From getting no’s to a severe lack of feedback, the fundraising process can be frustrating. Who better to give advice than the grantmakers themselves?
In this episode, Donna Waites and Meredith Mathews from the Sisters of Charity Foundation, break down all the successful tactics you need to apply for, receive, and deploy funding from grantmakers. Hint: It’s not only about proving your outcomes – stories are also critical!
Continue listening to learn why trust and relationships are important in capacity building and how to prioritize DIEB to better serve your community.
In This Episode You’ll Learn:
- Why trust and relationships are critical to capacity building
- How stories help nonprofits show their value in more ways than just data
- How prioritizing DEIB and equality pays off for your community
Season 2 Episode 7 Transcript
Donna: when you are passionate about what you’re doing and the organization that you’re working for, and then you meet people who are equally as passionate and all you’re trying to do is match their passions with your needs and your organization’s needs, it’s hard to describe that feeling of that perfect magical moment where that match happens. So that definitely made all of the grind worth it because it’s certainly a grind
Kimberly: The fundraising process can be so frustrating when you receive a rejection grant makers often don’t give enough feedback or any at all, to really help you improve your strategy. Right? So who better to give advice than the grant makers themselves?
Today’s guests. Donna Waites and Meredith Mathews from the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina break down all the successful tactics that you need to apply for receive and deploy funding from grantmakers. And I’ll give you a little hint. It’s not only about proving your outcomes. Your stories are.
Continue listening to learn why trust in relationships are important in capacity building and how to prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging to help pay off for your organization and your community.
Donna: When you are passionate about what you’re doing and the organization that you’re working for, and then you meet people who are equally as passionate and all you’re trying to do is match their passions with your needs and your organization’s needs, it’s hard to describe that feeling of that perfect magical moment where that match happens. So that definitely made all of the grind worth it because it’s certainly a grind. Thank you for joining me today on Accidental Fundraiser. I am so excited to talk with you about the Sister’s Charity Foundation of South Carolina, and some of the grant making that you do also your own experience, um, why you do what you do and what you love about it and what advice you have for our awesome Accidental Fundraisers out there. Can you tell me a little bit about the Sisters of Charity foundation of South Carolina?
Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina was founded in 1996. By the order of nuns, this is Charity of St. Augustine who owned, um, Providence Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina, and they sold 50% of that hospital and made the very wise and strategic decision to invest the profits of the sale of that hospital, um, to create our foundation. So we’ve been around for a little over 27 years with the mission of reducing poverty in South Carolina. And we do that predominantly through our grant making, but we are also very invested and committed to research and advocacy and all of our DEIB work. And our grant making is in, in three big buckets. We’ve got grant sets, serve organizations that are, uh, meeting the immediate needs of people experiencing poverty. So that’s of course gonna be things like childcare, food, healthcare, um, education programs, those things that everybody needs to, to participate fully in the world. We also, uh, serve organizations that are doing work to really break the cycle of poverty for the people they serve. Organizations that really wrap have wraparound services and, can, can really demonstrate economic mobility, for program participants. so we look at immediate needs grants as stability breaking the cycle as mobility, and then we have systems level change grants, which of course is, is that transformational work, right? So organizations that are, are doing work to disrupt those systems that have, have either created or continue to reinforce the marginalization of people experiencing poverty.
Donna, you are the Vice President of Programs. Can you tell us a little bit about how you have fallen into this role? I don’t know if you consider yourself an Accidental Fundraiser, strategic fundraiser, strategic nonprofit executive. How do you define your evolution to become the VP of Programs?
Donna: That’s a great question. And I could talk all day about it because, um, it was accidental actually. I started 22 years ago with the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine with one of their ministries as their very first development coordinator. They knew they needed to do fundraising. They knew they needed to increase their capacity, but they didn’t have a whole lot of funding to support that role. I started very young and stayed with the Sister’s Ministry and then, and eventually, uh, started raising money for their hospital. And so I was, uh, the chief cook and bottle washer. I could do a little bit of everything with fundraising, with whether it’s grant writing, planning, events, major donors, annual giving, because we didn’t have a huge staff. Then in 2015, I had the opportunity to come work with the foundation, the Sisters of Charity Foundation, um, on the grant making side on the Phila philanthropic side. So I’ve seen a little bit of everything when it comes to fundraising, as well as now fund giving. And I’m happy to say that here in just a few weeks, I will be taking over the President’s role of the foundation. So I couldn’t be happier.
