How to be a Kinder, More Informed & Strategic Funder

I have been a funder. I have been a practitioner. I remain a researcher. I am a faculty member at a rather excellent university. I am now a consultant.

I am going to do my best to not make this blog a rant. In my attempt to remain professional, allow me to make this an open letter to all funders of homeless and housing programs for marginalized populations, as well as administrators of community-based grants programs.

Dear Funder,

I’ve been meaning to write for sometime now. I know I see you in crowded meetings when there is a new initiative to be launched. About once or twice at other times in the year you call or visit to make sure I am using your money wisely. I get a lot of directive-type emails from you (which are way too long for the number of hours in the day by the way). Truth is, I have missed you. You are important to my work. For some reason, though, I think you think I only exist to give you stats.

Sometimes I feel like you don’t know me at all.

Day in and day out, deep in the trenches, we work our butts off to meet the needs of people who, for better or worse, society have decided should have their needs met by us. It is a privilege and I don’t want you to think we are ungrateful of our responsibility. Money didn’t drive us to do this work. We felt a certain vocation to service. That makes us different than some other people in society. I love what I do.

Don’t think I’m trying to get you to pity me or give me a badge of courage. I just want to make sure that you know my prime motivation is service. I deliver the best services possible. I stay current on thoughts and practice in the field as best as I am able. When money allows I attend conferences (though not as many as you…just an observation, not a critique). I believe in data to drive program success. In fact, we collect way more information than you ask for because we believe it will make us better and better and better.

I like it when you invite me to meetings to discuss new initiatives. But I would like to have a real conversation. I like to be communicated with, not spoken to. Trust me, you are missing the opportunity to tap into some expertise that you may find really helpful.

I don’t mind when you bring in external people to facilitate meetings or provide training, but can we make a small improvement going forward (if you are open to suggestions)? Can you make sure they know our reality? Maybe some practical experience in the field instead of just theoretical experience? How about someone who can marry academia with practical experience? Oh, and make them smart and funny and charismatic. I want to feel inspired. And goodness knows I need a laugh. Plus I’d like to like the person.

I know you haven’t done front line work…or at least not in this millennia. So I want to make an offer for some experiential learning for you. I’d love to have you do a rotation for four or six weeks to see the reality from our side on the frontline. You are welcome to come whenever you like. We could use the extra hands, and I think you would like the experience. You may find it helpful to ground your service theories in practice if you had the chance. And I’d encourage you to do it at more than one organization so that you don’t just have the view of how one organization does the work.

I know that part of your job is to ask us for service statistics. I expect it. I embrace it. In fact, I love it. But I do have a bone to pick with you – and I hope you don’t think I am being too forward. Can you please stop the retroactive requests? You know, that little tidbit that you didn’t ask for at the start of the program but see as critical now? Each time you do that we have to track down every single person who has come in contact with our program or dig through mountains of notes in case files. I want to give it to you, for sure. But if I knew in advance what you want, I can cater our collection approaches to meet your needs. You keep telling me about budget restrictions and efficiencies, so thought you should know that retroactively searching for information is not a good use of our staff resources. It costs us a whack of dough in staff time.

By the way, I am seeing other funders in addition to you. I know when you speak to me you think our relationship is exclusive. It may break your heart to know that I rely on others too. Each of them has different demands of us. Such is the nature of the business. If I had time, though, I would host a Funder Forum. I’d like to put you all in the same room. I would want to share with you all of the administration requirements each of you as and reporting requirements. I’d point out where there are very slight differences and hope that you could figure out how to align what it is you want from us. In a perfect world all of our funding years would align, but I know that may be asking for too much.

The big thing for me right now is that I’d love for you to truly understand what it is I do. At meetings when you speak and demonstrate your complete lack of knowledge of my reality, I am not sure if I should laugh, cry, drink, walk out or all of the above. There is a space that has grown between us wider than the Grand Canyon. I want to bridge that divide. I just don’t know how. I think your policy directives and requests (and demands?) come from a place that is disjointed from the space-time continuum that I rely upon to meet people where they are at each and every day. Truth is, I think you have a big heart too. I don’t think you are mean. In the same way that you have educated me on loads of things, I want the chance to educate you too.

One more thing – and I am not trying to throw other well-deserving organizations under the bus – can you please treat us equally? I bust my chops to do all that you ask. Seems you keep investing in other programs that get neither the outputs nor outcomes that you ask for. Yes, I know they are politically connected. Yes, I know they are well intentioned. But you could reinvest the money in us and see way better results. Just saying. I mean what is the point of having staff on your side of things monitor contracts if performance doesn’t really matter?

Hopefully this letter hasn’t rubbed you the wrong way. I just needed to say what needed to be said. I think we can turn the page, start anew – pick the metaphor that makes you happy. But let’s have a chat about that. I’d hate you to think that I am looking for a new policy and procedures guideline on how you think we should start over.



The Organization that Busts its Chops to be the Best Organization Possible

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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