Bankole: Performance should drive nonprofit funding

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries on Third Avenue provides 100 beds for men who are homeless in Detroit on Jan. 3, 2018. 
(Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)

It is no secret in Detroit that sometimes a foundation grant is given not because an organization performs well, but because of how connected it is to those who write the checks. An after-work drink with a foundation juggernaut may secure funding better than a morally compelling presentation or publicly available record of performance.

A company or foundation can write a check to a community gala not because the host group has a respectable track record of social transformation, but because its leaders are well-connected and the donors are happy to check the box.

If you are familiar with the intricacies and inner workings of Detroit’s philanthropic and civic community at large,  the close-knit network of big funders are prone to allocate resources regardless of merit, making it difficult for some longstanding and credible groups to get the support they need.

But this concern, part of a larger issue regarding how funding is disbursed in this town, is what Chad Audi, the president and CEO of the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries was sharing on my 910AM radio show on Tuesday. We were discussing his organization’s push to help the most vulnerable populations survive this deadly winter as DRMM works to provide warming shelters for those who are homeless.

Audi lamented how they are working with limited resources to run a command center to help those seeking warm refuge as temperatures drop. Despite meeting the needs of Detroit’s underserved population and more than a century of existence, DRMM often gets the runaround when it comes to support from the donor community.

It’s not that their work doesn’t speak for itself. I’ve attended some of their graduation ceremonies for their various transitional programs and have witnessed seriously disadvantaged black women weep on stage after receiving their certificates.

During our conversation on the air, a business leader listening to the show felt compelled to make a financial commitment right away to DRMM.

Cynthia J. Pasky, president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions, sent a note right after my interview with Audi indicating that she would donate $15,000 to DRMM as well as to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen to boost their efforts this winter.  

“They are doing God’s work for those most needy,” Pasky said.

But DRMM isn’t the only group impacting real lives yet struggling to command the attention of the donor class.

The Alkebu-lan Village, a wholistic youth training center on the city’s east side founded four decades ago by Marvis Cofield as a martial arts home for black boys, recently expressed similar concerns. It is guiding black children to a better future. Still, in my estimation, it has been part of a class of unsung heroes driving the recovery of the city long before it became a trendy mantra.

It only makes sense that those who have a demonstrated a commitment to address the socioeconomic challenges facing Detroit get support. It shouldn’t be based on who is most connected and can get a dinner with a major funder. It should be about who has a proven record and public commitment to equality and inclusion.

“While funders — like government agencies, businesses and foundations — reserve the right to decide their funding priorities, it is fair and prudent for them to give funding to well-run organizations like Detroit Rescue Mission that not only do the work 24/7, but also have plenty positive results to show for it. We stretch every dollar to make direct, visible and measurable impact in this community,” Audi said.

“We invite funders to visit our service delivery locations in five Michigan counties to see lives being changed on a daily basis. Our priority has been and would remain cost-effectively delivering the kind of wraparound services that help people in our community gain much-needed stability, sobriety and self-reliance.”

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.