Why Now Is Not The Time For Strategic Planning
As some of you may know, I am trying to launch a new organization - a sort of nonprofit/consultancy hybrid to help independent abortion clinics. In trying to get off the ground I keep on running into a common refrain from both funders and fiscal sponsors: “We’re in strategic planning right now so we are not taking any new applicants.”
I understand the impulse, truly I do. I love a vision & a plan. There are a lot of competing priorities right now and everyone wants to be stewarding funds and programs as best as they possibly can. We want alignment and maximization of impact and all of it. Funders want to know where their money is going and why.
But here’s the thing: there’s no time. What there is: money in reserve.
We on the left, especially as it relates to philanthropy, think too much about the optics of money. We cap overhead and spend hours/weeks/months creating logic models and plans and quarterly reports for $5,000. We allow the public to shame organizations who pay their employees real wages. Everyone* wants something innovative but won’t pay for salaries. Grant applications are lengthy and complicated and all just a little bit different. We are stuck in our own accountability circle.
But this is a mess of our own making. Funders can break the system. They can take risks and decide to just give money widely and freely and see what sticks. They can say “we fund education and immigration” and empower their staff to decide what that means. Maybe, if we do that, in a year or two or three when the dust settles we can go back and evaluate what just happened, see what fell through the cracks, see who crashed and burned, see who rose above. Maybe if we do that now, we will have room to evaluate later.
But right now - days after an impeachment inquiry starts against the president, while kids are (STILL) locked in cages, as abortion bans are rolling out across the nation, as our refugee programs are slashed - now is not the time to think. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to take risks, to lay ourselves out on the line, to fight. Now is the time where, instead of going into a 6 month strategic planning process, funders should be doubling, tripling, quadrupling their payouts. They should double all their current grantees’ gifts and give it in general operating and see what happens. They should be simplifying grant requests and minimize reporting. They should invest in leaders of color and grassroots efforts.
Maybe it won’t work. Maybe billions of dollars will be lost along the way. I doubt that will happen, though. There are a lot of great organizations who could do amazing things with more funds. Bad eggs will get in, but they do in our current system, too. The right has shown us that if you pour money into changing public perception and political action you can. You can even convince people that climate change doesn’t exist as the world literally burns. We should take a lesson from their playbook. Stop thinking. Start doing.
*I’m generalizing a little. Blessedly more and more funders are giving general operating funds. But they are still a minority.