Last month bookended my first full calendar year serving as President of the Community Foundation, and I used the milestone to reflect on our 2023 highlights. As I looked back on our work — both internally and with our dynamic network of partners — I saw a common thread that also tied into the theme of our 2023 Annual Luncheon.
“Take Root” explored how we all have a part to play in cultivating an environment where everyone can take root and flourish. As we work toward this vision, we nurture thriving communities where people feel support, connection and ownership. For us, this work started within.
Created a Plan for Continued Impact
Last January, we unveiled a new strategic framework for our organization. This was a major step forward, but we still had to map out a plan to make progress on our lofty vision.
Over the course of the year, our team met regularly to survey our strengths and opportunities, consider new ways of thinking, and most importantly, identify our areas of focus. Staff collaboration and feedback shaped a full-fledged strategic plan that was approved unanimously by our board in December.
We look forward to sharing the resulting objectives, goals and measures with our communities and constituents this quarter. While deep in planning mode, we also kept up with our commitments to the community by putting our framework into action externally. Choosing to maintain our grant and scholarship programs was one expression of this, and we are proud of the impacts.
Built Capacity Within and Among Nonprofits
We continued to lean into participatory grantmaking by expanding the Community Grants Committee. Their collective knowledge helped inform more than $1.8 million of investments into nonprofits serving southwest Washington. A majority of this funding was focused on providing people with the tools and support needed to chart a path toward prosperity.
Working closely with these grantees and other nonprofits, we keep our ears to the ground to identify emerging needs and potential solutions. This year, one clear message arose: Our region needs a healthy, diverse nonprofit ecosystem to effectively address complex challenges. Ultimately, nonprofits are looking for opportunities to build capacity within their organizations and across the sector.
This work isn’t new to the Community Foundation. We have seen success with multi-year, general operating grants that have provided partners with the flexibility to hire staff, build internal infrastructure and scale programs to better meet community needs. The premise behind these grants is that we can only achieve our mission and vision if we have strong grantee partners.
Fourth Plain Forward is one example of the impact these investments can make. With sustained support from our Strategic Grantmaking Programs and other funders, the organization has hired an Executive Director and expanded its programming. This year, its long-term vision of operating a community space also came to fruition when the Fourth Plain Community Commons opened. This celebratory moment became a 2023 highlight for residents, businesses, policymakers and a variety of community partners, including our team.
Expanded Scholarship Opportunities for Local Students
Another noteworthy milestone came through our scholarship program, which awarded a record $1.1 million to local students. This year, the program saw a 45 percent increase in applicants — a testament to our comprehensive outreach efforts and partnerships.
Our 2024 scholarship cycle is already open and accepting applications until April 30, so make sure to share the news with a student or educator in your life. Thanks to the work of our team, students can now take a brief quiz to determine their eligibility for all 70 scholarships and submit one consolidated application.
As with all we do, the growth of our scholarship program is only possible because of the generosity of local people. Last year, the Community Foundation partnered with donors to establish new scholarship funds, increase awards and tailor criteria in ways that offer greater support for low-income, first-generation, underrepresented and nontraditional students.
In November, we also launched our Unlock the Possibilities campaign to grow the General Scholarship Fund. Several of our scholars shared courageous stories, and local donors contributed enough to provide twelve additional scholarships in 2024.
These extra funds and gifts allow us to support more local students moving forward, so thank you for your continued support. Together, we are growing opportunities and investing in our future workforce and community leaders.
Nurtured Local Philanthropy and Impact
We all felt the economic uncertainty of 2023, so it’s not surprising that giving struggled to recover from the dip recorded in 2022. Nonprofits anticipated another tough year. Thankfully, the Community Foundation and its donors act as a stabilizing force when market fluctuations impact everyday giving. No matter the economic climate, support from donor advised funds and endowments remains relatively consistent.
Last year, donors directed nearly 80 percent of the $21.8 million granted by the Community Foundation. More than 1,350 nonprofits were supported through these awards. At the same time, generous donors contributed nearly $6 million in new gifts. By inspiring local giving year after year and investing our collective charitable assets for growth, the Community Foundation has aggregated $379 million to sustain nonprofits and community needs.
This is how we power local impact, and we are honored to assist as a philanthropic partner, connector and steward. Serving in these roles, we address our region’s most pressing issues. The Columbian recently reported that soaring housing costs and increasing encampments made houselessness the most read topic of 2023. According to the Homeless Crisis Response System, the number of neighbors living on the streets increased 43 percent between 2021 and 2022. Many of our fundholders took steps to reverse this trend by funding emergency shelters, wraparound supports, and transitional and affordable housing.
Deep Roots, Flourishing Community
As you can see, by partnering closely with donors, nonprofits and community champions, we were able to broaden and deepen our roots in southwest Washington. As we extended our network and cultivated relationships in 2023, we prepared to reach upward and outward in the coming year.
2024 marks the foundation’s 40th anniversary, and we are excited to celebrate with our communities and partners. This year is all about honoring our past, relishing the present and celebrating the transformational impacts yet to come.
You’ll have a chance to see the impact we have made through the decades during our Anniversary Celebration. This evening event is scheduled for Thursday, June 6. So, mark your calendar and join us, because you represent a significant part of this foundation and the difference we make every year.