after I left the organization.

Diversifying boards: a pipe dream in 2018 america. sorry. All poc boards? Absolutely. All white boards admitting, understanding, accepting the need for diversity? lol

it's actually a little too depressing for me to continue this comment right now
posted by poffin boffin at 9:22 AM on December 10, 2018 [47 favorites]


and yes, i am 100% talking about progressive, liberal, democratic and democrat-supporting funders, people who look at the heritage foundation etc and conservative funders (rightfully) say "ew, gross".
posted by poffin boffin at 9:24 AM on December 10, 2018 [16 favorites]


Everyone wants thier name on a building but no one wants to fund necessary maintence or janitorial.

Ask me how I know.

Foundations and charity are mostly money laundering and make work programs for the rich.
posted by The Whelk at 9:35 AM on December 10, 2018 [24 favorites]


Thing I read decades ago: funding for dance where the selection process went through so many layers that ten times as much was spent on selection as was actually given to dancers.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:44 AM on December 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


Second, funding long-term and giving recipients free rein is how Matthew Whitaker gets $900,000 to sit on his ass

This argument is a hair's breadth away from the standard conservative argument against actual functional welfare programs and social safety nets: if you give without onerous restrictions, no matter how much good is done it is overshadowed entirely if one "undeserving" person benefits.

We are better than this.
posted by tocts at 9:45 AM on December 10, 2018 [5 favorites]


All you have to say in order to send me, my boss, or our finance manager on a five-minute rant is the word sustainability. "What is your sustainability plan for after our grant funding ends?" What answer could they possibly expect other than "we will go ask somebody else for the same amount of money, since, you know, we are a nonprofit and our gift shop sales aren't gonna be covering the full operating budget anytime soon"?
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:47 AM on December 10, 2018 [22 favorites]


But really wanting equality means really wanting to no longer run the show

I just broke my phone screen favoriting that. It sums up so much of liberal hypocrisy. Many liberals seem to want to think of themselves as good people, but not to actually give up their positions in the heirarchy. Sorry, but equality means there can be no heirarchy. If you claim to want equality but at the same time you're putting ornamental cupolas on your seaside mansion and buying your teenaged children brand new SUVs, I'm sorry but you are still very much part of the problem.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:47 AM on December 10, 2018 [20 favorites]


I would argue that rich, majority-white liberals don't actually especially want the policies for which they nominally advocate - they're often lovely people and in a general way they want society to be nice, adorable children of all races to dream of being astronauts, cute upper middle class gay couples to get gay-married, etc etc. But really wanting equality means really wanting to no longer run the show - an equal society simply would not sustain massive foundations which set political agendas, because that kind of concentration of wealth would not exist. Really wanting equality means not wanting people like you to have disproportionate power, and the type of people who are attracted to large scale charitable giving tend to be attracted to the power and attention it brings.

I think this makes a lot of sense and goes with the "narrow focus" mentioned above; I think if you're really rich it's easy to believe you want progressive things because you don't want people to starve and seeing people experiencing homelessness really bums you out which is akin to compassion*. It's much harder actually to want to fix the problems because this involves huge, systemic overhaul and once you recognize the scope of the issues we're facing and the deep, intersectional factors causing them you can't go back**, and this recognition involves feeling very, very uncomfortable and that's hard and painful. It's really hard! It's SO uncomfortable to recognize your privilege, really face it, and recognize the work it will take both personally and societally to dismantle it, and commit to doing that, and so if you're really rich you can give money to programs that are very carefully curated to make you feel good but don't actually do anything to address the systemic issues that are causing other people pain and have helped ensure that you are really fucking rich.

I also think, and I really really hesitate to say this because I know I'm kind of accepting a conservative dogwhistle here, but sometimes I wonder if some of these donations to liberal/progressive causes from rich people actually are the virtue signalling I'm always hearing about? If you're rich and a liberal but NOT a leftist, you know that progressive/progressiveish causes are the "good" ones, so you donate to those (and, as poffin boffin points out, they are definitely less gross and horrifying than conservative things), and so you feel good and can tell yourself you're helping, but this kind of help accepts the framework that is causing the problem. This is very "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house" territory; rich white people donations are not going to break down the system that means that rich white people have SO MUCH MONEY that they feel guilty enough to donate to "progressive" causes.

*This sounds meaner than I intend, I believe the discomfort in situations like this can come from a genuine place.

