Upside Down Thinking about Funding and Funders

Funders should apply to community agencies to fund them.

Can you get your head around that?

I know. Funders won’t do that, but imagine if they did.

What would that look like?

Why would that approach be more impactful and cost-effective than current practice?

Would this upside down version of funding foster more partnerships?

Would there be a transformative power-shift?

I am as certain as you are we will never have a ubiquitous funding system where funders write proposals to community groups hoping to be chosen to invest in their work. But perhaps innovative ideas have more of a chance when we suspend certainty and embrace a wild idea or allow ourselves a bit of time to consider a heretical proposition.

Imagine if funders knew of a community or neighbourhood that was trying to scale up successful grass roots work and then imagine what it would mean if funders approached that community to ask how they can be supportive. Imagine if a community had some choices about who supports its efforts. Imagine if funders had to compete to invest in community impact.

Imagine if funders stopped asking unanswerable questions like how will you ensure your program is sustainable?  I have seen a question like that on funding forms where the ceiling grant available was $5,000.  The devil in me wanted to write something that pointed out the sad irony of the question being posed. But instead I wrote something that I prayed might resemble a sustainability plan.

Imagine if funders freed agencies from having to base everything on evidence-based practice or collaboration or the impossibility of capturing what outcomes will be achieved that in reality cannot be accurately measured. Perhaps the quest for innovation we all want so badly would be aided by some radical rethinking about how to achieve impact.

Transformative change has to be prefaced by transformational thinking, which often is rooted in disrupting the status quo with heretical ideas and proposals and then pursuing them to see all that unfolds when we release ourselves from the restraints we have created to ensure we keep to the proverbial knitting.

If we want sector innovation, we need to go toward what has not been explored or tested. We need to embrace the challenge to transform ourselves as individuals as we call out to others to collaborate for big changes in our communities.

Funders are crucial to this. Donors as well, but most the money comes from funders, especially governments. We need a rethink of annual grants in neat 12 month cycles (as if intractable problems manifest in quarterly morsels). We need funding applications and processes that actually live up to the grant-makers’ promises of “being your partner.”

Funders and community groups might be better served if they worked together to actually deepen understanding of the imperfections of our current funding systems while fostering  a new or better way to move the needle on community change.

Let’s not imagine that every community change effort must now be a collective impact initiative. We still need niche organizations, grass roots groups, independent efforts, don’t we?

Some times transformation is about destroying what has been sacrosanct and building something new, often dramatically new and yes, unnerving.

Transformational change requires acts of rebellion against what we have created that holds us back, slows us down, and too often turns away the bright ideas and bold possibilities of the minority, the outliers, the ones who would deconstruct what we hold to be the “right way” to do things.

There are funders out there who are testing new ground, who are making bold moves, and who recognize that they contribute to what is not working as much as to what is. We need more of them, so many that they become the new norm, a dynamic norm that will flex and change along the way to that tomorrow we want to create. And sustain.

Transformational change requires rebels.

Funders should be among them.


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