Wow. Congratulations on that. That’s that’s fantastic and well deserved. Can you share with us then what you love most about fundraising?
Donna: The people that you get to meet that are passionate about the work that you do. Some people would say, how do you do that? How do you, I couldn’t possibly ask people for money, but when you are passionate about what you’re doing and the organization that you’re working for, and then you meet people who are equally as passionate and all you’re trying to do is match their passions with your needs and your organization’s needs, it’s hard to describe that feeling of that perfect magical moment where that match happens. So that definitely made all of the grind worth it because it’s certainly a grind. If you are in the fundraising business, there’s a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes. But when you get to actually hear a yes from a donor and then go to the executive director and say, guess what, we’ve got a new donor, or we’ve increased this donation. It’s the best.
Kimberly: Ooh. I agree. I love it. It feels so good when you can make that match and that synergy happen. You really do have incredible perspective, um, on both sides of being a fundraiser and then also the grant maker. And I know our listeners are gonna wanna hear a little bit more about just what they should be thinking about as they approach, foundations and, and other organizations for grants. Meredith, I wanna step over to you for a minute. You are a program director. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’m an accidental grant maker. I’m from here, Columbia, South Carolina. I went to a women’s college here in Columbia and had a couple of majors and minors. Graduated with the degree in psychology with minors in philosophy, women’s studies and French and all of which obviously is the perfect recipe for a grant maker. Just did a a lot of informational interviews, one of which was at Sisters of Charity Foundation. When they needed a new person on staff and, then I landed there. I didn’t even know that a position like that existed. I’ve worked with Donna my entire time in grant making since 2016. I’ve learned something new every single day. It’s great.
I wanna step into capacity building and talk a little bit about your work around capacity building. We define capacity building as, what do you need to do your work most effectively? And that’s, um, knowledge it’s skills, it’s resources, it’s tools, it’s infrastructure. I remember when I first started in this side of nonprofit and philanthropy, the term capacity building being thrown out a lot is kinda like a buzzword and not really knowing what that meant. I mean, I’m not gonna lie when I first started talking to some grantee partners saying, tell me about your needs and capacity building took me a bit to really understand that it’s more than, um, helping someone know how to, to nurture their board or engage their board that or professional development that really is it’s. Do you have what you need to operate? And many times that’s funding, many times that’s, uh, expansion of staff. It’s really, to me, anything that is needed to carry out your work effectively.
Kimberly: And why do you think that at times that can be difficult for organizations to either get, receive funding for, or advocate for?
We struggle with that with our fellow funders in the field. Um, because it’s just something that we see. We, we know that you cannot carry out your mission as a nonprofit, if you don’t have the tools that you need. But I do believe the good news is believe that over the past couple of years, with the pandemic that a lot of funders are seeing the need to support capacity building. In addition to just general operating support and being less heavy and restrictions on specific programs, because you can’t deliver the programs. If you don’t have the capacity and the support for operations that you need.
Really good point because we all had to pivot during the pandemic. And some people couldn’t even go into their office to deliver the services that they, needed to deliver in the way in which they used to do it. And so that’s where technology can be so important. And there are a lot of organizations that are limited with technology, and then also struggle to try to find funds for technology. Can you share a little bit about the real growth that you’ve seen at organizations by investing in capacity?
Meredith: Part of how we, we do grant making is really based on trust, meaning trusting our partners that tell us what they need. Tell me what you need and for capacity building and put it in your application and we will figure out a way to make it happen. That we, we do what we say we’re gonna do. I think that’s been great for our relationship with our partners. And letting them know that we do trust them. Like they, they know what they need. They know what their capacity building needs are. Um, and our role isn’t to tell them what they need, our role is to fund it. We are the funder . To be able to support them to advocate for their own needs has been really, a cool experience, especially over these last couple of years. Our investment in fund development capacity building through Network For Good to see these organizations grow and have some really successful campaigns and fundraisers and hit these milestones that they may not have thought were, were possible before. Whenever you have the tools, then you can do the job at hand, but when you’re limited on tools, it, it certainly is a struggle. Network For Good’s Jumpstart program helps with that because it is a capacity building initiative that, that combines technology fundraising software with a personal fundraising coach to help small to medium sized organizations really focus in on their fundraising through strategy, but also through having an effective tool where they can store information, communicate with their donors and supporters, through video and text and email, direct mail, all of that. Can you share a little bit with us about what peaks your interest in the Jumpstart program?
