On Grant Funding, Alchemy, and the Funk

Posted last week on LinkedIn:

I woke up this morning worrying about the kind of funding problem that at some time or other worries all kinds of leaders involved in community building, social service, opportunity, and various kinds of world-fixing and change-making. bootsy-collins

Grant funding usually carries with it restrictions of use, of timing, of connections, of this and of that such that putting together a complete and viable project feels like putting together a puzzle of jagged and weirdly-shaped pieces. This is just a condition of the way our sector works — nothing new.

But I do wonder whether most funders, in private foundations or public government agencies, really understand what it can take to match and cobble together the kind of money it takes to make meaningful progress. There is magic, alchemy, multi-dimensional networking and collaborative leadership at play here.

Honestly, my intention this morning was to write just a little bit about program design, in general. About how to create promising project ideas rooted in reality. But where this Monday essay is going is…toward a much scrappier, grittier, driving bass, and somewhat mystical sort of idea inspired by…well, inspired by Bootsy Collins and George Clinton.

“Funk is basically simple. Put everything you can in and do the best you can. You know, I’ll throw the kitchen sink in the record.” — Clinton, from his interview with SBTV

“Funk to me is making something out of nothing. We didn’t have nothing, so we did what we did with what we had.” — Collins, from a panel discussion at SBSW

And Bootsy Collins from a 2012 Tell Me More interview with Michel Martin:

MARTIN: You know, before I let you go, I can’t let you go without asking you, what is funk?

COLLINS: Funk is the absence of any and everything you can think of, but the very essence of all that is. And saying that, I’m saying funk is anything that we create in our minds that we want to do, what we want to be, but we don’t have the resources. We don’t have the money to get these things. But it takes the belief, it takes her mama’s prayers, it takes a community, it takes all of that to help build a mug’s confidence in himself.

Because we’ve been torn down so much, it’s like we don’t even believe in ourselves no more. So it takes all of that. And that’s what funk is. Funk is that driving force that you know is there when ain’t nobody else there, and you can create the things you need. Give you perfect example. I played guitar when I first got started because of my brother, Catfish. I wanted to be just like him.

So the opportunity came where he needed a bass player. And I said I’m the man, I can do it. It’s like you don’t even have a bass. I said, well, if you give me four strings, if you can get four strings, I will have a bass. And I made a bass out of that guitar.

And that same bass that I played with him that night was the same bass that I played all the way up until we got with James Brown. That’s funk, making something out of nothing.

Well in this funding project that is worrying me, we’ve got something. More than a set of four strings and certainly more than enough to make a bass, but we don’t have fully enough yet to build the band. We’re working with colleagues in a flat-out under resourced region (that BTW just got hit with the second major weather disaster, not exaggerating, in four months).

But I’ve got an idea. Actually a handful of them. And the full team of consultants, client, and key partners will have ideas, connections, and resources. And like NGO, nonprofit, social entrepreneurs everywhere, we’ll get together, trust in the energy of the funk, and do the work.