Six ways to give like a grantmaker

Picture of Mary
Mary Phan-Gruber, Executive Director, Jefferson Regional Foundation

Many neighbors in the South Hills are fortunate enough to meet their families’ needs and maybe even have some expendable income to help their community. Others in our area might not be so lucky. It’s good to take the time to consider how you can impact your community if your budget allows and focus on where you should donate your dollars.

While it may sound easy to give money away, lottery winners often struggle in these roles and even the wealthy Andrew Carnegie observed, “It is more difficult to give money away intelligently than to earn it in the first place.”

As the Executive Director of the Jefferson Regional Foundation, I have seen our board members wrestle with how to most effectively fulfill our mission and priorities as we make grants to community organizations. We have the privilege and responsibility to invest $2 million annually to advance the health and well-being of residents in our communities (Rt. 51 corridor and lower Mon Valley). But how do we make those decisions?

While it might be simpler if we approached our work as charity or simply “giving money away” with no expectations, we are instead engaged in philanthropy, or strategically investing resources to make progress on challenging community issues and focusing on strengthening the organizations who are leading these efforts.

One of those organizations invested in community-building is SHIM. Our Foundation, along with others, has invested in SHIM as an important asset and key partner for the South Hills communities. We have learned a lot by working toward improving our community. Here are six lessons learned from grantmaking:

  1. Be informed. Start by building your awareness of community issues and make a positive contribution. Communities are changing—SHIM in particular is engaged in addressing the growing concern of suburban poverty and serving new and existing residents.
  2. Make a match to mission. What issues do you care about? With its broad approach to the needs of residents in our area (food, workforce, aging, afterschool programs), it may be easy to match your interests to the mission of SHIM. Figure out where your passions lie and find a cause that aligns with those passions.
  3. Go local. There are needs in your own community and people who can benefit from your contribution. There is a particular satisfaction in hearing about or seeing the impact of your community investment firsthand.
  4. Evaluate effectiveness. Is the group capable of using your dollars and/or time well and wisely? Is there good leadership in place? Does it have a strong reputation? Before diving in, be sure your dollars will be used efficiently.
  5. Follow the money. Engage yourself, as well as your dollars, and help strengthen the organization with your time and efforts. Meaning, don’t just write the check and walk away. What skills do you have that you can volunteer? Can you share your interests and spread the word? Donating dollars should just be the start of your relationship with any given nonprofit organization.
  6. Experience the benefits. Research shows that givers benefit. Funding can be fun and allows you to feel connected to your community and invested in positive action. It is healthy to give! So consider being a philanthropist in your own community and feel the rewards.

Whether its SHIM or another organization in our community, learn from these six tips to ensure your donations are not just improving your own neighborhood, but they are leaving you with the feeling of doing good.

Mary Phan-Gruber, MSW is the Executive Director of the Jefferson Regional Foundation (www.jefferson.rf.org) and has worked in grantmaking for 14 years.