Beat Bureaucracy

Case study 4: The Navigator speaks

The artist did a fine job of following the Four Rules. No wonder he succeeded.

Who's in charge? Don’t complain to employees who have no authority to solve problems. Ask for a supervisor and don't take no for an answer. If necessary go all the way to the top.

The artist went to the top. Senior managers often have more discretion to interpret policies than front-line workers like the fundraiser. Managers may also have a heightened concern for the reputation of the organization, which might have been adversely affected if the artist had complained to other artists about how the Institute treated him.

Be persuasive. Explain in detail why you should receive assistance. Be reasonable rather than cranky or accusing. You may wish to begin with a phone call, but always put your appeal in writing and attach evidence — bureaucracies run on paper. If there is an official appeal process, use it.

The artist got under the Institute’s skin by arguing that they should have supplied written information about tax receipts for distribution to artists. He made his point about the unfairness of the Institute's position by showing how he had been generous in his attempt to help cancer research, and was now going to be out the entire $1200. He also provided a written gallery evaluation to back up his claim that the painting was worth that much; and he obtained an opinion from a tax accountant.

Although he expressed his frustration, he never became abusive or threatening. As a result, the Institute had no cause for dismissing him as a whiner or nutcase.

Be persistent. Don’t let the system wear you down. Wear it down. Don’t give up because you’re tired or frustrated — friends, family and support organizations can bring fresh ideas and energy to the battle.

The artist followed up his phone calls with e-mails and more phone calls.

The artist got help from a friend who was a tax accountant. He was so persistent that the Cancer Foundation officials must have wondered if he would ever give up. Bureaucrats only have so many hours in their workdays. After having to deal with multiple phone calls and e-mails, many bureaucracies will decide to cut their losses and give complainants what they want.

Push back, hard. If your appeal is rejected, call the bureaucracy to account. Bureaucracies try to look invulnerable. Find their weaknesses. They may fear bad news coverage or phone calls to government ministers or a web campaign against them.

The artist did not have to go this far.


Click to go the Case Study 5, “You become disabled and the tax department refuses to give you a disability tax credit.”