Who’s at the table?

Across the Northern Piedmont region where I work, many of the affiliate advisory boards have been deciding which grant applications to fund from the many local nonprofits that have applied.  I eagerly look forward to each meeting that has the grants decision as part of the agenda, because I’m fascinated by how people make their decisions. I’m also excited to see which projects get the final green light to be funded.

The entire process starts weeks before, when nonprofits seek out our local community foundation affiliates for funding. Going online to fill out the application – a first for our statewide foundation this year – was a new experience for many of them. Our staff has been quick and responsive to answer all the questions that our nonprofits posed during the application process. On the other side of the net, our affiliates’ grants committees viewed the applications online for the first time, and their experiences were positive and supported the notion that moving the process online was a good decision.

So the stage is set: the applications have been vetted by the NCCF staff, and the grants committee is sitting down together to discuss the merits of each application. Some applications are from familiar nonprofits that apply annually, and others are newcomers. Some committee members recuse themselves from the voting due to their involvement with the nonprofit under discussion. Other committee members raise questions about a budget line item, or whether a relatively young nonprofit has the board and infrastructure in place to make it in this economy. Some committee members can feel deeply and passionately about the mission of a certain applicant. And still others want to fund every applicant the same amount of money, regardless of the merits of the project, just to be fair.

Discussions can get heated, especially when not every application can be funded and tough decisions need to be made. The grants committee chair sometimes needs to be part Patton and part Gandhi. But by the end of the meeting, the members have reached a consensus, have voted to fund some applicants over others, and have stayed within their funding limits. Whew! It can be emotionally exhausting!

I applaud all the people at the table, because it’s a tough job to wade through applications, do the due diligence, and then discuss and make compromises to act as a committee of a board, and not as a party of one. And by the way, these are all volunteers doing this on their own time.

Who’s at the table? A hard-working group of dedicated people who want to improve their communities, who know that these grants to local nonprofits will make a significant difference in their fellow citizens’ lives. My hat’s off to all of them.