May 25, 2014

Social services, and pots of money

I learned about pots of money in grant proposal writing class.

The instructor showed us four flowerpots, four empty cups, and a watering can. Each cup had a label. Each flowerpot had a label. She poured water from the watering can into each of the cups. Then she matched each cup to each flowerpot, then she poured from each cup into its matching flowerpot.

The instructor said funding social services meant thinking in terms of pots of money. These turned into pots of client service. Enough pots, and the agency could sustain its work.

This lesson was absolutely true. My boss at Catholic Social Services often talked in terms of pots of money. A pot of money meant a pot of agency resources to put staff people in jobs. Each pot let our agency address a certain kind of trouble. One problem, one service, one flowerpot. Our agency was a tray of flowerpots, funded with matching pots of money.

People in service agencies have adapted to pot-of-money thinking. We analyze each person looking for service who walks through our doors, identify each person’s list of problems, match the problems to pots of money, and deliver whatever services might match. And only those services. What we deliver is always hit-or-miss.

The truth is that our pot-of-money system is perfectly designed to deliver hit-or-miss services. It does that every day, even though the process started with all the resources in a single watering can.

Is there a way to ditch the cups and flowerpots, give up on matchy-matchy pot-of-money thinking, and start a real garden instead?

Photo Rod Allday [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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