Oregon Community Foundation staffers give local nonprofits primer on grant funding

Scott Swanson

Want some money? Here’s how to get it.

That was the basic message last week from Oregon Community Foundation who held a “Morning Meetup” with about 30 people at the Sweet Home Community Center.

The purpose of the Jan. 26 event, according to OCF Regional Director Sara Brandt, of the organization’s Eugene office, was to meet “in a relaxed environment” with representatives of nonprofits, schools and other entities in east Linn County that might benefit from grants offered by OCF. She said the foundation has been holding such events throughout the Willamette Valley. Her office serves Linn, Benton, Lane and Douglas counties.

“We want to learn about what’s happening, what the needs are.”

Jo Ann McQueary of Sweet Home, a member of the Southern Willamette Valley Regional Leadership Council, a group of volunteers who advise OCF staff on issues and operations in the area, organized the event. The turnout included representatives of local community foundations, aid agencies, school districts, cities and various nonprofits.

“Folks in our region don’t get many grants from the OCF,” said McQueary, who with her husband Tim have been donors to various local causes through the foundation. “The reason is they don’t ask.”

OCF has some $1.6 billion in assets, in 1,700 different funds, which have grown from a $60,000 initial donation by Willamette Industries head Bill Swindells in 1974. That makes it one of the top six largest community foundations in the nation. In recent years it has awarded $100 million-plus through some 300 annual grants, Brandt said. Total grants for the Southern Willamette Valley region in 2015 were $16.4 million, which included $4.6 million for education, $3.7 million for health and well-being, $3 million for livability, $2.3 million in scholarships, $2.1 million for arts and culture and $400,000 for other foci.

Program Officer Damien Sands, who heads local grant disbursements, said the foundation’s goal is to ensure that funding is “broad-based” within its criteria.

“You’ve got an opportunity here,” said Sands, who noted that he was previously a longtime resident of Brownsville. “We want to encourage involvement from Linn County.”

Grants are available for nonprofit efforts to improve community health and wellness, education and achievement, arts and culture and general community livability – leadership, volunteerism, civic participation, and efforts to address “social, economic and environmental challenges by bringing together disparate stakeholders.”

He said his office receives between 400 and 500 applications each year, of which between one-third and one-fourth are funded.

Of particular interest, Sands said, are capital projects, such as “buildings, vehicles, renovations,” – particularly those with broad community support and impact. The foundation recently helped fund a new track at Monroe High School and a roof for the Springfield Grange.

Volunteers from the community, who vett applications and conduct site visits, are big contributors.

“We have to have vetting,” Sands said, noting that 500 applications are more than the OCF staff could handle. “We have volunteers all over the community who come together and arm wrestle and decide who’s going to do site visits. Now it’s about relationships.

“Volunteers are the cornerstone of OCF’s ability to be effective.”

The foundation helps people or organizations who want to donate to specific causes or who want to set up funds or endowments, to do so. Both the Sweet Home Alumni Foundation and the Sweet Home Community Foundation have been assisted by OCF, as well as private donors such as the McQuearys, staff members said.

Brandt said their mission is “to serve Oregon.”

“We help you find the right fit, facilitate philanthropy, make Oregon a better place to live.”

For more information on the OCF’s activities in the Southern Willamette Valley, call (541) 431-7099.