Friday, March 18, 2011

Gas for the car

Our Board doesn’t recommend where most of our discretionary grant dollars go. Community volunteers do, and then our Board approves them.

 Some Committee volunteers say, “We need to invest these grant dollars in organizations that can prove to us that they’re effective. If they can’t develop the discipline to learn to sell the value of what they do, they don’t deserve support.”

 Others say, “Organizations with proven track records already have a donor base. We need to invest our money in start-up organizations with no track record, but with strong potential to build one by filling a void in services.”

 Still others say, “We’ve got applications from groups in underserved areas that are run by volunteers, and that don’t know “inputs” from “outcomes” and “goals” from “strategies”, but they’ve got 60 kids coming to after-school programs every day, out of harm’s way; or they’re delivering meals to 90 home-bound elderly every day; or they’re taking people on trips to educational and cultural experiences they’d never ever get in Greenacres, SC. I don’t want to say to them, “Prove to us the value of that safe, secure place for your children”, “Prove to us how much that hungry senior benefited from those lunches”, or “Prove to us the value of those trips to County Parks and museums”.

Each of the voices above is equally respected at the table where grant recommendations are developed. The result is that established programs, start-up programs and grassroots programs all end up sharing in the grants pool. Interestingly, when we collect end-of-grant information a year later, the success rate is pretty much the same among all types of applicants. That success rate has been at about 98% in all the years we’ve been doing this. We attribute that to two main things: First, our “community-based” committees of citizens, chosen with more care than a jury pool, and second, our practice of doing in-person visits to applicants, where Committee members and staff learn more about an organization’s importance and potential than they possibly could from the words on a written application.