Faith-based nonprofits are discovering more foundation partners thanks to FoundationSearch. In this Success Story interview with a FoundationSearch member, Pam Hart of Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ recounts her experiences and lessons learned in foundation fundraising.
FoundationSearch Member: Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ
FoundationSearch Member Since 2014.
When Pam Hart started as the Development Director at Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ (MPYFC), the organization had never received any grants from public or private foundations despite its extensive programming focused on nurturing a healthy spiritual life, alongside emotional and physical development, for youth 11 to 19 years old; the teens meet at MP YFC facilities, schools and homes across the greater Pittsburgh area for structured conversations and just chilling out.
Fast forward five years and Pam describes an out-of-the blue telephone call from the local community foundation that resulted in a $6,000 grant. The staffer told Pam that a fund it administers “knows what you do, and wants you to apply for a grant.” Couple that with a local women’s philanthropy group selecting MP YFC as the 2015 recipient of a $10,000 grant, and it’s clear that MP YFC is gaining traction with the philanthropic community. Grateful for all that has happened, Pam explains how MP YFC’s firstever capital campaign and the critical assistance from FoundationSearch served as the launch pad for its fundraising success.
1) What attracts your organization to foundations for your fundraising strategy?
With legal restrictions preventing some government agencies in making grants to religious-affiliated organizations, MP YFC relies on private and public foundations to supplement the contributions from individual donors and company sponsorships. “Smaller foundations tend to be more interested in us than bigger foundations,” Pam states. Whereas large major foundations support the national Youth for Christ USA and its broad programming, family, community and corporate foundations with local connections are essential to MP YFC’s fundraising strategy. MP YFC appreciates, and maximizes, its hometown appeal. “Smaller local foundations tend to be more interested in what we do,” Pam says, adding how effective it is to invite funders to site visits and discuss in-person their investments.
2) Describe a significant project or campaign funded (or is receiving funds) by foundations.
In 2013, a leader with MP YFC discovered that a National Guard Armory was for sale – the facility was ideal in location and had a large gymnasium and meeting room but required substantial renovation. Because of the Armory’s potential, an individual supporter donated the money to purchase the building, setting in motion MP YFC’s first formal fundraising campaign. “We needed a lot of money to renovate this building,” Pam says, “And so we started to look at individual donors and businesses. Then we realized that there are foundations that would support something like this. So we started looking into foundation grants.”
At the end of the Armory Youth Center campaign two years later, MP YFC had raised a half-million dollars with $75,000 in grants from 10 foundations identified through FoundationSearch. Most of the funds purchased items that attracted youth to the Armory; recreational equipment, updated bathrooms and new paint transformed an old building into a vibrant youth center.
3) Explain how FoundationSearch contributes to your foundation fundraising success.
“It was like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Pam says about the time before MP YFC became a FoundationSearch member. For example, while MP YFC operates in a large metropolitan area, its Armory Youth Center is in suburban Washington County, rendering it ineligible to receive grants from foundations in Pittsburgh that, in reality, fund within one county of the city center. Now, Pam searches and finds foundations that support nonprofits located in Washington County.
Pam, the only staffer at MP YFC using FoundationSearch, also saves time by finding prospects with track records in funding organizations similar to MP YFC, such as those seeking grants for the first time and religious-affiliated organizations. “One of the things I like is being able to look at the details about the foundation,” Pam says about the FoundationSearch interface. “You’ll have a page where you can find all of the information in a chart or a paragraph. You can see who is on their board and whom they supported in the past.” While guidelines can state that a foundation accepts proposals from faith-based organizations, its grantee list may indicate a focus on a specific religious affiliation. Thanks to FoundationSearch, Pam can quickly evaluate whether to allocate resources to approach a prospect “It’s just very easy to click and see all of the organizations they’ve supported in a year. To me, that’s very helpful.”
4) What is important for foundations to know about your organization?
In YFC’s first significant outreach to potential foundations, Pam understood that the organization, at the start, needed to demonstrate that other community donors and sponsors believe the organization was a good investment. “I found that they really liked to not be the only funder,” Pam says about foundations that had not previously partnered with YFC. “If you’re talking about renovating the gym, a funder didn’t want to renovate the whole gym. They wanted to be a part of a bigger group of funders.”
Pam also wanted a foundation prospect to know that its mission and guidelines genuinely aligned with YFC’s needs; in other words, she was not wasting time with an inappropriate or long-shot ask. Equipped with information provided by the FoundationSearch database, Pam approached foundations with personalized and strategic requests. “I tailored my proposals to what I could tell they were interested in.”
5) What advice do you have for charities seeking foundation funding?
Pam’s advice is summed up in two words: be realistic. “One thing to know is that you’re not going always to get the amount you asked for,” Pam states, adding that FoundationSearch showing a particular foundation’s average grant amount helps to determine a realistic request. “You don’t want to ask for something outside of that range.” Pam also encourages fundraisers to accept the lengthy timelines of foundations. “They can take several months to consider each proposal, so you can’t immediately need the money you are requesting. You have to give yourself a lot of time.”
Finally, Pam suggests viewing the grant process as a means to build a positive, on-going relationship with a foundation. From paying attention to application guidelines to keeping the funder informed about project changes, it’s beneficial to treat the foundation as a partner, even after the funds are awarded, received and used.
“Make sure you do follow-up reports to thank them – whether they asked for it or not,” Pam says.
The mission of Metropolitan Pittsburgh Youth for Christ is to reach young people everywhere, working together with the local church and other like-minded partners to raise up lifelong followers of Jesus who lead by their godliness in lifestyle, devotion to prayer and the Word of God, passion for sharing the love of Christ, and commitment to social involvement.