This is from a speech given by Adam Werbach, former head of the Sierra Club. It’s an interesting speech, and worth thinking about, but this quote about funders cracks me up (italics mine):
On a blustery day in New York City two years ago, I sat across the table at a noodle shop from Peter Teague, the director of the Environment Program at the Nathan Cummings Foundation. It was a restaurant that only New York could produce with perfect, spicy food on the table and a strange stickiness on the walls. I was just getting to know Peter, in the way that grant-seekers get to know grant-makers. These are always surreal encounters. You are expected to pretend to be the program officer’s friend and make small talk, tell them how smart they are for their other grants, which you’ve researched, and then show them how your program fits into their narrow grant guidelines. I call it the bingo gigolo experience. After having gone five years and raising a lot of money since I left the Sierra Club, I decided to finally just be honest.
“Peter,” I said, “Environmentalism is dead. There won’t be environmental programs at foundations in five years. I have some ideas of where we should go, but truthfully I don’t think anyone knows what to do right now.”
It seemed like the silence lasted for an hour; Peter, a lawyer, veteran foundation officer, former congressional policy maker, just looked at me. And — I kid you not — a cockroach fell onto the table from somewhere above. It looked at me.
I looked down into my soup immediately, feeling guilty that I had told the truth out loud — and even worse, to a funder. I can tell you from all of my grant training, that telling someone that what they’re doing is irrelevant doesn’t generally get you many grants. Lyn and I had just gotten married, and we were talking about having a kid. This was not the time to attack the customer — and that’s what foundations and donors and direct mail consultants are, the customers that pay the salaries of the environmental elite.
Tears of a clown, actually.