The Seven Commandments of Funding

Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger.


This article was originally published by Stanford Social Innovation Review on April 10th, 2015 with the headline: The Seven Commandments of Funding

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself on top of a volcano called Mount Nyiragongo, looking across the Congo into the Promised Land—or maybe it was just Rwanda. Anyway, long after any sensible person would have gone to bed, and groggy from sulfurous fumes, I stared, transfixed, at the boiling lake of molten rock in the crater. And it was in that eerie glow, amidst those swirling vapors that God appeared to me in the form of a flash drive balanced on the crater’s edge.

It was a 32GB drive but contained only a single 100KB file: 7_commandments_funding.doc. I don’t why She didn’t just tweet it out, nor can I say why She cut it down from the original Ten; I suspect it’s a concession to the modern attention span. While I’ll admit that the new digital format lacks some of the gravitas and drama of the traditional stone tablets, it was a hell of a lot easier to carry down the mountain that morning.

So here it is. I don’t know why God still speaks in King James English. Maybe She just thinks it’s funny.


Thou Shalt Fund for Impact Above All Else

Impact is the alpha and the omega. To put other considerations before it is an abomination unto the Lord, for to do this drives mediocrity in all of its forms and makes a circus of what should be a market. Be not fooled by the temptations of the heart-warming story and the charismatic leader, but keep thy gaze focused on the promise of real impact. Study the mysteries of its ways or find someone who canst do it for you. Fund not those who measure not, for they are flying blindly and thou wilt be too. Cast shame on those who ignore impact, for only the arrows of peer disapproval can pierce the mighty armor of the unaccountable funder.


Thou Shalt Not Restrict Thy Funds

To restrict thy funding is to smother cleverness and bind up growth, for unrestricted funds are the meat and bread of innovation and expansion. Without them, how shalt the doer follow the twisting turns of the path to righteousness? Do thy best due diligence, then give thy money freely, for who knoweth best: the doer in the field or the donor at the desk? If thou trusteth not the doer, give them not thy money. Thy restrictions are a false harbor; seek not their comfort. They may cover thy ass; they will not increase thy impact.


Thou Shalt Feed Success with Continued Investment

Excellence is uncommon; when thou art lucky enough to find it, feed it as the wise farmer feeds the fertile sow. Eschew the false logic of the fixed funding cycle—neither cease thy funding for no apparent reason nor because thou judgeth it no longer “catalytic.” Yield not to the dubious temptations of novelty or the need to keep thy workforce busy. Suffer not the delusion that funders bigger than thou await thy hand-off with eagerness, for the sector is blind: it functions not like a market, and the success of the doer bringeth not a bounteous harvest of cash. Seek for thyself the holy grail of Exponential Impact; when thou dost find a doer who can deliver, cleave them to thy bosom; feed them and treasure them, for they are the diamonds in a sea of broken glass.


Thou Shalt Not Hassle the Doers

Blessed are the doers, for they are the makers of impact. Without them, thy money is just money and thy existence irrelevant. Thou art their servant; waste not their time nor break their spirit. Eschew the special format, the endless queries, the dreary request for proposals, and lure them not into competition for elusive and scarce prizes. Leave them not to suffer in darkness, but tell them thy process. Inflict not a false urgency provoked by thine own incompetence, and answer their correspondence with the same alacrity thou wouldst want for thyself. When thy best due diligence leadeth to “no,” provide them thy reasons so they may gain wisdom. In all things, remember that impact is harder to find than money; let that truth keep thy spirit humble and thy heart grateful.


Thou Shalt Not Worship the False God of Overhead

The god of overhead maketh a clamor to distract the seeker of impact. Its worship breeds trickery amongst the doers and sows confusion amongst the donors. Focus not thy gaze on the cost of activity, but seek the cost of impact, for it is the true arbiter of value. Beware the navigators of charity, for while they may keep you from the dens of thieves, their compass points not to the true north of impact.


Thou Shalt Not Be a Doer-by-Proxy

Thy money is the lifeblood of the doers; thou shalt not use it to lure them from the path of righteousness. Thou art a donor, not a doer; be grateful for thy role and give unto them what they need to do what they do best. Beware the grand strategy, for thy need for doers to enact thy vision and the power of thy cash may lead anxious doers into the harlotry of the NGO-for-hire.


Thou Shalt Advocate for Thy Doers

Thou art a donor; thy position is unique. When thy doers excel, sing their praises to thy colleagues and urge them to throw down their coin. Though they may know it not, a high-impact lead is a pearl of great price, and thou hath bestowed upon them a gift. Subvert the tyranny of the no-pitch zone, ignore the niceties of the funder reception, and get thy doers the money, for the only market around here is the one that you make.