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 510(c)(3) and they have no idea, help, capacity, or current ability to acquire a fiscal sponsor or establish their own 510(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 speciality 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 and health service stakeholders interested in the work. I have hundreds of potential lived experience consultants at the ready. Neither of those parties has any capacity to support the work. The empowered systems refuse to directly support it and the marginalized communities are disempowered and have no resources to directly support it.

I myself am not paid for this work right now and have been laboring full time, unpaid, for 2+ years while barely surviving off of barebones social aid and with limited support from an often-times emotionally abusive family.

I am currently ineligible to apply for many of the grants meant to help my communities because this work is not a paid job for me yet and my efforts don't yet have a fiscal sponsor. The financial track record for the work is $0. Both my myself, and many in my larger trauma survivor disability community, have spent years (decades for some) performing unpaid, exploitative labor pushing for change. 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 for people in positions like mine.

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