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The Laugh Test Strikes Again — and the Danger of Calling on Weekends

We mentioned “the laugh test” in “So, How Much Grant Money Should I Ask For? And Who’s the Competition?” Whenever you’re asking for money, you shouldn’t request a wildly implausible amount. If your organization has a $100,000 budget and you ask a foundation for $10M, you’ve failed the laugh test. As we said in “When It Comes To Applying for Grants, Size Doesn’t Matter (Usually),” you need to avoid the silly factor.

This also applies to people who contact us. We only work for organizations that have a some plausible charitable or other fundable purpose in mind and whose representatives who don’t seem to be charlatans or scammers. One way we can identify potential charlatans or scammers is when they fail the laugh test. Like this person, who says she is located in the US and works for a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Tanzania:

We are seeking funding from USAID, Gates, and others and I would like to know the success you have had with these NGOs. Have you ever won grants over $10 million? How much collectively have you ever been able to obtain from USAID, Gates and Rockefeller?

We are currently seeking a grant from the MasterCard Foundation for $100 million. They suggest that eh completed application if 50-75 pages long.

Now, it’s possible that this person is simply running a scam, but I’m going to make the questionable assumption that he or she isn’t for the purposes of this post. He or she is missing the fact that virtually no foundations make grants of $100 million, especially on their own. It just doesn’t happen, or, if it does, it’s national news.

The language of the e-mail is wrong too: I don’t think I’ve ever heard a real client ask if we’ve “won” grants. Written grants, yes, but not won. You win the World Series; you’re awarded a grant.

In short, the kinds of questions this person asks fail the laugh test. She doesn’t know how things work. Lots of people in a variety of fields deal with problems like this; the sex advice columnist Dan Savage wrote a whole column called “‘F’ Is for Fake” on the subject of the BS letters he gets and how he knows they’re BS. He doesn’t use the laugh test, but he might as well.

We have a similar BS detector because we have to. For example, in the almost 18 years we’ve been in business, exactly one person who called on a weekend has ever hired us. So when someone calls on a weekend, we assume they’re a flake. And when someone talks about foundation grants of $100 million, we assume the same.