Nonprofit Newswire | Foundations’ Four Biggest Faux Pas

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February 1, 2010; Fast Company | The CEO and “Chief Old Person” of Do Something, a nonprofit promoting youth activism and volunteering, is one Nancy Lublin who, after founding Dress for Success at the age of 23, came to Do Something and “turned the organization from a debt-ridden, “old school” not-for-profit with offices in multiple cities nationwide, to a fast-moving internet-y company capturing the attention of a generation of doers,” according to her online bio.

She is also a columnist for the Fast Company magazine where she wrote a brief critique for her “friends” in the foundation world, identifying four foundation “faux pas”: 1. Stop thinking you know everything; 2. Stop mistaking marketing for overhead—and stop hating on overhead, 3. Stop funding redundancy, and 4. Stop thinking that newer is better. Nothing particularly remarkable in that, though the “redundancy” theme sounds like a common complaint among foundations themselves that there are too many supposedly duplicative nonprofits out there.

The article attracted a number of comments, equally split between those thanking her for her honesty and blunt talk and attacking her for being whiny and sounding like a teenager.

One wonders what part of the some 90,000 private, corporate, and public foundation grantmakers Lublin is referring to. Do Something’s foundation grant support appears to be heavily from corporate funders—banks, insurance companies, telecommunications firms, the larger grants from the foundation arms of Citi, JP Morgan Chase, Sprint, Allstate, Prudential, and Wachovia.

Our experience with these corporate funders tends to be a little less controlling than their private independent foundation compatriots. Lublin’s brief, “fast moving internet-y” article didn’t name names. Perhaps she could have slowed down to be more specific in her criticisms, making the article more targeted to the behavior of particular funders who need to change their approaches to their grantees.—Rick Cohen