FLEXIBILITY IS KEY
by Suzanne Perry
GrantStation Contributing Author – Originally posted on TrendTrack.
Two (or more) funders are better than one, right? They can be if together they provide the resources to ensure that a nonprofit can start and maintain a successful program.
Many organizations patch together money from a combination of foundations, government agencies, businesses, banks, and even commercial investors – an approach that will be explored at a panel, “Funding in Layers,” at GrantStation’s Innovations 2016 Forum on Philanthropy on June 13th.
I spoke to one of the panelists, Jennifer Hughes, a National Endowment for the Arts official, who will discuss the agency’s Our Town program, which provides money for projects that use arts and culture to help revitalize communities.
Hughes says that Our Town, started in 2011, was the first NEA grantmaking program to require grantees to work with local governments. As with all NEA programs, the recipients must raise matching funds from other sources.
She pointed me to two Our Town grantees who were doing impressive revitalization work. One, the International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA), is leading a project to redevelop Ajo, Arizona, a desert town that fell on hard times after a copper mine closed in the mid-1980s.
Its strategy includes buying a historic school and converting it to affordable housing for artisans, creating a retreat center for cultural tourism, and preserving and renovating Ajo’s historic plaza.
When I asked Tracy Taft, ISDA’s executive adviser, who was footing the bill, she sent three slides listing all of her funding sources from about 2010 to 2015 – and they added up to more than a dozen.
They included federal agencies; grantmakers like the Ford Foundation and Community Foundation of Southern Arizona; ArtPlace America, a collaboration of foundations and federal agencies; and a development bank, the Community Adjustment and Investment Program.
“The funding we need doesn’t exist as a single package out there,” she says. “We have to look at every single opportunity and see what each piece will do.”
Asked what advice she would offer to others about dealing with so many partners, Ms. Taft says: “Don’t get too worried by the order of things.”
She says ISDA, for example, was “up to its ears” working to renovate the town plaza when it had a chance to apply for money that could help them create the conference center. So it switched gears. “If we had waited until we were finished with the plaza,” she says, “the funding opportunity would have passed.”
Another Our Town grantee, the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation (OLCDC), has had to be flexible in less appealing circumstances. It received NEA money for a project to use public art as part of a broader plan to redevelop Opa-locka, a small city northwest of Miami. It aims to replace barricades set up to control drug trafficking and crime with things like a large sculpture, community spaces, and landscape architecture.
The group is working with both the city and the county and has also received money from funders including the Knight, Kresge, and Surdna foundations.
But the project faced some unexpected problems, says Willie Logan, OLCDC’s president and CEO. First, it ran into some zoning conflicts. Then the FBI began investigating the city for alleged corruption, freezing the city’s plans to tap a pool of infrastructure money to help remove and replace the barricades. (Only one out of the six barricades has come down so far.)
Lesson learned? Start small in case something with a funder goes awry. Don’t take on too much at the beginning, he says, “especially when depending on other resources that aren’t in your bank account.”
But you can have a Plan B, he says. OLCDC is hoping to place the sculpture, which has been mostly designed, on county land and plans to build temporary fitness stations along the barricades until it can follow its original plan.
Working With Government
Eric Weingartner, a managing director at the Robin Hood Foundation, also sitting on the Funding in Layers panel, will be discussing his group’s strategy for supplementing and influencing governmental efforts to fight poverty in New York City. He calls it “triple-whammy grantmaking.”
First, Robin Hood provides money to nonprofit projects that it thinks can make a meaningful difference. Second, it hopes the intervention will “show the field something valuable,“ and third, provide evidence to government officials about approaches that work and thus influence their safety-net spending decisions.
Weingartner points to Robin Hood’s Veterans Initiative, which contributed more than $13 million to more than 20 programs that provided services to veterans.
It provided two grants to augment existing city programs, one dealing with homelessness and the other with jobs. The results were so positive that the city picked up the tab for the programs after three years, he says. “We proved to the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) there’s a good way to do something.”
“I’m not interested in an investment that’s not a partnership,” he says.
Jennifer Hughes and Eric Weingartner will be part of a panel on “Funding in Layers” at GrantStation’s Innovations 2016 Forum on Philanthropy.
Action steps you can take today:
Register for Innovations 2016
Register for the Live Webcast (Individual or Group)
Develop a Plan B in Case You Have Problems With a Funder
Be Flexible About Your Plans So You Don’t Miss Out on Grants