Paul Shoemaker Blog

Social Ventures Partners Seattle has launched a new website. The site hosts a blog authored by Paul Shoemaker. Paul recently wrote a rather daring post that I want to share. Note that Paul himself is a “funder”:

So much of this conversation is about how funding organizations function, how non-profits can be more efficient, about the relationship between funders and non-profits. Do not mistake the message here – all of it is valid, meaningful work and SVP is in the middle of it. But as a matter of proportion and urgency, there is one “player” in the equation that gets talked about less than they should:  the families, children, environment, civic and arts causes, homeless adults, et al that we are all in business to help.

The professionals in the sector think about important issues like operating vs. project support, how much reporting is appropriate, how funders and non-profits can have a more equal accountability relationship, and so on. It comes from good motivations, but at times is too self- and peer-focused, inside an echo chamber of sorts. It’s not sufficiently about the clients and beneficiaries. A lot of this goes back to two facts: 1) the ‘end user’ (i.e. families, children, et al) often is not the one that pays for the service and 2) the ultimate outcomes are often fuzzy and grey.

What if these ‘end users’ were somehow more top-of-mind and constantly urgent in our day-to-day work (I’m not talking here about counselors, therapists, etc on the front line at the non-profit provider)? What if we had to talk to and work with them every single day? It wouldn’t change the need to be more efficient, but might it shift our priorities?

For example, funders and non-profits are increasingly, and correctly, trying to figure out ways to make that two-way interaction more efficient and mutually respectful. If we each had to be more “client focused,” I wonder, would funders quit worrying so much about “being nice to grantees” and be more intentional about what it knows works and doesn’t work based on dozens of non-profits they’ve worked with? What if non-profit management worried less about offending the funder and instead banded together to tell funders they aren’t going to accept any more overly-restricted grants or the array of one-off reporting requirements?

“The professionals” that Paul is suggesting are at times “inside of an echo chamber” are people like me. The list of issues he cites as examples of things professionals sometimes focus to heavily on could have been lifted directly from this blog. It is never fun to have someone suggest that you’re missing something important. But Paul is 100% correct.