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Foundation retools – Goal is to match donors, causes

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By Todd Cohen

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — In an effort to better match donors with charitable causes, the Triangle Community Foundation is revamping the way it makes small grants and launching a new program to make larger grants.

Starting this September, local nonprofits will be able to apply at any time throughout the year for grants of up to $10,000, with the foundation’s staff reviewing requests every two weeks.

Nonprofits will be able to download and submit application forms at the foundation’s Web site at www.trianglecf.org, and those without Web access will be able to submit applications on paper.

The foundation, with $75 million in assets, expects to make about $500,000 a year in small grants – about the same as in the past. The foundation hands out a total of $6.1 million in grants a year, the bulk of it from individual funds created by donors to support specific causes.

The new small-grants program aims to involve donors more closely in considering proposals, says Darryl Lester, the foundation’s program director.

Previously, small grants of up to $15,000 were made twice a year based on initial review by the foundation staff of roughly 180 proposals submitted in each of two annual grant cycles.

Proposals cleared by the staff then were reviewed by panels of foundation board members and volunteers in the areas of the arts and environment, community improvement, education, youth and social services.

Based on those recommendations, the staff looked for existing donors to fund the proposals. The foundation would use its unrestricted funds to match donor dollars or to fully fund proposals.

Under the new system, the staff will meet every other week to review proposals and decide immediately whether to reject them, seek additional information or recommend funding.

If funding is recommended, the staff will look for existing donors to support the proposals. Summaries of proposals not landing support from existing donors will be posted on the foundation’s Web site.

A new committee of community leaders will meet with the staff four times a year to review grantmaking policies and issues.

The foundation also is launching a new program to make grants of $50,000 a year over three years to address priority community needs.

Next January, the foundation plans to issue a request for proposals for funding for its initial priority need, which will be selected this year by an advisory committee representing the foundation’s board and community leaders.

The foundation will encourage but not require that nonprofits seeking the larger grants coordinate their efforts with other organizations. Applications will have to spell out the proposals’ expected impact.

Joint proposals can be submitted, with each participating organization eligible to receive $50,000 a year over three years.

The foundation, which has agreed to invest $100,000 in the first year of the new large-grants initiative, will look for donors to help fund the large projects.

The first round of large grants probably will be announced in the fall of 2001.

The foundation hopes the changes in its grantmaking will better meet the needs of the community and donors alike, says Lester, the  program director.

Eliminating the twice-a-year grant deadlines will let nonprofits  request money when they need it, he said, and creating larger grants will attract nonprofits and donors that want to have a bigger impact on big issues.

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