You’re an Applicant, Not a Supplicant

May 15, 2017       THE NONPROFIT TIMES      

The stereotype of grantseekers as beggars is common. The image is one of nonprofits with hands out, heads down, and knees bent before suspicious funders. With such a huge imbalance of power between those who give and those who ask, it’s easy to see how the stereotype endures.

“The stereotype is unfortunate,” said Barbara Floersch, executive director of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “In reality, funders and nonprofits are a team. Each sector has a job to do and neither can do it without the other.”

Funders need the expertise, connections, and muscle of the nonprofits. Nonprofits need grant funding to support their work, and can also benefit from a different perspective provided by funders.

Both funders and grantseekers bear responsibility for the beggar/benefactor stereotype and it will take the effort of both to correct the picture. “The first step is to move away from business as usual and to focus on building authentic, respectful partnerships with each other,” said Floersch.

Funders contribute to the characterization of nonprofits as beggars when they operate in isolation, fail to obtain meaningful input from the nonprofits that will do the work, and treat grantseekers disrespectfully.

Nonprofits contribute to the stereotype by chasing grant dollars rather than pursuing mission and outcomes. “It’s essential that community needs, rather than funding opportunities, drive the nonprofit work,” said Floersch.

The late Norton Kiritz, who was tough on both foundations and nonprofits urged nonprofits to stand up straight, focus on mission, and embrace the power of their role. “You’re applicants, not supplicants,” thundered Norton. “Don’t beg.”

“Nonprofits are advocates for the issues they address and the people they assist,” said Floersch. “To be a strong, effective advocate you’ve got to know your field and represent your constituents with clarity and strength.” © Copyright 2016, The Grantsmanship Center