Commitment and the "Tattoo Test"

By Dave Peery 

When evaluating a potential grantee, there are all the usual things a funder might gather.  But it’s the unusual things, or observations, that say a little more about an entrepreneur or organization that you can’t find in the business plan or financials.  When paired side by side, many organizations may look just the same - yet one gets the grant and the other does not.  In order to justify these kinds of decisions, you have to analyze the intangibles - and start figuring out what they are, or why they matter.  We’ve been accumulating a number of questions we ask ourselves when looking at a new deal, that force us to look at it from a different perspective.  Here on the PF Whiteboard we’ll talk about some of those things and we welcome your ideas as well.

The first I’ll talk about here is the “tattoo test”.  Basically, we ask ourselves - would we be willing to tattoo this organization’s logo on our arms?  What we’re really asking is - are we willing to go to bat for this group?  Are we willing to open any doors for them?  Because the truth is, they’re going to ask.  And I can tell you from experience, it’s uncomfortable to be asked to use your social currency for a group you don’t feel strongly about.  We feel its our role and duty to serve our grantees, and it’s a lot easier to do when you’re unafraid to shout their names from the rooftops.

This post is really about commitment.  As funders, we’re always trying to gauge how committed an entrepreneur is to their venture.  Maybe it’s time to think about how, as funders, we can be as committed to our grantee’s work as they are.  The photos above are of two Peery Foundation grantees who are so committed to their work, they’ve tattoo’d it onto their bodies.  At the left is Leila Janah of Samasource, who’s tattoo’d “Sama” on her wrist, which is the sanskrit word for “equal”.  At the right is Luke Dowdney of Fight for Peace, who’s inked his boxing muscles with “Luta Pela Paz”, “Fight for Peace” in portuguese.  In truth, I’m not a fan of tattoos - but I am a fan of both Leila and Luke and many of the other entrepreneurs we support who make serious sacrifices to make a big difference in the world.  If the people we support are so dedicated to their work, then I hope we can infuse our philanthropy with a similar sense of commitment.