Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Fundraising Barriers at Square Zero

The Ask

My question is this - what we can do to better support what I've been calling Square Zero nonprofits?

What's a Square Zero nonprofit? It's a term used for the thousands of under-resourced groups and individuals who have a dedicated social good mission and also have no current capacity to go achieve it. Zero initial funding. Zero paid staff. Zero mentorship. Zero social capital. They aren't registered yet as a 501(c)(3) and they have no idea, help, capacity, or current ability to acquire a fiscal sponsor or establish their own 501(c)(3). They are not able to pay for the labor of grantwriting or other fundraising yet because, as stated, they are starting with zero funding.

I read a note today from a grantwriting consulting firm that said "nonprofits need to have many pieces in place before they start applying for grants" and "our company often turns down business if a nonprofit is not well positioned to receive grants." 

Where's the help on offer for Square Zero efforts who don't have the pieces in place yet?

I'm worried that it's rare to non-existent.

I want to make this issue more visible and respected. It is a major barrier standing in the way of propping up the grassroots underpowered communities participatory grantmaking is meant to support. 

I am also raising this question because I am representative who can speak on behalf of several advocacy efforts currently stuck in the Square Zero phase of their development. Included below is additional background on the specific situations I'm connected with that lead me to asking this question today. 

I appreciate you all reading this note and hope we can collectively work on creating solution pathways for this issue. 

Additional Background Context Material

I work in the field of disability rights advocacy with a specialty in working to elevate and empower lived experience voice into genuine co-creator, consultant and supported leadership roles in the design of health services.

I have 3-4 initiatives that are at the Square Zero stage of nonprofit development right now. I have dozens of key government, health service, and university stakeholders interested in the work. I have hundreds of potential lived experience consultants at the ready. None of the entities involved seem able or willing to offer capacity support for the needed work. The empowered systems refuse to directly support lived experience knowledge development. The marginalized communities are disempowered and often are forced to pursue the work without salaried pay and without needed organizational infrastructure. 

I myself am not paid for this work and have spent well over 500+ hours, unpaid, trying to develop these initiatives. I am disabled and struggle to find work roles that can accommodate my often misunderstood disabilities. I maintain survival living standards utilizing barebones social aid and with limited support from an oftentimes emotionally abusive family.

Both myself, and many thousands of individuals across the trauma survivor and disability communities, have spent years (decades for some) performing unpaid, exploitative labor related to advocacy, education, peer support, and conflict resolution. This is often done in opposition to the enfranchised system. A system that, when they do invite us to the table, almost always demands that our time be given freely and without support.

What are people like me supposed to do? I feel that there is no on-ramp currently on offer to enter the world of grant-supported advocacy except to get extremely lucky. We don't want the whole pie. We don't want to take the jobs of others. We just want to be given jobs and support ourselves, especially knowing that so much money (at scales of $500+ million at times) goes to efforts that our community has said, time and again, is not doing the best job helping us. And knowing that we could show funders why that is and how to do better if given the chance, trusted, and treated with respect,

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