I spent an hour yesterday in that most dreaded of nonprofit executive’s activities: the declined-grant debrief

Sitting down, on the phone or in person, with foundation staff after a proposal has been declined is a good idea. It helps you see your organization through others’ eyes, points out unclear or contradictory statements in your proposal, and is also good donor relations, helping to build relationships with foundation staff, which is vital to the health of your organization.

Inevitably, in some of these, the staff (almost always young, white, middle class women), will pull out the “you seem to feel you are entitled to these funds” trope, because at some point you just can’t hide your dismay and frustration, especially if it’s a foundation to whom you have applied again and again, at the encouragement of the very staff that is now criticizing you for feeling entitled.

Guilty as charged. I feel entitled. Maybe my financial services organizations is one of the largest employers in town. Maybe my arts organization brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars in economic activity. Maybe my social service organization saved 25 families from homelessness last year. Maybe my environmental group built ten community gardens, feeding thousands of people. Maybe my educational organization helped the local school district to reduce truancy, or provided after school spaces to keep kids out of gangs. Maybe my medical clinic caught early cancers in poor women, saving lives and families.

So yes, I do feel entitled. Foundations are in the business of giving away money, to organizations like mine. If I didn’t feel entitled to it, I wouldn’t apply to that foundation, as I don’t apply to thousands of foundations, because their missions don’t support the work I do.

The nonprofit business model in America is built on the concept of entitlement. Foundations wouldn’t exist if at some level their donors didn’t feel that they are not entitled to retain all of their money for personal use. They wouldn’t exist if our government recognized that nonprofit organizations are doing the work that government ought to be doing, except that our government has this stick up its butt about everyone, even poor people and artists (redundant I know) feeling entitled to sharing in the benefits of society. Nonprofits wouldn’t feel entitled to foundation money if foundations weren’t set up explicitly to give money away, within the constraints of their mission, to nonprofits that are benefitting society.

I confess. I think I am entitled to XYZ foundation money. XYZ foundation is under no obligation to give it to me. But if you don’t think nonprofits should feel entitled to your money, maybe go into banking instead.

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