The Founding Fathers Write a Grant Proposal

"Just look at this second sentence!" groaned Samuel Adams. "'We hold these truths to be self-evident  .  .' This flies in the face of 'evidence-based practice'! We'll never get funded!"

Another delegate had a different complaint: "This mission statement is way too long!" he wailed. "Mr. Jefferson, no one will ever read this 'Declaration of Independence' of yours."

In the meantime, George Washington had been working up a budget for the revolutionary war (earlier called the innovative war). His initial figures were daunting: $37 million would have to be raised by the collaborative, which would need to be matched by $114 million from the states. And of course, they didn't have a dime (or rather, a shilling).

But let's go back to the meeting, where they had just decided to give the collaborative a name: the Continental Congress.

Donor Prospecting

The meeting chair pounded his gavel: "Next on the agenda is Fundraising Prospects. Mr. Hancock, your report?"

John Hancock looked up, startled, but recovered his poise: "We've developed a list of foundations to approach. Unfortunately, none of them have giving areas that include democratic revolutions, perhaps because there hasn't been a democratic revolution before. They also want to know who else is funding it, and how we're going to continue the funding when their grants run out. And several of them say our revolution has to wait until they're finished doing something called 'strategic planning.'

"And then in terms of individual donors, there are two big obstacles. First, they are all English, and our revolution's goal is to overthrow the English. It's just about as contradictory as poor people asking rich people to support social justice causes.

"And finally, we don't know any wealthy donors. The way to get money from them is to be at the same theatre openings, the same dinners for Anglo-Saxon orphans, and the same royal weddings. We all live here in the colonies so we never get a chance to develop relationships."

But the meeting really fell into an uproar when General Washington presented his budget: "Why is this line item for supplies so high? Can't you get the muskets donated?" demanded the Vermont delegate.

The North Carolina delegate was concerned about the lack of an exit strategy. "What if we haven't won the war in two years?" he asked. "How will we get funding for a longer war if we haven't met the benchmarks for Phase 1?" "Hear, hear," cried another. "Metrics! They'll want metrics for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!"

Washington tried hard not to sound defensive. "My personal leadership style is to be conservative/ISTJ," he said. "But Valley Forge can get very cold in the winter, and we'll need quality tents and blankets."

The Rhode Island delegate was dismissive: "They're doing this for a cause, not for the blankets," he said. "It's okay to have cheaper blankets for the rank and file."

The View from 30,000 Feet

The Virginia delegate rose. "We need to get from blankets to the 30,000 foot level, and bake our values into our DNA," he intoned in a statesmanship-like voice that got everyone's attention. "One of our core values is that slavery is a business model that has been evaluated as highly successful, replicable, and scalable. If I might quote from the consulting firm of . . . "

But he was interrupted by the delegate from Massachusetts. "We could argue about slavery all night," he said. "Let's focus on common ground, on shared values. For example, we all agree that women should never be allowed to vote, that tobacco is healthful, and that God wants us to take the land away from the Indians."

There was general applause all around and the tension in the room dissipated.

Benjamin Franklin rose. "I will volunteer to go to France -- I'm culturally competent -- and see if I can raise money there," he said. "They hate the English and will support their enemies. I am worried, though, that 'making revolution' will be seen as an activity and not as an outcome."

He became more serious. "We're not just talking about 10% better outcomes for at-risk populations," he said. "We're talking about independence. And we're not talking about risking our figurative necks, but our actual necks. If we don't hang together, we'll all hang -- at the gallows -- separately."

He turned to Jefferson. "Tommy, I'll do some tweaking and wordsmithing on the Declaration," he said, "It doesn't have to be perfect; the important thing is to get it in by the deadline."

"I declare this meeting adjourned," announced the Chair Personage. Then he turned to his colleague. "You know, I think I disagree with Franklin on that," he said. "These ideas and the way we state them might very well end up being important 200 years from now." He looked over at the sandwiches, and shrugged. "Or not."


  • The Continental Army under George Washington, with the help of the anti-British French, defeated the world-class British armies, in one of the first of many instances where people with little money or technology defeated foreign invaders.
  • About 2,500 soldiers died at Valley Forge of exposure to cold and diseases exacerbated by their weakened conditions.
  • It took 81 years for slavery to be outlawed in the United States, 139 years for women to get the right to vote, and the Indians will never see their lands and their histories restored to them.
  • Grant proposals -- especially for new ideas --  still don't face good odds on getting funded.

Jan Masaoka is the publisher of Blue Avocado and the CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits). For improving this article tremendously, our thanks to Paul Sussman, part-time comic monologue performer and full-time CFO of Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation.

In honor of Presidents Day, see also in Blue Avocado:

Comments (32)

  • As an American history junkie - and a nonprofit consultant - I thoroughly enjoyed this. Thanks! Carol Friedman

    Feb 12, 2013
  • I love it History until today, My Board will be hearing this tonight at Board meeting.

    Feb 12, 2013
  • Thanks for a good laugh with many thoughtful sparks to follow, Jan.

    Feb 12, 2013
  • I love it! I have Board meeting tonight and I will give a copy to each Board member.

    Feb 12, 2013
  • What a hoot!! Loved this!

    Feb 12, 2013
  • Jan, that was hilarious. I think you should start a new career as a NGO humorist.