We’ve always been interested in capacity building and we’ve done it in, in various ways. We’ve tried different vehicles and different tools to support our nonprofits, everything from having a series of workshops every year, where we would bring in experts in the field of fundraising and board development and accounting. And that had a good run until it didn’t, until we saw that it really wasn’t making a, a good impact. So when we sunset of that program, we decided to go straight to the source to real, just ask for applicants, what are your top three needs in terms of capacity building? So for a couple of years, we gather that data and overwhelmingly not surprising to me or really anybody else on our team. The number one need is fund development capacity. So. It was around the same time that we were pulling this data and really mulling over, okay, so what do we do with this information? Do we go back to the workshop idea? Do we give people grants for consultants? Like how are we gonna use this information and a staff member from Network For Good, who knew our current president pretty well said, can I introduce this program to you all? Um, and so we were very open to it. It very much peaked my interest as someone who used to be in fund development and wishing that I had something like this. Back in the day, we either had a software that was so expensive, no normal nonprofit could afford it. Or you had your Microsoft work documents and your Excel sheets. So to not only have software, but have coaching to have a cohort that you would work with was, was really appealing to us. So we spent our time digging in and talking to other foundations who had gone through the, the process with Network For Good and, and of course, meeting with the staff and then going through the assessment. So that’s what started the relationship with Network For Good and Jumpstart. we decided to take a shot with the pilot and the pilot was hugely successful.
Kimberly: Yay on that. Congratulations. So you partnered with Network For Good to, um, fund 10 nonprofits where they had software and coaching for a year. You turned your investment of $39,000 into a return of nearly $560,000 worth of additional funds raised by those organizations.
Meredith: And that was in 2020, that was, they started their cohort in February or March of that year. That’s amazing, amazing.
Donna: Meredith, I’m so glad you brought that up because I think that’s a really good point that we have shared with our board and anyone who’s asked us about our experience with with Network For Good. When March happened and we were about to launch with our cohort that was so excited, we just like everybody else said, maybe this isn’t the right time. So I had some hard conversations where I thought they would be hard where I was calling the executive directors of our cohort and saying, we completely understand. We know you’ve gone through this process. We were excited to support you in this, but you don’t have to do it right now. We promise that we can pick this back up next year or when things calm down and nearly all of them said it was 10 out of 11 said, no, we need this now more than ever. Um, and so with a lot of faith, we just said, okay, let’s do it.
Kimberly: And they had an incredible return. And one of the things that, um, we, uh, had been encouraging over the, um, pandemic and definitely in the early days was do not stop fundraising, do not put your foot on the pedal. A lot of organizations will feel if there’s something that happens, um, in the public of view, uh, there’s a natural disaster or there’s some economic turn or there’s just something that happens where they feel like, ah, I don’t think that our organization should be fundraising right now. The answer is no, because we need to give our supporters the, um, the opportunity to decide for themselves who they wanna focus on, who they wanna fund. Uh, we shouldn’t be making that decision for them. Did you see that with your organizations that you support? Not just the group that was in the Jumpstart program, but your, your other partnered charities that you work with.
Meredith: A hundred percent. Of course that was a, a question from our board and our grants committee every couple of months, especially in 20 20, 20, 21. how are our partners doing our grantee partners through, through the pandemic? This is what they’re designed to do, right? They serve people and they didn’t stop. I would say the majority of them figured out how to access funds that were in a different year, different circumstances. They would’ve said that we won’t go for that grant or that opportunity, but they figured out how to access funds. We all know that life stuff happens. And everybody was dealing with life stuff at home. And then in, in service positions, it, that’s a large emotional toll. it’s heavy, it’s stressful. And, and they just kept going. That personally gave me a lot of hope there are people that, that care and that do good work and that should still show up.
