What to do with Mission-Drifting Requests

I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.

1 Timothy 5:21

Imagine this: You work for a shelter that temporarily houses people at night during the colder months. While trying to balance the proposed budget before sending it to the CFO, you run across an email that is for a 6-figure grant award. The foundation wants to give shelters an extra boost for creatively working with local healthcare providers. The goal is to make sure people who end up on the streets aren’t there because they couldn’t take (or afford) their medication. Since your shelter isn’t permanent throughout the year, you don’t often worry about the undercurrent of issues for the people you serve that land them at your doorstep. And yet, you’ve talked with the board chair about becoming a year-long shelter. This could be the seed money for making that dream happen.

This is where nonprofits get into trouble: a program manager sees an email that asks for grant proposals. While what it is asking for is not necessarily square in the middle of what the nonprofit does, they ask their grant writer (or take it upon themselves) to write and submit the grant proposal. And then the nonprofit gets the award and is pushed away from their mission.

In our fictional case, the nonprofit gets the award. The board is overjoyed at the largest grant award the nonprofit has seen and immediately jumps into making things permanent. As the months go on, the focus is on making sure the shelter is stable. Four months after the grant award check arrives, the executive director asks around to figure out who to talk to about a medical program. Closed doors all around—hospitals, pharmacies, and counseling centers have too many other items to worry about and, doesn’t the shelter work with Medicaid anyway? 

One clearly fraught and overscheduled physician assistant wants to help. You have a brainstorming meeting, and the energy picks back up. But, when you call the PA’s office to start the work a few weeks later, there’s no time to meet or talk through details. 

By month six, the progress report is due to the foundation, and you have little to report. The foundation is gracious and says keep trying. Bolstered by their encouragement, you decide to go about it by making it as easy as possible on the partner—you’ll do all the heavy lifting, the PA office only needs to partner in name. All of a sudden, the time you would spend caring for people, you are now spending reading up on insurance, the issues your clients say they have, and what the PA office can handle and what you’d have to do to connect clients with the appropriate mental, physical, and behavioral healthcare providers.

The fledgling program at the end of a year certainly would not have cost the 6-figure check you received. And, while the shelter became permanent, the lack of engaged partners and the cost of resources like time to determine how to serve the clients’ medical needs made the whole program a bust. You’re glad the grant lifecycle is done and regret the feeling of being overwhelmed this past year that deters you from ever getting a grant again.


These kinds of stories happen frequently, and small nonprofits are more prone. The bigger the donation or award, the more tempted the foundation is to favor that donor or foundation. The nonprofit twists and finagles so that they can spend the money on what they actually need and tries to make sure to still cover what the donor wants to see.

In 1 Timothy 5, a call to avoid favoritism could help nonprofits to stay the course. Think about individual donors. When a donor comes with a great idea that is just slightly off mission, stiff-arm the temptation to say yes to favor the donor’s idea. Feel free to ask them more questions, get curious, and get creative. What you’ll want to avoid is something that takes the resources of the nonprofit in a different direction than what the board has already discussed, approved, or is anticipating. 

Think about foundations. When the request for proposal email hits your inbox, take the burden off yourself of squeezing yet one more program into your nonprofit and delete the email. Don’t favor what they want you to do if it’s not within your mission—what God has asked you to do. Keep your charge–your mission–in front of you and avoid the favoritism trap. 

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Photo by lucas favre on unsplash

© 2021, Mollie Bond. All rights reserved. Originally published at www.molliebond.org.

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