June 18, 2008

The Sound of Patient Money

The sound of patient money always catches my by surprise. This happened again recently when I was attending Everyday Democracy's national conference in Denver. We were talking about the intersection of race and democracy when a woman from Indianapolis began telling a story about young people finding their voice - and how finding their voice began with a photography project. She had worked with these young people and told their story and her story with captivating passion. As I listened, I began to hear the sound of patient money.

What do I mean by patient money? In the
grassroots grantmaking world, we have learned to look at the work of grassroots grantmaking with both a long-term and short-term lens. Grants are made today. Relationships are nurtured today. Projects begin today. And sometimes the today-part of the work feels insignificant, maybe even trivial, when we think about the challenges our communities are facing.

But we have seen that those grants, relationships and projects add up to something that takes a long-term lens to see and even imagine. When we talk about patient money, we are talking about a funder's commitment to the long-term with the understanding that long-term results require patience. Patiently maintaining an open door to funding. Patiently listening for opportunities to make a strategic investment that will maintain or build momentum. Patiently nurturing relationships.

When I talk about patient money, I'm talking about a consistently available and accessible pool of money that grassroots groups can tap into from time to time to help move an idea into action. Available and accessible, but not guaranteed or automatic. An invitation rather than a promise. It can reside in one place or in several places. The important thing is that it is always there - somewhere.

As I was listening to the story of young people finding their voice, here is what I heard:
We had this idea and tried it out.......this happened and then we did this.......we got a grant from a program called GINI that helped us to this. By this time, the young people were doing this.......and we had new people and energy and another great idea......and we used a grant from our community foundation to help us get that done......and that led to this. And so this is what we learned.....and this is what we want to do next.

Do you hear the pattern? It's sort of a "follow the bouncing ball" pattern, where grants are associated with just some of the bounces. The grants are important - important enough to be part of the story - but they are part of the story and not the story itself.

To me, this is the sound of patient money.


  1. AnonymousJune 20, 2008

    Thanks for your mention of Everyday Democracy's conference... it was great to have you w/ us in Denver, sharing your wisdom.

    It strikes me as I read your post that you're pointing out one of the basic ingredients of making our communities and democracy work for everyone. As financial resources dwindle and the challenges we face become even tougher, it will become ever more important for funders and grantees to work together (and share lessons) more effectively.

    Thanks, Janis!

  2. AnonymousJune 24, 2008

    Janis, It was a pleasure meeting you (at the airport ... leaving Denver)... and now connecting with you via the blog world. I really appreciate your insight.

    I'm a therapeutic mentor (aside from working for Everyday Democracy) at a human services organization in Connecticut, and I likened the Indianapolis story to my work as a mentor. The funding that TEEG gets from a variety of sources funnels down to us mentors to use our wisdom in planning events and moments for these youth. And as we create safe spaces for them on a continual basis over 6 months or even years, we patiently wait for the youth to develop. Waiting is the game. Being there and listening and reflecting and having the "funds" to do activities is critical ... although not the story.

    One of the mentors came up with a fantastic idea to do his own "summer camp" for several youth who most likely are not a fit for typical summer camps, given the # of kids attending and the lack of personal attention they need and appropriate activities for their benefit. Amazingly, he's using his own personal budget and creatively working with other nonprofits (I think) to make this special camp work. However, I could see that if a funder stepped in with even a $1000 or so ... how much that would buttress his work, bring on a few more mentors, and provide an even better camp setting for these youth who "don't fit" in normal settings as easily as other kids.

    In human or community development, we can't force development to happen in any set time, but we can create the atmosphere in which a young person or community can develop at its own pace and at critical junctures when the moment is just right. May funders continue to fund well, trust, and stay connected over the long-haul.

    I wish you well and look forward to reading more of your blog. I'm sure we'll cross paths again in the future.

    Amahoro (peace),

    Nick Connell