Permission to dream: Taking the first steps toward social change
Special to Philanthropy Journal
Foundations often identify themselves as “grant-makers.” But by being grant-makers, we are also “grant-rejectors.” We love to focus on who and what we fund, often forgetting about all the groups and people we don’t fund.
Since Jan. 1, 2013, The Pollination Project has given daily $1,000 micro grants to individual changemakers (more than 250 in total). Our funding helps these people launch innovative social change projects at their most nascent stages. We are proud to support a global network of brave, visionary people who are changing the world one small project at a time.
Since Jan. 1, 2013, we’ve also rejected about 750 people and their worthy projects. For every project we fund, we decline to fund three others. That’s a lot of hopes, dreams and visions that we didn’t support.
When we looked to other foundations for perspective on grant rejection, most approached it as an administrative challenge: Reviewing and rejecting applicants takes time, even when the process is well automated. Some foundations address this problem by only inviting applications from groups that are essentially “pre-approved” and have a high chance of getting funded. Others just send a short form letter from their database when rejecting an applicant. Compassion, care, encouragement and love are often missing from the process of grant-rejecting.
Yet, despite the administrative challenges of daily grant making, we know there’s more to being a funder than grant making and grant rejecting. Ultimately, we aspire to be cheerleaders for social change entrepreneurship. Anyone anywhere in the world who has a vision and plan for expanding compassion is invited and welcomed to apply to us for funding. We encourage our applicants to dream: If you had $1,000 to create more compassion in the world and make it a better place, what would you do?
Martin Luther King Jr. notably said, “You don't have to see the whole staircase; just take the first step.” At its best, a wide-open application process serves as first step in someone’s commitment to social change. So far, we’ve seen that. Regardless of whether they received funding, applicants thank us for giving the opportunity to write down their idea. Often they still launch the project they proposed, with or without our support. Taking that first step – to dream – is what matters most.
We see our large and diverse applicant pool not as a problem to solve, but as validation of the goodness and beauty in the world. If we reject an applicant once, they can reapply as often as they want. We try to help an applicant strengthen their plan and their approach, sometimes pointing them to other potential resources for their work. We encourage them to move forward with their compassion-driven social change ideas, no matter what.
In the grand scheme of things, I hope that our impact as a funder is not defined by who we fund, but by all the great social change ideas that are born when people are given the permission to dream.
And to the thousands of people who have or who will receive a rejection note from us this year: Thank you for caring. Thank you for being bold and brave enough to dream of a better world. Thank you for writing down your vision. You are well on your way. KEEP GOING!
Alissa Hauser is executive director of The Pollination Project, a new foundation that gives away $1,000 a day, every day of the year, to individual social change visionaries. See the related PJ story here.