Thursday, December 28, 2006

Donors and Walking a Mission "Tightrope"

Recently, I received a letter of denial of funding from a foundation. We wrote this particular foundation because it had awarded us funding for food and emergency assistance in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

In this most recent communication the foundation stated that its "mission has always been to fund organizations with anti-hunger advocacy as a part of their work."

The letter went on to say, "Therefore, we look to support agencies that use their status and visibility to 1) educate their stakeholders. . .about the role and limits of charities in feeding hungry people (i.e. that charitable food distribution alone will not bring an end to hunger); and 2) advocate for public policy and action, beyond those that result in more donations of resources to their own organization."

This letter demonstrates perfectly our dilemma.

Some donors get really uncomfortable when we press for larger, broader, systemic changes that would help eliminate the need for charity while cutting into the forces feeding poverty. Anyone who reads here knows that we try to be advocates. Readers also know that lots of people who post here really prefer charity and have no taste for public policy changes. Many of our supporters fear that our efforts at advocating for systemic change may result in a loss of funding from more conservative supporters.

But then, there are significant funders, like the foundation in question here, who want to see us become much more radical in our approach. Being a non-profit organization based in Dallas, Texas teaches you that the charity approach sure sells better!

Talk about a case of "damned if you do and damned if you don't"!

So, what to do?

Stay on mission. Hear the funders and interested parties on both sides. Weigh their input with respect. But never sell your soul to anyone or any organization or any funder.

At times this is a hard reality to face and manage. It can feel like walking a tightrope of sorts.

After reading the foundation's response to our proposal, I instructed our development director to contact them and inform them of all the systemic, advocacy actions we have taken and are committed to continue here in Dallas, in the state and even at a national level. Further, we have recently taken steps to reorganize our leadership structure to be in a position to speak and to act more directly to the struggle against poverty here in Dallas.

Building community and fighting poverty require compassion, resources, charity and political action. We must work on many fronts to achieve our mission.

One thing is clear to me. The work we do and the decisions we face are never quite as clear or as black and white as funders on either side of this philosophical divide think.

Speaking of donors! Take a look at our growing, green village just to the right!

Click on the info thumbnails to find out how to join the "painting crew" to complete the paint job on the last rows of houses.

Thanks to everyone who has participated so far.

Our goal by December 31 to paint all 100 houses and raise $100,000 for the work done in inner city Dallas by CDM.


Anonymous said...


Here are a few of my thoughts...

If your goal is to actually work toward the goal of genuinely lowering the number of people in poverty, then individual charity simply can not get this job done.

For those who argue for "smaller government," I think many tend to forget the complexity of this era. My favorite story to illustrate this problem is this: a number of years ago, a restaurant in a West Texas town was closed down after the government food inspectors found something quite offensive (and unhealthy) had been substituted for the beef in their main dishes. The resturant had apparently been doing this for quite an extended time. It takes "big government" to provide such comprehensive meat inspection. In an earlier era, when people killed and ate their own meals, there was no such need. But when I eat at a restaurant, I want someone to assure that my food is safe, and my "taxes" go for this, and a host of other activities.

Charity is a wonderful thing. But actually changing the level of need requires that Central Dallas Ministries, and many other such groups, do far more than just distribute emergency aid (though this is needed, and important). I support and applaud your efforts to pursue advocacy. Advocate away!

And remember the "shower" exercise. My test for a public official is "what does he/she daydream about in the shower?" I hope you can help more of our elected officials daydream about lowering the levels of poverty throughout Dallas County, the state of Texas, the entire country, and the rest of the world.

Randy Mayeux, Dallas

Anonymous said...


I must be a little thick, but if I read this correctly, CDM is being cut off from funding because you are going beyond just food advocacy. Is this correct? If so, what can be done to open the eyes of these funders to see that poverty is more than a one dimension problem?

Larry James said...

Thanks, Randy.

Anonymous 10:10--no, we are cut off because this foundation felt as if we were not doing enough advocacy work on hunger. They would be pleased if we were doing such work on other issues as well.