How a Dream Becomes a Grant

By Kristen Seeber
Women’s Fund of Smith County

Maybe you remember, too, watching cartoons on Saturday morning, when animated musical educational short films would find their way into the programming. The topics covered everything from grammar to science, history, mathematics and even civics. “Schoolhouse Rock!” taught a generation that knowledge is power. With hip songs like, “Conjunction Junction (What’s Your Function?),” “Three is a Magic Number” and “Electricity, Electricity,” memorization and learning were fun.

My favorite was “Interjections (Hey!) show excitement (Yow!) or emotion (Ouch!) They’re generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, or by a comma when the feeling’s not as strong.” I can sing it word-for-word, verse-by-verse to this day.

As a creative way to explain our grants process, the Women’s Fund of Smith County education committee recently presented a take-off from another favorite, “I’m Just a Bill.” We called our version, “How a Dream Becomes a Grant.” Just as the lyrics by Dave Frishberg tell how a bill has to climb a lot of steps to get to Capitol Hill, our portrayal recounts how a nonprofit agency’s dream - to enhance its services for women and children - journeys to become a grant from the Women’s Fund.

The “Bill” in Schoolhouse Rock shows patience and courage, and we find the same virtues in our grant applicants year after year. One of the first important steps in our grant-making program is our training, where agency representatives have the opportunity to learn about our collective giving and grant-making – including our specific criteria and guidelines for funding.

After the submission deadline, members of our grants committee review every request to evaluate merit, structure and potential impact. Their diligence cannot be overstated. The Women’s Fund members who comprise this committee vet each proposal to protect the fidelity of the mission and values of our organization. Knowing that our members truly take ownership of the projects we fund, the grants committee makes certain that requests touch at the core of why Women’s Fund members join and give.

Committee members continue their work by making site visits to the agencies that are in the running for a grant. Following these first-hand observations, oral presentations are given to the grants committee by the nonprofit representatives. Often, the “dream” comes to life during these visits and presentations. Watching and listening can evoke emotion, the passion of the proposal becoming more real.

Once finalists are selected, they are presented to the Women’s Fund membership for a vote. As a giving circle, each member has a voice through her vote for which agency programs will be awarded our annual grants. The board of directors then reviews the member vote, the agencies’ financial requests and the amount of available funding, before announcing the grant award recipients.

Interjection! Hooray! Women’s Fund members, the agency grantees and our community celebrate the new grant awards. In just over ten years, the Women’s Fund has awarded more than $1.4 million in grants to 26 different Smith County nonprofits, transforming countless lives.

But the story does not end here. During the course of the annual grant, progress reports are submitted - outlining successes, challenges and expenses of the project. We hold each other accountable, the grantor and the grantee, with integrity and transparency. Together, we are committed to ensuring that our philanthropic efforts change lives and impact our community. To us, it is not just a grant. It is a relationship – one that we seek to honor and cultivate.

Even after the grant period comes to a close, we continue to measure outcomes. The aim is far-reaching community impact – not results for one year, but for many years to come. We don’t give to nonprofits. We give through nonprofits.

We give to Trakisha, who moved from homelessness to employment through her training at Christian Women’s Job Corps. We give to 87-year-old Ollie, whose security and peace of mind have been restored through repairs on her home by Habitat for Humanity of Smith County. We give to elementary students in Lindale, who learn to express themselves creatively through participation in classical music curricula and East Texas Symphony Orchestra concerts. We give to Giovani and to La’Khaiyah, who now excel at Boulter Middle School with the unconditional support from loving adults who guide them through The Mentoring Alliance after-school program.

Not all bills become law. Not all interjections have exclamation points. Not all dreams come true. But where there is vision, there is hope. Where there is perseverance, there is heart. Where there is bravery, there is beauty. So, we keep believing, and we keep giving.

Kristen Seeber serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, a collective giving circle which awards annual grants to nonprofit programs that transform our community and enhance the lives of women and children. Grant applications for 2019 funding open online June 11. Visit www.womensfundsc.org for more information about membership, mission and funding guidelines.

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