The Sisters of Charity Foundation is, is planning to fund another Jumpstart cohort, which is fantastic, because you are focusing on that capacity building and support for them. But can you share what other ways you either learned something new from the pandemic or you’ve pivoted in one way or another to provide new and additional support for your partner charities?
March, April allowed us to advocate with more confidence and more urgency for general operating support grants and the importance of unrestricted funds. Moving forward in the future, hope, hopefully that’s the default, not the exception. The Jumpstart team members and Network For Good staff can tell you that the way that we have always operated is if we are going to ask our partners to do extra work or to take time, um, that it better be for a good reason. And so everything we do, we wanna, um, make sure that we’re respectful of their time and their work. And if there’s information that maybe we don’t need, or we can get it in a way that is not as time consuming for a partner, then let’s do it that way. That the application let’s how, how can we condense this application? How can we condense this report instead of doing an interim report? Meaning that we can support our partners more fully and allow them to free up their time to do their work, which is the most important part.
We serve, um, the entire state of South Carolina. So that’s 46 counties. And we do our very best to be committed to equity and making sure that no matter what county you’re in or how far away you are from us, that you have equal access to us and our staff. Um, so the evolution of Zoom and, and people understanding, maybe you don’t have to meet in person. Maybe you don’t need to have that site visit even. Um, cuz yeah, we, we certainly love seeing our partners in action, but what was the real purpose and a full formal site visit? Who was getting what out of that visit? In terms of making sure that you have what you need and that the grant is going well, and that the goals that you’ve set forth, you’re meeting those or that you’re not struggling, man. That’s a phone call and that’s a zoom call. And we went from being able to see we’ll have 200 grantee partners in any Cal calendar year. We can’t possibly see in person 200 grantee partners, as much as we want to. But now we’ve figured out how easy it is to do the zooms and do the meetings. So we are able to touch physically through technology, every single grantee partner that we need to. Can we talk a little bit about your reporting? All organizations can struggle with, how do we show the great work that we’re doing and really show the impact that’s being made? More foundations, more grant making entities wanna see the outcomes as opposed to the outputs. And they wanna see more data. How do you look at it? Uh, as a grant maker and where, um, things are going from a reporting standpoint?
Meredith: I like how our reports look and I guess I’m biased because like we’ve made them right. But that it is open ended. in a final report, it’s like, okay, here’s the goals that you set on on your application? How’d it go? The foundation’s work is measured by our ability to support our partners. So again, how did they measure success? I think, um, leaving things open, ended by, how did it go and then allowing them to share their individual measures of success. Donna, wouldn’t you say that it’s really personalized to the, the partner.
Donna: Yes, absolutely. I would say over the years, Meredith and I have both grown in our understanding of what it is that is, is meeting our mission. And our mission’s pretty simple. Are you working to improve the lives of people, experiencing poverty in South Carolina and every single grantee partner that we have is doing that. And they all do it in different ways. So we lean on them to tell us how they’re doing that. Almost all of the data that they give us is outputs. Um, I just, I think that nonprofits are just, even if they’ve been around for 50 years, we’re just, um, beginning to see needles move. So while your goal may be to increase the number of people that you serve, that’s a goal. And that’s a great goal. Um, but is that an outcome? You know, the outcome is, did people’s lives change? And so one of the questions that we have on our application and in our reports, Is how do you know that people’s lives have improved? And again, that’s different with every single nonprofit, how they determine if people’s lives have improved. And so we let them tell us how they determine that. Um, and if that includes numbers, if that includes data, then, then that’s great. Um, but it also, we give them the opportunity to give us stories. One of the things that we love to hear is true stories of, of a mother or a young person or someone who’s been, um, recently released from the criminal legal system. How, how did they say that their lives improved? We’re fortunate that our board actually loves, loves the stories just as much as they love the numbers. One of the reasons why we made it a priority a few years ago to invest in organizations that are making systems level change is more for that long term impact. So when we are working with those organizations, we have a few different questions when it comes to outcomes. What is the system that you feel, um, needs to be improved? And what does it look like when it’s fixed? So if you’re working in the education system and you believe that your work is helping to change the education system for the better. So whether that’s five years, 10 years, or a hundred years, what’s the ultimate outcome? Um, and we know that our, our 26 years of funding in, in 26 years into the future, we may not see that change. So how are they incrementally working towards it is more important to us than, you know, that they fixed education, which we all know might take some time.
