What makes REAL news?
June 11th, 2006Earlier this week we hosted a press conference to announce significant grants to five key organizations as part of our Creating Community for a Lifetime initiative. You can read more about this on our website! We started this effort two years ago and asked the Area Agency on Aging to partner with us. We conducted a massive survey directed at older adults in Kent County and are moving forward using these results to fund programs and efforts that will contribute to making our community an "elder-friendly" community.
As information on our website notes:
The Creating Community for a Lifetime initiative is an ambitious, long-term, community-wide initiative launched in early 2004 by the Community Foundation and Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan. The initiative seeks to help build a framework for long-term planning to address the challenges and opportunities presented by an aging community. The initiative is not a non-profit organization but an independent coalition convened to explore ideas about what constitutes an elder-friendly community and to articulate a shared vision for Kent County.
SO - one of the tangible outcomes of this effort focused in on an area that the Foundation thought was critical regarding how older adults are plugged in and engaged with the community through volunteer activities and/or employment opportunities! We are awarding $1M over the next three years and recently granted $303,000 to five organizations that developed creative programs or enhanced current programs to encourage active involvement of older adults!
Very exciting and very important!
However, the day of our press conference, we had significant competition. There were shootings overnight, an announcement of a $15,000 grant and other funding for the Fourth of July fireworks, and news coming from the Grand Rapids City Commission. It is always a gamble regarding what makes news or what grabs an assignment editor's attention. I know that - I have extensive experience with media relations for more than two decades. I am not the uninitiated.
Little fanfare was given our news. What was absolutely disappointing to me though was the nature of the comments from media sources when contacted about this press conference days in advance. Really astonishing! Beyond the usual comments that I have heard over the years from reporters and editors like - so why would THIS be news - were the responses that stated "well if it's only $300,000, that seems pretty insignificant".
THE MONEY WAS NOT THE STORY! If the public only pays attention to the big capital efforts - see my entry from June 4th- and is only going to take notice of multi-million dollars grants and gifts, then the real story is being missed. Is this community NOW really that jaundiced that only $1M + announcements are the real news?
I am not complaining about the lack of media coverage, but more about this "new news" to me that in order to grab the attention of the media, grants and gifts MUST now be in excess of $1M. Whew - that is sad!
Changing the community mindset! One tall order!
June 4th, 2006I would like to think that if the Foundation was ever to embark upon a capital campaign that we would understand why some donors and foundations may want to fund the effort and why others would pass but thank us for the request.
In the real world, many times capital funding requests and actually programmatic funding requests have that feeling of entitlement connected to them. When we receive requests, we take them all very seriously as it is after all a significant part of what we do. Not every request matches our priorities and that is not to take away from the quality of the organization and the funding being sought.
The Grand Rapids Community Foundation rarely makes a grant of more than $1million. We have funded a variety of capital efforts over the past 17 years to the tune of a million dollars. However, the market conditions of the first part of this decade put a stop to that due to the fact that we were essentially making grants over a period of years and mortgaging the future of our board limiting our ability to make other grants.
Here are some examples:
Prior to 1998 an exciting new facility was on the drawing board that was to be quite a plus for our area and indeed it has become just that. Major donors and foundations were anteing up with six and seven figure gifts. The community was excited, and still is, about this wonderful new organization. The GRCF determined that a large six figure gift was great for this effort while the requesting organization was aghast at anything less than a million. I was personally astonished at the abrupt and vocal discord that this organization unleashed. It had become so commonplace that million dollar grants were made by many funders, that they felt entitled to this amount.
In other instances, it is amazing to me how many requesting organizations do not take the good advice of our accomplished, talented and caring program officers about the dollar amount that should be requested. Even after being counseled that anything more than a low six figure amount should be requested, a current request that we have in from a local agency exceeds a million dollars! This does not bode well for that organization.
Many organizations believe that if they do not try to go for the big amount, then they would miss out on a big gift. Good fund raising counsel is needed to work with organizations to not offend the funder by ignoring solid advice. Our staff is well-versed in our priorities, the needs in our community and the priorities of other funders.
Community politics are always interesting as well. A recent telephone call from a person, whom I respect and like, resulted in my shaking my head in disbelief from what I heard. A major capital campaign underway was looking for a gift from the GRCF and it was not something that we would fund and never have in our history. The message was loud and clear from this person: people who are quite involved with this effort may not think of the Community Foundation too fondly in their future giving if we did not make a gift.
Our priorities are not the same as other foundations in our community. Do not mistake our collaboration with other funders as one size fits all in terms of funding.
We are working on a clear and objective set of tools that will help everyone think about capital efforts no matter how large or how small. We want to help and we want to make sure that the trustees of this wonderful foundation are confident in the choices made for funding as they do have the final word in all funding and participate quite actively throughout the process.