**Tangentially, I would like to reclaim the red pill analogy from The Matrix for describing becoming aware of the systems of oppression that surround us, sort of equivalent to "getting woke" but I am under the impression that as a white person that's pretty appropriative for me to say and and it sounds like I'm joking even if I'm not. The Matrix is a movie written by two trans sisters so it's ours, the MRAs may not have it, taking the red pill should mean having your eyes opened to the systemic oppression and white supremacy and heterosexist/cissexit patriarchy built into our society. The Wachowski sisters did not invent bullet time so the MRAs could steal our metaphors.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:51 AM on December 10, 2018 [24 favorites]


yeah basically truly wanting widespread societal change for the betterment of all rather than the betterment of the few means that wealthy white donors have to admit, understand, and accept that the societal norms which permitted them to reach their current status have to be dismantled, and they're not willing to consider it, much less act towards that change, when noblesse oblige allows them to feel as though valuable changes might happen, a little bit, someday.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:55 AM on December 10, 2018 [7 favorites]


It's SO uncomfortable to recognize your privilege, really face it, and recognize the work it will take both personally and societally to dismantle it, and commit to doing that, and so if you're really rich you can give money to programs that are very carefully curated to make you feel good but don't actually do anything to address the systemic issues that are causing other people pain and have helped ensure that you are really fucking rich.

I'm not sure I agree with every point in the following article, but this conversation is really reminding me of it - Watch Out! Here Come the ‘Woke’ Tech Oligarchs:

Once the rich protected themselves by aligning with Republicans who would protect their property from high taxes and their firms from regulation. Some still do—notably the Koch brothers—but this breed of right-winger is gradually losing out to more progressive tilted plutocrats [...] This oligarchic drift has been building for years, as wealth has shifted from traditional resource and manufacturing industries to software, media, finance, and entertainment. In sharp contrast to energy firms, home-builders, and farmers, the regulatory state does not threaten the bottom lines of these industries, as long as it refrains from breaking up their virtual monopolies.

Indeed, as researcher Greg Ferenstein suggests, the new oligarchs favor an active state that will subsidize worker housing or even a guaranteed minimum income, and keep their businesses off the hook for providing decent benefits to their ever expanding cadre of gig-economy serfs.

posted by showbiz_liz at 10:01 AM on December 10, 2018 [17 favorites]


This is very "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house" territory; rich white people donations are not going to break down the system that means that rich white people have SO MUCH MONEY that they feel guilty enough to donate to "progressive" causes.

Hoo boy, welcome to the constant existential crisis of basically everyone I know in the field of nonprofit fundraising!
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:03 AM on December 10, 2018 [13 favorites]


like imagine having to spend weeks at a time defending a 5k grant to someone who, on each of their 7 credit cards, spends more than your annual salary EVERY MONTH.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2018 [26 favorites]


This is very "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house" territory; rich white people donations are not going to break down the system that means that rich white people have SO MUCH MONEY that they feel guilty enough to donate to "progressive" causes.

Sometimes I think (sometimes I even know) that the real problem has nothing to do with who's doing what with money -- it's the money itself, the power it represents if you've got it.

Many years ago while trying to raise funds for an independent feature film, I arranged a meeting with an old friend who'd done rather well for himself in the advertising biz, but had kept to his left leaning politics, and indeed had gotten very active in the fundraising side of things. The meeting went okay at best, then later on we went for a drink which got him opening up about his frustrations. "It doesn't matter how solid your politics are," he said at some point, "How cool your project, how informed your perspectives, when it comes to your money, our money, the stuff we've got in the bank -- everybody's an asshole."
posted by philip-random at 10:24 AM on December 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


In sharp contrast to energy firms, home-builders, and farmers, the regulatory state does not threaten the bottom lines of these industries, as long as it refrains from breaking up their virtual monopolies.

This is not accurate, though. Each of these industries deploys phalanxes of lawyers to thwart regulatory action, and not just the anti-trust type. Where do you think people like Mick Mulvaney come from?
posted by praemunire at 10:33 AM on December 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


This all underscores how, in a deeply competitive and status driven society, that the fight for equality and change is only driven from below. The rich do this stuff mostly as a status display and they need hobbies to take up their time.
posted by MillMan at 10:35 AM on December 10, 2018 [4 favorites]


Which is why it has to be taken away; the money.