Kimberly: It might take some time, but, and it’s, it is, as you said, it’s incremental every step forward. What is one thing that you wish Accidental Fundraisers knew about applying for either receiving grants?
If you apply for a grant and you’re not funded, then ask for feedback. And not everybody’s in a a position to give that individualized feedback. Any fundraiser knows that it doesn’t hurt to ask, right. Any decision that we make or any question that we ask or any information that we need from you is never personal and it’s never meant to be. That we, um, don’t think that your work is important and that you’re not doing great work. Piggybacking on Meredith, if if you’ve done your homework and you’ve seen our mission, um, don’t try to force a square peg into a round hole If you meet our mission, then we, then we definitely wanna hear from you. But if you’re not funded, it doesn’t mean that we don’t think that what you’re doing is important. We value every single nonprofit in our state and all that they do, whether they’re working with pets or arts, um, or working with people, experiencing poverty, it’s all wonderful and needed work. The less we have to say no, the, the more we like our jobs for sure, but just really making sure that if you are in line with our mission and our values. Speaking from Sisters of Charity Foundation, if it’s gonna be a no, never, we’re gonna, we’re gonna do our best to let you know, and we’ll help you find other sources of support. I wanna hear a little bit about your relationship with Freedom Readers. Can you tell us a little bit about Freedom Readers and why you support them?
Meredith: Funded Freedom Readers since 2016, which is right around when Donna and I both have been at the Foundation. So Tracy has been a part of the Sisters of Charity Foundation almost as long as, as we have. She is brilliant and compassionate and dedicated and has such a heart for this work. Freedom Readers it’s so closely aligned to our mission. The services that they provide in their, um, community. They put forth a beautiful application, they answered the questions perfectly. They know their community, they’re offering services that they know are needed and they, they include the voices of the people that they serve. The executive director has had always had the courage to ask us questions and to pick up the phone and call or email us and say, Hey, this is what I’m thinking. And, and it’s not always been, um, easy conversations. You know, there have been times where we’ve talked to Tracy where she’s said, you know, what can I do to get a little bit more, what can I do to get a higher grant? Um, and not all fundraisers are willing to ask that question, even though it’s so simple. And then we can have an open conversation that’s transparent with her about our limitations or, or about hers, maybe. Um, but the fact that we trust her, she trusts us the relationship. It, it couldn’t, it really couldn’t be better. And that partnership has gone both ways where we have actually begun to lean on her, where when we needed a grantee partner to speak to a group, to talk about equity or talk about the relationship with the funder and how that should work, we’ve called on her. And she’s been so happy to share her knowledge and her experience. In fact, she is serving on a committee of ours. She’s a non board member, but a committee member for our diversity equity, inclusion and belonging. And it’s just brought so much to that part of our work. Let’s step into DEIB. I’m so glad that you raised it. Um, can you talk a little bit about your work, um, in the DEIB area, what you’re trying to accomplish and where there are challenges? When we were founded 26 years ago, the Sisters of Charity in the founding documents in writing, I have it on my desk I have their very first brochure about why it was important for them to create this foundation. The terms social justice are in their language from 26 years ago. So it’s been in our DNA from the very beginning of our foundation. Our core values include justice. Starting in 2018 and 2019, when we needed to create a new strategic plan, our board at the time, and our staff really dug into the drivers of poverty. So many of the, the people that are living in our state to struggle and you can’t acknowledge the cause is without acknowledging that, um, the lack of equity that has been prevalent since the beginning of our country. So in that strategic plan, it was very important that we named diversity equity inclusion as being one of our top three strategic intentions. So right up there with streamlining and effective grant making. Right up there with research and making sure that we are inspiring people to care about, um, marginalized folks in our state is DEI. Then everything that happened in 2020 and with the pandemic, with the murders of George Floyd and others, and then the social unrest that followed, we were in a place where we had already started to do some serious hard work. Where we knew internally that we trusted each other and that we trusted our partners and that we could respond in a way that was based not on talk, not on show, not just putting out tweets and, and Facebook messages or statements. Um, but that it was founded in, it meets our mission. It’s part of our DNA. It’s what the sisters want us to do. It really intensified our work. We hoped that we would have several years to grow our knowledge and grow our skills and, and continue to grow on the journey of DEI. It’s carrying forward what the Sisters of Charity wanted us to do from day one. Um, so I’ll let Meredith talk about how it’s infused in our grant making.
