Progress is the word I would use to describe the Community Foundation’s grant programs over the last year.
Our Focus Grant program received 133 proposals that amounted to $3.1 million in requests. These grants increase opportunities for economic advancement in historically under-resourced communities. Thus, the millions in funding requests are a reflection of the significant costs that poverty imposes on both our residents and our communities.
This is also where our job begins. Program staff and grant committee members thoroughly review proposals in order to most effectively distribute the limited grant dollars available. To assist in this process, we developed an approach that revolves around three impact areas: Basic Human Needs, Educational Attainment and Asset Building.
All said, our 2019 grants provided over $1.3 million to 74 nonprofits. You can see a full list of our 2019 grantees here. The majority of our awards landed in line with our three impact areas, which you can see in the figure below.
Grant Program Highlights for 2019
Using our grantmaking data allows us to glean insights about our community. We compiled some interesting takeaways from last year that might be valuable to our partners and supporters. At the very least, they offer a deeper look into how our grants are serving the community.
1) Growing Energy Around Asset Building
The fifteen grants we provided for asset building programs form our first exciting development. This impact area received the second largest funding total. However, proposals in this category have been slower to develop over the last few years. To put it into perspective, funding for these requests doubled year-over-year.
We attribute this year’s uptick to work we put into awareness building. By highlighting local asset building efforts through our website and through donor education events, we demonstrated the value and purpose of these unique programs. Doing so resulted in more proposals for programs providing wealth creation and workforce skills to underserved communities.
2) Funding Hard (to Raise) Costs
General operating (18 grants) and capacity building grants (6 grants) also saw increases in 2019. Both are types of grants that the Community Foundation began providing after grantees identified these as areas of need. This finding was no surprise, because projects and programs traditionally appeal more to individual donors than operational costs.
We understand the importance of flexible funding for nonprofit organizations. This strategy was reaffirmed when we took an in-depth survey of our grantees, who raised it as a top priority. Asking questions around organizational needs has allowed us to center the actual funding priorities of our grantees. And we’re excited to see grant program support shifting toward these “hard-to-raise” funds.
3) Coordinating Effective Responses
Another way we are listening is by meeting more often with our nonprofit partners and community leaders. By getting a perspective of what our partners are experiencing day-to-day, we can better address emerging needs. One great example happened this past year.
Our Cowlitz County program officer heard that funding for the area’s cold-weather shelters was uncertain. As a result, our team was able to approve a few sizable proactive grants that opened these critical shelters before the first cold snap hit. This type of coordinated response is exciting to see, and in this case, it made all the difference for our neighbors who lack the shelter necessary to weather winter storms.
Grant Program Hopes for 2020
Taking the time to hear the experiences of our partners has paid enormous dividends. With this in mind, we will spend more time listening in 2020. This year provides a perfect opportunity through our strategic planning process. Additionally, we plan to deepen our connections and expand our perspectives by continuing our participation in more than a dozen community collaboratives.
Reaching out in this way helps us create a more transparent and constructive grant program. It also reflects the same best practice we encourage with our nonprofit partners. That is, to center the experiences, perspectives and preferences of the people we seek to serve.
Making equity a more central part of our grant program is another goal. We spent a large part of last year considering how our work can contribute to a more equitable region. Our second hope for 2020 is to put that learning into practice, because data shows that we improve outcomes for everyone when we focus on equity.
For grantmaking, this will mean analyzing community issues and needs differently. It also means continuing to evolve how we support our local nonprofits. This past year brought an increase in organizations working to embed equitable practices and policies into their operations. We hope to see this trend continue as more organizations work to address systemic and structural inequities through their work.
While 2019 brought progress, we know that this is only the beginning of our journey to engage in more equitable practices. As we look to the coming year, it is our hope that each step ahead of us will land alongside our community partners. By moving together, we will make greater strides toward building a community where everyone thrives.