Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Scary Nonprofit Halloween Story

Once upon a time, a local government agency wanted to give grants in a particular issue area, so they put out an RFP and called all the area nonprofits to a special meeting.

The nonprofits came to the mandatory 3-1/2 hour meeting and received over 60 pages of instructions on how to complete the seven page proposal package (two pages of actual writing plus lots of forms). When they tried to ask questions, they were told to that they couldn't ask questions at the meeting, but that they should write them down on index cards and wait for the answers to magically appear on the government agency's web site - hopefully before the proposal due date.

So, did you recognize that story? How many times have you lived this nightmare? I experienced it again just yesterday morning. Now, nothing in this post should be taken to be a personal attack on the agency or people involved in issuing this RFP. The humans were all great, and made the 3-1/2 hours as painless as they could. My problem is with bureaucracy in general.

I just can't help but think that there is a more efficient way to achieve the same results - or better - without wasting so much time and resources on insignificant minutia.

When I talk to people about my career, and my progression from working for county government, to nonprofit agencies, to being an independent consultant, I often describe it as a natural reaction to being allergic to bureaucracy.

There isn't likely to be a cure for this overnight, but the situation isn't entirely hopeless either. Locally, the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits has been working with the city and county on streamlining some processes, and getting individual programs and agencies within the city and county to use the same forms for contracts, proposals, and reporting.

Not everybody is on board yet, but slowly, one agency, and one program, at a time, we eliminate a bit of the paperwork that has nothing to do with our mission. And, some day, maybe that little story I started with really will just be Halloween fiction.

1 comment:

  1. I have a close friend that just pulled the plug on a $60K local government contract for the reasons you described! The endless headaches were killing him and his excitement about the project.