As a program officer at POISE Foundation, I serve a unique group of grantees and community organizations. POISE is a Black-led, Black-serving community foundation in Pittsburgh, PA. Our mission is to assist the Black community in achieving self-sustaining practices, through strategic leadership, collective giving, grantmaking, and advocacy.
We provide grant dollars to organizations that meet two out of three criteria:
- Executive Director is Black/African American
- 50% of Board is Black/African American
- 75% of community served is Black/African American
Our grantees tend to be smaller organizations with budgets under $600,000 and no more than five staff. Many of them receive their first grant from POISE. To support them, we see our role as not only funders, but as engaged thought partners and advocates in the philanthropic community for the work of these organizations. That is why listening is such a crucial key to our work as a foundation and our relationships with our grantees.
When the COVID-19 pandemic led to a statewide shutdown, listening sessions with Black-led organizations (BLOs) and the community drove our response to create the Critical Community Needs Fund and raise grant dollars to support small to medium-sized BLOs.
Through many conversations and check-ins with grantees over the past year, we also recognized the need to overhaul the application process in general. With organizations on the frontlines striving to meet community needs and trying to remain financially solvent, completing a long application is a potential barrier to applying for much needed funding. Many organizations are juggling providing direct services with limited staff, organizational capacity, and resources to meet the demands. Our applications should not be barriers to funding requests from organizations that we know and trust. So, as 2020 came to a close, we took a critical look at our applications and re-imagined our processes.
Listening to our grantees also taught us how we needed to modify our application process for these emergency funds. With new information, we made the following changes to our process:
- We simplified our grant application
- We no longer ask for financials or budget documents
- All grants are for general operating support
- Decisions are made weekly
- Grant agreements are submitted with electronic signatures
- Grant payments are made via ACH
Simplifying the process for BLOs gives organizations such as churches easy access to obtain funds to meet emergency needs in their community or remain financially viable during the pandemic. Our aim was to get dollars into the community quickly and demonstrate trust in the grantees and the community. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact the organizations and communities that we serve, we continue to listen to our grantees and the needs on the ground to guide us.
How is your foundation listening and learning from your grantees? If you have any thoughts and recommendations, I would love to hear them. We all need each other in this vital work to bring about change in our communities.
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