A Mixed Blessing


It's proposal writing time again! Yay!

(Just kidding.)

One of the questions to ask about funding is "what will it cost us?" Surprisingly, receiving charitable giving is rarely cheap. Quite apart from the up-front investment in time spent writing proposals and gathering necessary documentation - anywhere from 6 to 30 unpaid hours - there's the issue of donor recognition.

Jan Greer Langley authored a Literacy Coalition of New Brunswick Community Capacity Building Tool Kit (2003) [pdf link] that proposed an example donor recognition pyramid.

Literacy Champion - $1,000 or more
This donor will be publicly recognized (through the media or at a special event) and the donor's name (and logo) or picture will be highlighted on all marketing materials and will receive a special recognition award and a thank you letter. If the donor is a business, place their logo on the signage for your classroom.

Literacy Hero - $500 to $999
This donor will be publicly recognized at a special event, will receive a framed plaque to display in his/her home or office and a thank you letter.

Literacy Winner - $100 to $499.
This donor will be publicly recognized at a special event and a thank you letter.

Literacy Friend - Up to $100.
This donor will receive a personal thank you letter and a framed certificate.

She adds, "Special recognition events can range from dinners (very expensive!) to teas or receptions at a community location or at your literacy programs. Most donors would prefer that their money not be spent on expensive displays of appreciation."

Hmmm.... Maybe. let's hope so. Many donors also prefer positive media attention which, depending on your town or city's media climate, can be as hard to arrange as the original grant.

Then, there's the murkier area of how funding constraints and characteristics can reshape the work we do. Following available money sometimes means changing where, when and how a program is delivered, irrespective of past evaluations or front-line learnings.

Sometimes funders seem to think they are contracting a service rather than supporting a cause.



This feels like a very impolite and impolitic thing to say out loud. (Maybe people will get mad and not fund us at all!?!)

But, you know, it's a common theme in the grown-up world of private sector investment or private-public partnerships.

Here are just two examples of how funder influence gets written about in a cautionary tone.

First, Professor Anton Harber writing in the spring of 2008 on proposed government funding for South African Broadcasting (link):

But the dangers are immense. For one thing, direct government funding could give politicians a stranglehold on the institution. A government which can give and take away budgets is one that has too much control. If government funding is to assist the broadcaster, then it will have to be ... long-term funding so that it is not subject to annual manipulation, which could make the broadcaster dependant on the whim of the government. It would need to go through a third party, an independent body of the good and the great, to lessen the chances of political pressure.

Now, here's Scott Allen from Entrepreneurs.About.Com writing about seeking investment for a private start-up company (Finding funding for your new small business):

Because investors take on a much higher risk than lenders, they are typically far more involved in your company. This can be a mixed blessing. They will likely offer advice and connections to help grow your business. But if their plan is to exit your company in 2-3 years with a substantial return on their investment, and your motivation is the long-term sustainable growth of the company, you may find yourself at odds with them as the company grows. Be careful not to give up too much control of your company.
In both cases the authors were very up-front: the wrong kind of funding arrangements can lead to loss of control or quality, and even to failure. Articles like these make me wish literacy organizations had the freedom to be much more cautious and selective about accepting business or government hand-outs.

I've posted earlier about the Literacies Journal article subtitled "Be Careful What You Wish For." It (the article) is worth another look if you're interested in thinking more critically about short and long term funding.

Meanwhile, let me leave you with my own not-very-funny "funny".



P.s. Be careful what you wish for.

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