Most of the nonprofit organizations I’ve been involved with over the last 30 years have been small, and not prominent, and thus not the recipients of much grant largess. So I’ve not thought a great deal about the grant process. But a sad story Thursday focused my attention.
I’m in a modest-sized group called Indiana Care Circle. Our basic goal is networking – not for leads, but so that each of us involved in care of the elderly, disabled and poor, can learn from one another, and learn what complementary resources are available in the community to keep needy humans from falling invisibly through the cracks.
A new member is The Center @ Jenks Rest, a well-established Senior Citizens Center at the city’s centralmost public park. One of its programs has been a “Care-A-Van,” transporting people to medical appointments and other needed destinations on a voluntary payment basis. The program has consistently lost money to the extent that, alas, it has had to curtail service.
Hearing this, the suggestion was made by another Indiana Care Circle member that they seek more grants to operate.
And then came the line that fit in with much else that I’ve been hearing and thinking about: “It’s hard to get grants for operational expenses. They consider even a new bus to be an operational expense since the service is ongoing. They want to fund capital improvements, expansions and the like.”
Think about that for a minute. An established, worthwhile, necessary program is being curtailed for lack of operational support while granting agencies fund new programs that will (a) supplant, for no good reason, the existing counterpart, or (b) fail in turn for lack of operational support — unless growth is unbounded simply because we’re Americans and God-Bless-America-we-cannot-fail.
This perverse pattern is similar to how we’ve done public infrastructure during my whole life. Build a street and utilities to an industrial part to spark growth that will help us pay for our failing infrastructure until the new infrastructure fails and we repair it with the illusion of prosperity created by building more new infrastructure and spurring more growth.
Or we give a developer a permit to turn productive farmland into mazes of McMansions if he’ll build the roads and infrastructure and then dedicate them to public use – and thus obligate the public to repair them at the end of their life-cycle.
It’s my overwhelming conviction that the illusory prosperity from this Ponzi scheme is fast disappearing.
Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns and its companion podcast expound that very well. Only the parallel I draw with what I’ll call Granting Bias for Growth is original with me (so far as I know).
Better, I think, for granting agencies to recognize that happy days of never-ending growth are, mirabile dictu, ending, and to adjust their processes toward greater friendliness to good programs that need support just to “keep the lights on,” boring and un-dynamic though that be.
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