Taken away, e.g. as taxes, by some large, relatively impartial institution, e.g. a federal government, and then distributed to organizations who don't have it but provide an essential service to society, and people who don't have it but need it for basic human rights.

And yet this absolutely necessary, 100% humane, completely achievable, and far more efficient and effective for reducing war, famine and suffering redistribution of wealth is somehow revolutionary?

I haven't spent as much time in granting as others, but as an artist who applied for and received a few and not received others, as well as being adjacent to many arts organizations and grant review committees ... I know this music. And I hate it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:35 AM on December 10, 2018 [8 favorites]


Second, funding long-term and giving recipients free rein is how Matthew Whitaker gets $900,000 to sit on his ass (sorry, "on a board") for a year, waiting for the right job opening. Wingnut welfare is easy to do - just write checks to whatever grifter says what you want to hear on Fox News. There probably would be genuine value in paying a bunch of third-rate left-wingers to go on TV and spout talking points every Sunday, but there are other priorities.

While grantees abusing the situation can happen, in practice, the "free rein" of unrestricted funding is only as free for as long as the funding persists. Grantees are still very sensitive to the fact that the funder can turn off the spigot at any point. But generally when foundations and donors are giving nonprofits long-term restricted support, it is to organizations that have a track record. Organizations that are still proving themselves get smaller, shorter grants.

When the goals of the funder and grantee align, this can work very well. Of course, one of the goals might be "wingnut welfare" which is how you get situations like Whitaker. But that's primarily a function of the goals, not the mechanism.

Of course, unrestricted funding doesn't necessarily eliminate the "how do I get a track record without any track record" problem, but that's an issue with restricted grants, too.
posted by AndrewInDC at 10:44 AM on December 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


I disagree with most of the points in this article. It creates a myth that conservatives have some great organizational superpower that leads to their success.

It's not true. Conservatives have exactly one thing going for them -- they have literally 10 times as much money to throw around as progressives. And all of them are grifters skimming huge amounts off the top -- and they don't care because they have so much money to throw around.

Matt Whittaker is a good example. He did absolutely nothing to advance the conservative cause except operate as an anonymous pass through for conservative money. He skims off 20%, millions for himself, just for cashing one check and writing another to launder money, and nobody cares because there are so many millions to go around.

No, it isn't that conservatives are better at managing how they allocate their money and progressives are worse. It's that conservatives have so much to spend that efficiency isn't even a factor. So what if 90% is totally wasted on grifters. That still leaves them more than progressives have to spend.
posted by JackFlash at 1:01 PM on December 10, 2018 [10 favorites]


And this idea that progressive foundations should pay out a minimum of 10% of their endowment each year and simultaneously give grants for a minimum of 10 years -- you realize that these two demands are antithetical.

What they are proposing is bankrupting their foundations. And then what are you going to do for the second 10 years? They must be imagining some magical land in which money for progressive causes is unlimited. It isn't and simply demanding that it should be is useless whining. Conservatives have an unlimited supply of money. Progressives do not. You have to live within the constraints of the real world as it exists, not as you would imagine it to be.
posted by JackFlash at 1:10 PM on December 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


most nonoperating foundations meet the 5% minimum annual distribution on staff salaries alone.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:14 PM on December 10, 2018


First, all political movements think their side is a shambling mess and the other side is laser-focused on their evil plot.

As a datum: in my experience, no one is better organized or runs more productive meetings than a group of anarcho-communusts (who I consider to be my "side"). I've had positive, stimulating writing/editing by committee experiences with such groups, even. Political anarchists (i.e. anarchists, but to distinguish from teenage boys who like to call themselves anarchists to rebel, who I've heard referred to as lifestyle anarchists, I think?) tend to be process nerds. On the other end of the political spectrum, white supremacists definitely have evil plots, but (fortunately) seem to be supremely bad at working together for any length of time.
posted by eviemath at 2:25 PM on December 10, 2018 [5 favorites]


How often do rich people donate to unions?
posted by clawsoon at 3:10 PM on December 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


I just want to laugh bitterly and long and long. It beats weeping.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:23 PM on December 10, 2018


In sharp contrast to energy firms, home-builders, and farmers, the regulatory state does not threaten the bottom lines of these industries, as long as it refrains from breaking up their virtual monopolies.

Notably even these industries are keen on regulation that does not constrain them. Farmers have historically agitated against bankers because farming is capital intensive due to its long production cycle.
posted by atrazine at 7:20 AM on December 11, 2018


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