    Feb 12, 2013
  • Can you find me a grant for being an NGO humorist? Please? Jan

    Feb 12, 2013
  • Very funny! Here is the response from England: December 1, 1776 Thomas Jefferson Independence Hall Philadelphia Pennsylvania Colony Dear Mr. Jefferson: We have read your "Declaration of Independence" with great interest. Certainly, it represents a considerable undertaking, and many of your statements do merit serious consideration. Unfortunately, the declaration as a whole fails to meet recently adopted specifications for proposals to the crown. Therefore, we must return the document to you for further refinement. The comments that follow might assist you in your process of revision. In your opening paragraph you use the phrase "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God." What are these laws? In what way are they the objective criteria on which you base your central argument. Please document them, with citations from the recent literature. In that same paragraph you also refer to the "Opinions of Mankind." Whose polling data are you using? You also hold certain truths to be "self-evident." Could you please elaborate? If they are as evident as you claim, you should have no difficulty locating the appropriate statistics. "Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness" seem to be the goals of your proposal, even if they are not explicitly stated as such. These are not measurable goals. Please clarify your goal statements so that observable, unbiased results can be verified by an independent, disinterested evaluator. Your description of the existing situation is quite extensive, and eloquent. However, an assessment of need such as this should precede your statement of goals and objectives, not follow it. You have not developed your strategies for achieving your goals in any positive way. You state that the colonies ought to be " Free and Independent States." Who or what must change to achieve this objective? In what way must they be changed? How long will the change take? What will constitute evidence that the change has occurred? Who will be responsible for implementing the changes? How will you represent the interests of the client populations? you have also failed to include any evaluation design, or a line item budget. We have been requiring both of these since the reign of Queen Anne. I must confess I was surprised at their absence, since any qualified consultant familiar with this type of proposal would most certainly have appraised you of the essential nature of these two components. Finally, what impact will your proposal have on the greater community. What do you see as the long term, intermediate, and short term outcomes of this project? Your failure to include any assessment of the consequences of this program inspire little confidence in the long range viability of your undertaking. In addition to the above mentioned revisions to your proposal, please submit an organizational chart listing the titles, roles, and functions of all key personnel. Where possible please include the C. Vitae for each filled position as well. I do wish to complement you on your charming writing style, and your obvious gift for prose. Such talent is rare among colonists, and it seems to me that your academic inclinations are ill-suited to political endeavors. I urge you to reconsider how your talents might best be used by the Crown. However, should you persist in submitting a revised proposal, I hope that this critique will assist you in preparing a Declaration that may receive serious consideration from the Crown, and from Parliament. Best Wishes for the continued success of your endeavors. I remain, Very truly yours, Lord North Prime Minister London, England

    Feb 12, 2013
  • Wonderful! Jan

    Feb 12, 2013
  • Sorry, I forgot to leave my name. Michael Kisslinger

    Feb 13, 2013
  • Anonymous, Very Clever indeed!. This is why Non-Profits funding models should not rely on Grants as sustainable funding. It has been documented that the American Revolution was orchestrated by a minority (Lyn Montross, "The Reluctant Rebel"). That minority was able to able to engaged the support of the greater majority of colonial population who would be referred to in today's language "The Silent Majority". Engaging them to enlist in an effort that called for more than just donations in called for some the ultimate sacrifice. I find it interesting that when people have a strong belief in value of a vision they will sacrifice their life. My favorite quote from Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

    Charles Grix Director Healthy Kids Concepts Board Director : I AM PEACE Inc.

    Feb 16, 2013
  • Hilarious and clever, both Jan and Anonymous!

    Feb 13, 2013
  • Jan, I join those who were overcome with smiles and warm feelings at this clever satire. Reuven Kruger

    Feb 13, 2013
  • Jan, this was absolutely brilliant.

    Feb 13, 2013
  • You are my new best friend. I am going to share this with my entire grant writing and fundraising team.

    Feb 13, 2013
  • Writing grants in 1781 was just as hard in 2013. I enjoyed this. Just wonderful.

    Feb 14, 2013
  • Congratulations to both writers! It's a joy to read satire.

    Feb 14, 2013
  • Very well done - I thoroughly enjoyed it !

    Feb 14, 2013
  • What a fun take! The world needs more articles like this (and more laughter in general).

    Feb 15, 2013
  • Terrific! What about outcomes, dissemination, and next steps?

    Feb 15, 2013
  • Yes the article was clever. It is amazing how much truth in life when put in the right perspective can be looked at in humor. The overall moral of the story is that great causes can go forward and be successful. All efforts are grass roots. Success occurs when we engage the support of the common citizen.

    Feb 16, 2013
  • Excellent points. Great causes can be successful. Thank you. Jan

    Jun 10, 2013
  • Kudos to some very original thinkers.

    Feb 19, 2013
  • Jan, Michael and Charles -- a trio of excellent prose and grants satire! It just affirms that we need a new revolution, against the tyranny of turning people and services into evaluation data.

    Feb 20, 2013
  • Jan:

    This is the best thing you have ever written, and that is high praise since you are an amazing writer. It is funny, incisive and so true that my tears are both laughter and sorrow. Certainly the conclusion should be sobering to anyone thinking about how to finance serious long term social justice.

    Feb 21, 2013
  • My goodness. Praise from Kim Klein is to be treasured. Thank you so much, generous-hearted friend. Jan

    Mar 24, 2013
  • Brilliant all around, both the proposal and reply! And, as Kim points out, so very true. The humor highlights some of the tensions and contradictions in relying on grants to fund real social change.

    Feb 21, 2013
  • At this level I would rather Hear a Pseudo-Founding Father All wrapped up in his mystique Write and re-write his critique Of the famous Declaration Which defined this happy nation. Better still, though, is to savor All the bureaucratic flavor Of a cold and long dead file With a well grounded denial To finance a revolution Through a research institution. E.L.

    Feb 21, 2013
  • Think how much grumbling the Founding Mothers had to listen to after work...

    Mar 06, 2013
  • More truth than fiction - LOL

    Mar 06, 2013
  • I read your post and wished I'd written it.

    Mar 08, 2013
  • that's funny !

    -- Terry


    Mar 11, 2013

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