• Laura WP

Hey Foundations: Stop Asking Me and My Peers to Consult for Free

I see you over there taking notes

A few weeks ago I got an email:

I hope you don’t mind me connecting you with <PERSON>, who is now working for <CONSULTING FIRM> supporting <GIANT FOUNDATION> in researching why women and minority entrepreneurs face barriers to capital and how philanthropic funders can help to provide a more equitable supply of capital to all entrepreneurs. As part of this research, she is interviewing a range of experts and practitioners in the space that might have perspective to share. Would you be willing to speak to her?

While I was CEO of Code2040, I would have been eager to ingratiate myself to this foundation and thus would have dashed something off to the tune of “Sure! Here are some times I’m free.”

However, I’m no longer CEO of Code2040. And this email made me mad. I am glad that this foundation recognizes the issue they describe. However their approach to combating it is unwittingly contributing to it.

Here was my response:

Nice to get connected. I'm glad this is a focus area for <GIANT FOUNDATION> and am flattered to be asked to contribute.
However, I will be totally candid with you - over the last 6+ years I and many of my peers doing the hard work on the ground, in fact those of us who are affected by the very dynamic you are researching, have given dozens of these types of interviews, let foundations pick our brains, joined the funder community for panels -- and I've found it very easy to see how our time gets sucked up and very hard to see the tangible benefits to my organization or communities (ie, it translating into actual access to capital). While I was running Code2040 I felt obligated to say yes to these requests (as I did with <EXACT SAME GIANT FOUNDATION>’s last research report on workforce issues) just in case by some magic it led to philanthropic support. However, now that I've stepped down at Code2040, I've decided not to give my time for free to the wealthiest institutions in the world.
I'm sure this is a little more than you bargained for/expected and I hope you'll forgive the frankness. I also hope you'll recognize that the frustration I'm venting is not mine alone. If <CONSULTING FIRM>/<GIANT FOUNDATION> decide to compensate the people you're interviewing in some way for their time - particularly those from the groups you readily acknowledge are generally under-compensated for their time and talents - then I would be happy to participate.
Otherwise, I do wish you much luck on the project, because this is an important issue. And I hope you get the insights you need while recognizing the generosity of those who are providing them.

The consultant wrote back and thanked me for my honesty, but as far as I know nothing changed in their approach. Here’s hoping foundations like this one will eventually align their actions with their intentions.

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