Update From the Foundation

Saying No Is Hard To Do!

April 22, 2013

We want to talk a little bit about saying no in this post. The reality of our job as foundation staff is that we spend more of our time saying no than we do saying yes. By a lot. We calculate that we say no about ten times as often as we say yes. Most of the time when we’re saying no, we wish we could say yes. Yes to ideas, people, plans, opportunistic moments that could leverage change. Yes to the dreams for a better world that you have nurtured into life and are brave enough to share with us. Yes to the passion and creativity that you are committed to putting in service to people and planet. We want to revel in the spirit and innovation you bring to the work. Instead, we say no, and it often breaks our hearts.

We say no, quite simply, because we have to. There is never going to be enough foundation funding to support all of the truly wonderful and critical work nonprofits do. We say no because our grants budget is limited, and probably would feel limited no matter how big it was. We also say no because our job is to help the Compton board accomplish their goals. Maybe that means that a project does not map to our guidelines, our issue area of interest, is not really ready for funding, or numerous other nuances that contribute to an assessment of the best match between what our board is trying to ignite in the world and what you are proposing.

We try to say no clearly and quickly, so that you can make the most efficient use of your limited time, and to provide substantive reasoning if we can. We try to articulate our vision, mission, and priorities as clearly as we can so that you will be able to get a good sense of whether or not we’re likely to say no before you talk to us. We know that we can always articulate more clearly what our leadership and storytelling guidelines mean. And, even if we manage to find the perfect words, at the end of the day, many of our decisions are based on an intuitive understanding of our board’s priorities and goals, and that understanding often does not align with the way you read our guidelines and interpret our goals. Those are the hardest conversations, when you just know that we are the perfect fit for your work, and we don’t see it that way.

Our intention is to say no with kindness, and to ensure that we are a resource for you in any other way we can be. In this work we often hear of unanswered emails, phone messages, and proposals. We often fall short in our desired responses too—we take too long to get back to people, or lose the personal touch in the effort to find our own efficiencies. There aren’t many of us, and we have big, broad guidelines, so there are a lot of folks who want to talk about whether they might be a fit! We are, nevertheless, committed to honoring the time and hope you put into reaching out to us and sharing your stories. We want the process of our work, as well as our grantmaking, to advance our values and vision of a compassionate and just future.

We thank you for allowing us the privilege of learning about what you do. Even when we say no, we think the work you do is important and valuable and might just change the world.

Compton team

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