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When MONEY is the Obstacle

Money can be a difficult subject for many people to talk about. When we are referring to funds that support community, it often gets politicized and interlocked with power and influence. In the world of community not-for-profits, even though we don’t want it to be, one of the biggest threats to sustained collaborative relationships is money.  

With time, adaptive learning and a strong systems lens, money and funding can become an amazing opportunity for groups to make decisions together, to advance a common agenda and to increase the efficiencies of supporting children and families. So don’t run away from money…but learn how to navigate it.

Most social programs and initiatives are funded in a patchwork way, stitched together from a variety of sources: government, charities, foundations, grants, local businesses, and consumers. Funding opportunities are usually created and distributed with narrow deliverables and strings attached.

People either whine too much about money or don’t whine enough and take on a “make do,” limiting attitude. Some people act irrational when money is dangled in front of them. How many people have experienced the end of the fiscal year rush when one-time only “pots of money” are grabbed at by organizations, using the trendy need or theme of the day or see distribution by who you know?  There’s really no nice way to describe what typically happens to a group of people or organizations when new money is on the table. Even the most cohesive group can completely fall apart when money is introduced into the mix. It speaks, really, to the fragility of sustaining community relationships.

The Money Train

The whistle blows. The train is at the station. The train comes in infrequently and rarely long enough for passengers to determine where it’s going or whether they really want to get on. But the train is here and it may not come again for a while. Who cares where it’s going, who cares what you might be leaving behind — get on!


There is a panic on the station platform — the passengers are pushing and shoving and vying for seats. Conductors are suspiciously absent during the scramble. The whistle blows again. Those that have made it on sigh with relief. Those left behind sit anxiously on their belongings. They pull out remnants of a meal, partly finished crossword puzzles, and keep themselves occupied until the distant sound of another money train whistle stirs their hope that this time they will manage to climb aboard.

The inconsistency of funding opportunities and allocation unavoidably creates the perception that funding is unpredictable and unfair. This perception feeds into the “panic on the platform” as the money train rolls in and out of town. The money train fragments services because it causes organizations to compete for dollars to fit the needs of the funding mandate instead of meeting the current needs of the people they serve.

It is critical to anticipate the impact and influence money has on community relationships. Anticipate and prepare for challenges by thinking ahead and asking:

  • Is there a process in place for when money is on the table?
  • What is our history?
  • Is our current culture one in which trust, transparency and strength-based decisions will trump the survival instinct?

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