Emotion Creates Its Own Logic

When reviewing grant applications and deciding on which organizations you can support this cycle and which ones you have to respectfully decline, it can sometimes get a little emotional. You want to help as many people as you can, but often the reality of the situation is that you just simply cannot. You have all of these applications from all of these wonderful, sometimes very different, nonprofit organizations. What is a board of directors supposed to do to prevent their meetings from becoming deleted scenes from The Hunger Games? Well here is one solution that helps to embrace emotional bias and improve decision-making – Reflective Questioning.

When reviewing a grant ask yourself these three questions (in order):

  1. Does this fit our foundation’s mission statement?
  2. Am I passionate about this project?
  3. How many people is this going to affect?

I was in a grantmaking course in college where we “created” our own foundation and were given $10,000 from the Learning by Giving Foundation to grant in our community. In this course, we had to create a mission statement, draft a grant application, and a variety of other tasks every “real” foundation goes through. I was first introduced to reflective questioning when I was part of a youth philanthropy group in Northeast Indiana. We were asked to think about these questions when reviewing our grants, so I used these questions when reviewing applications for my grantmaking course.

Our class’s mission statement was to “positively affect youth”. When we received an application from an organization that wanted to fund a program for fathers, I referenced my questions and decided that this program did not directly fit our mission statement since we wanted to affect youth. My fellow classmates and board members were trying to make the argument that it fit our mission statement in that good fathers make for good children (which certainly carries some truth), but those dots were not fully connected for me. These framing questions led us to positive conversation where everyone’s biases and interpretations were able to be put on the table.

For everyone, emotion can tend to create its own logic. There were people that were very passionate about the project, but unfortunately it was not the positive change we were looking to make in our community. I remember saying that “This organization could be applying for world peace, but if it does not fit our mission statement we cannot fund it.” After laughter from the whole class and a promise to never let me forget that I said that, they found that the organization did not appropriately fit our mission statement.

The final two questions are relatively easy to process. While the mission statement does come first, sometimes foundations have to decide which program or project they would be more passionate about. Would you rather fund a summer camp for 50 youth or a tutoring program for 150 youth? There are many arguments for both programs, but which does your board get more excited about? Being excited helps create stories of impact that the board wants to tell, and it certainly helps people feel really good about the work they’re doing.

I am not suggesting that you remove all of your emotions from your grantmaking process. However, I caution all funders to be aware of your emotions and the ways in which they can take control by creating their own logic.