Making an Immediate Impact

Guest Correspondence

In life we are often cautioned to “expect the unexpected,” and philanthropy is no different. Leaders of nonprofit organizations often have to make hard decisions about whether to temporarily defer funding from the core programs helping people directly in order to cover the cost of an unexpected expense essential to their operations.

Fixing a broken air-conditioning unit may mean that 60 students from low-income households won’t get the academic support they need that year. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase new medical equipment at a vast discount may have a short-term cost of preventing 200 clinic patients from receiving the medical coverage they need at the moment. The expenses associated with capital upgrades to an animal shelter could prevent intake of additional animals for many months. These long-term investments have short-term consequences, and the immediate implications can cause heartache to clients, staff and volunteers.

It can be challenging to find dollars for reactive solutions. Donors who practice planned, strategic giving often direct their contributions to attractive and preemptive programs and projects, and traditionally, many foundations’ grant cycles only arise one or two times each year and regularly take months to process.

After recognizing these obstacles, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County established a streamlined Immediate Impact Grant Process in 2012, open to organizations with updated profiles in The Giving Partner, our community’s online knowledge base of local nonprofits. At any time throughout the year, these nonprofits can request up to $5,000 for an immediate need. An advisory committee—including Community Foundation staff members and one community member—meets monthly to review applications. If approved for full or partial funding, the grant may be distributed within a few weeks.

What expedites the process is that these organizations have already made a commitment to transparency by sharing in-depth information about their governance, financials, programs and planning documents in The Giving Partner. The committee uses these profiles to determine whether the Immediate Impact Grant will be a good investment. By evaluating the nature, urgency and severity of the request, as well as the organization’s accountability, the process filters requests for recurring expenses that should already be part of an organization’s planned operations such as salary expenditures.

Over the last three years, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County has funded close to $900,000 through the Immediate Impact Grants process, so that the unexpected obstacles that organizations experience don’t halt the important work they do in our region. Finishing the rehearsal floor at The Players Theatre, providing a much needed server upgrade at the Manatee County Girls Club, and purchasing new medical equipment for the Good Samaritan Pharmacy clinic are just a few of these important fulfilled needs.

If you are one of the thousands of charitable citizens in our community, you can probably relate to the feeling of excitement associated with funding a new program or special initiative—these are valuable investments. However, we also encourage you not to overlook the value of guiding your donation to immediate needs for long-standing programs that have proven results in our community. They can go a long way in reinforcing the resilience of people being the one to make an immediate positive impact.

Roxie Jerde is the president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County

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