And I’m glad you pointed that out, Donna, that internal work and those conversations and that organizational learning had been going on because things would feel a lot different how we approach our work if 2020 were the first time, like in our organization, we had said, poverty and, inequity are linked. Like Donna said, we wanna make sure that, our process is equitable for, for all inquiring organizations. Every, everybody, regardless of their relationship to us has the ability to to access in information and, and funding equally. Again how we infuse it, those DEIB values and our work, of course, with all throughout our process, we, we wanna make sure that that’s it is woven in the fabric. Too, we wanna lift out that our current Jumpstart cohort, that was a priority for us because we know that organizations, um, that are led by people of color. Again, when we’re thinking about South Carolina organizations that are serving people in poverty, we know that, um, typically those organizations that are led by black and brown people don’t have access to those same networks of, of wealth. So it was intentional that this cohort was serving a majority of org organizations that are led by people of color. There’s research that shows that BIPOC led organizations have greater challenge in raising funds as opposed to their Caucasian counterparts. There also weren’t many BIPOC fundraisers. We actually are going through an evolution from a fundraising standpoint, as we look at how we will be fundraising today and in the future, as we have a more diverse base of fundraisers going into different communities. Um, and there’s a real need to continue to support that evolution. I know that you have a program called the President’s Fellows Program. Can you share a little bit about that?
Donna: The president’s fellows program was the heart child, um, of a board chair of ours who was in leadership with Benedict College, which is an HBCU that’s right down the street from us, um, in Columbia, South Carolina. And our president at the time acknowledged the, the lack of diversity in leadership in philanthropy in nonprofits. And when you would look around the room at a, a big national conference of philanthropic leaders, you saw very few black men in particular. The stars aligned with the fact that Gerald Smalls, who was our board chair at the time was with Benedict College and said, look, why don’t we give this a shot? And so they, uh, partnered with us to identify leaders at the college, young black men who, um, were community minded, regardless of if they were a business major or a social work major. Um, but, but wanted to make a difference in their community and, you know, bringing them in for a fellowship where they spend a full school year with our staff and, you know, with our leadership, but also with every one of our staff members to see the ins and outs of philanthropy and then partnering, um, pairing them up with nonprofits so that they can see that this is an opportunity for, um, a career. By the time they finished with us, the, their final presentations, every single one of them, without us saying it was a requirement came away saying, all right, I wanna be a CPA, but how am I gonna be a CPA that helps improve my community? The intention was to help expose, um, young African American male to philanthropy into the field of nonprofit, but it’s really grown into being so much more. We’re about to go into to three more HBCUs and we have eight in South Carolina, so we’ll be in four in the fall. Incredible value to the sector to, to serve as a catalyst for change. And we need this change. We need it. There is so much more that we can do to lift those up and really have an equal playing field for all charities and really create more opportunities for BIPOC, um, individuals to support the sector in a lot of different ways as they have been. There’s been an incredible consistency in philanthropy over the years. We just don’t respect the different ways in which people are giving. I find it so exciting to see programs like yours with the president’s fellows and others, um, where there is a real push towards, um, having more. You know, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging across the sector, as well as our communities. Kudos to the Sisters of Charity Foundation for being a catalyst for change and for your board member for stepping up and saying, we need to do something and do something now.
Here are some key takeaways. First, why trust in relationships are critical to capacity building.
You know, grants are really a two way street. Second is how stories can help nonprofits show their value and impact in more ways than just data. Leveraging those stories and data together is really powerful. And last how prioritizing D E I B and equality pays off for your community