Our Commitment to Continuous Improvement

Jan 22, 2024

Dear Friend,

We continue to learn. And as we learn we change our approaches. Those two truths are at the core of the growth mindset that drives our work at the Community Foundation.

Our approach to grantmaking is one area where we continue to learn and grow.

Historically, like most of the philanthropic field, our grants process relied heavily on the experience of our staff and volunteers to identify the best solutions for community improvement.

This process reinforced the Foundation’s key role in decision making and it favored established organizations that had the resources and staff to seek out and apply for funding.  It also put sometimes unhelpful guardrails on the types of programs and projects that were most likely to get our support.

We listened. In the lead up to the launch of our Fairfield County Forward strategy, we surveyed and had dozens of conversations with nonprofit partners. As part of this process, we talked to individuals who had received funding from us for years; to some who had received recent or limited funding; and to others who had been unsuccessful in their funding pursuit.

As we grappled with what we heard, we asked ourselves whether our grantmaking was helping us achieve the greatest impact and our goal of creating a Fairfield County where every person has an equitable opportunity to thrive. The answer was clear: we had an opportunity to improve.

We changed. In response to what we heard and learned, we have adopted new processes, which more explicitly embrace our values of equity, inclusivity, collaboration, humility, respect, and courage.  We have redesigned our funding approach to be a stronger partner.

What does this mean in practice?

It means we’ve taken — and will continue to take — deliberate steps to identify and fund nonprofits and grassroots organizations working closest with those who have been most impacted by systemic inequities.

It means we are taking greater institutional responsibility for building new relationships and deepening connections with organizations committed to and effective at addressing our community’s challenges. Our team is out in the community more than ever — actively seeking out and listening to people and organizations who are often too busy doing the work to find or come to us.

Embedding Ourselves “In Community”
We are embedding ourselves “in community” to build trust; support the strongest leaders; nurture emerging leaders; understand the community’s goals and needs; and co-design funding opportunities.

We have removed some of the top-down structures and restrictive requirements that take power, decision-making and flexibility away from the people and organizations that are working on the ground.

Over time we hope to make grant decisions directly in partnership with the communities we serve.

Signs of Progress
There are already signs that this new approach is getting us closer to accomplishing our goals.  In our most recent grant cycle, we received 91 letters of interest from nonprofits that want to partner with us — the highest number in the Community Foundation’s history.

Prior to the launch of the Fairfield County Forward strategy, we typically received letters from between 70-80 nonprofits.

This shows that we’re extending our reach and that a wider and more diverse group of nonprofits sees themselves as aligned with our mission and values.  In some cases, new partners have found us through our expanded communications channels; in other cases, we have reached out directly to groups that are making aligned, positive change and invited them to apply for support.

Because we’re now working more closely with our grantee partners in their application processes, while setting honest expectations, we have also drastically reduced the number of applicants that take the time to seek funding from us but are unsuccessful in that pursuit.  In the past several grant rounds, fewer than a handful of full grant applications have been declined (in some rounds we have had no declines). And in each of those instances, applicants have been individually counseled for future opportunities.

An Ongoing Process
We’re still in the formative stages of this evolving approach to grantmaking. It takes time to build trust.

But we’re excited about these early indicators and we look forward to building even stronger, deeper, and more impactful relationships with nonprofits and grassroots organizations in every corner of Fairfield County.

With your partnership, we can further accelerate this work by expanding the pool of funding we can make available to create a community where all of us thrive and flourish.

In Community,

Mendi blue paca