The Pittsburgh Foundation

$230,000 in grants to “Small and Mighty” nonprofits

Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank volunteers Willa Mae Hubbard (left), Diane Wuycheck and Arlene L. Harris (seated) pack donations for distribution to sites across Allegheny County. The organization estimates the diaper gap in the county at 77,000 per day. 

New program funds 18 organizations with budgets under $600,000

PITTSBURGH, March 16, 2017 –  For small, community-based nonprofits, applying for foundation grants can seem insurmountably difficult, when there are few people on staff who have expertise in writing grants.

The response from The Pittsburgh Foundation to that challenge is the Small and Mighty Grants Program, which has awarded $230,000 to 18 nonprofits with budgets less than $600,000. Small and Mighty makes grants to organizations that meet basic needs and reach the two populations identified through the Foundation’s new 100 Percent Pittsburgh organizing principle as significantly held back by poverty from full participation in a revitalized economy. The two priority groups are youth ages 12 to 24 and single women raising children. See list of grant recipients, below.

“Many of these organizations are crowded out by larger nonprofits that have more resources and contacts in going for financial support,” says Foundation President and CEO Maxwell King. “By intentionally providing operating support – something that many foundations tend to avoid doing with smaller organizations – we’re increasing their capacity to provide those they serve with more opportunities to participate in the local economy.”

Small and Mighty, which has a 60-day funding decision turnaround, specifically targets small, community-based nonprofits and provides significant coaching and support throughout the application process.

“Through Small and Mighty, The Pittsburgh Foundation is approaching grant-making differently so that smaller nonprofits are able to access operating support grants, to build capacity and launch innovative programs that no one else is undertaking,” said Jeanne Pearlman, the Foundation’s senior vice president for Program and Policy.

Small and Mighty grants are among the first new initiatives of the Foundation’s 100 Percent Pittsburgh organizing principle, which seeks to ensure that the 30 percent of Pittsburgh’s people who live at or near the federal poverty line are provided opportunities to improve their life prospects by working in the region’s improved economy.

Fostering equity and access in grantmaking:  The Small and Mighty initiative, which was announced in September to nonprofits, was the direct result of fact-finding effort that began in December 2015 by the Foundation’s Program staff. Analysis by Senior Program Officer Michelle McMurray revealed that small nonprofits, many of which were created by people living in communities they serve, were underrepresented in the Foundation’s grant-making portfolio. Two-thirds of the 3,100 registered nonprofits in the Pittsburgh region have annual budgets of $100,000 or less, according to a 2008 report by The Forbes Funds, while the typical nonprofit has an annual budget of $463,000. But only 26 of the 130 proposals reviewed by the Foundation in 2015 were submitted by organizations with budgets of $500,000 or less. Only one-third of proposals submitted by small organizations were funded compared to 63 percent of all other proposals received in 2015.

“Our 100 Percent Pittsburgh organizing principle is grounded in the idea that we should turn to affected communities for solutions,” said McMurray, who leads Small and Mighty. “But in reviewing our own grant-making history, we realized we could do much more to fund small community-based nonprofits that don’t just serve a community; they are of the community. Many of these organizations were started by and are run by people who live in those communities.”

To more fully support small organizations, the Foundation’s Program staff set out to identify potential strategies for increasing grant-seeking success. In addition to a review of funding practices of other foundations, the Foundation went directly to small nonprofits, conducting a May 2016 focus group with small nonprofit staffers and organizing dozens of one-on-one interviews with the leadership and staff at 16 local nonprofits. Findings from these feedback sessions revealed that small nonprofits needed:

  • Support for important infrastructure and operating needs, such as outcome-reporting systems, staff development and improved technology. Because small nonprofits’ resources generally go directly into program delivery, they are often unable to invest in infrastructure. Operating funds allow organizations to improve operations and work more efficiently.
  • Support for existing programs and services. Chasing new dollars is often a major pitfall for small organizations. If small nonprofits have already identified and are filling real needs in their community, then foundations should fund what is already working.
  • Right-size grant requirements. Aligning application and reporting requirements with organizational size and/or the grant amount ensures nonprofits aren’t spending undue time and resources on bureaucratic processes that distract them from their missions.
  • To build relationships as part of the grant application process. Incorporating time into the grant application process for program officers to become personally acquainted with the strengths and constraints of individual organizations could lead to more successful programs and more equitable grant-making decisions. 
  • Clear transparent communication from funders. Nonprofits of all sizes benefit from straightforward communication with foundations, accessible application guidelines and foundation staff who are responsive to grantee questions. National surveys including this 2016 report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, show that these common-sense practices lead to increased grantee satisfaction and stronger grantee-funder partnerships.

How the program was introduced: The Small and Mighty program kicked off in August, when the Foundation emailed approximately 450 regional nonprofits that met the budget criteria and invited them to September information sessions to learn about the program. In all, 83 organizations took part in in-person sessions and webinars, leading to 43 proposals, of which 18 were funded.

Demand for Small and Mighty funding quickly outpaced supply: the initial grant pool was depleted in the first round of funding requests. McMurray estimates that two dozen additional requests have come in after the funding round closed. The Program staff will be going back to the Foundation’s board to request additional funding to meet demand. Staff is also evaluating the program: an initial survey of applicants had a 70 percent response rate. Among the recommendations were requests to increase the number of grant cycles so that a steady stream of support makes its way to nonprofits, provide training and technical support for grant writing, and expand eligibility criteria to provide more funding to meet community needs.

In the inaugural round of Small and Mighty funding, $85,000 in operating support grants were awarded to:

  • Allegheny Youth Development: $10,000. This faith-based Northside agency provides out-of-school time programs to improve academic performance and behavioral outcomes for youth grades K-12 at Pittsburgh Morrow Pre-K-8, Pittsburgh Schiller 6-8 and surrounding schools. Programs include 90 minutes of academic support, dinner and 90 minutes of free electives such as Judo, rowing and scouting Monday through Friday, as well as weekend field trips. Annual operating budget: $282,819.
  • Coraopolis Youth Creations: $15,000. Since 2012, the organization has strengthened families and built community through youth enrichment programs that focus on social, cultural, educational and physical activities. Programming has included backpacks and school supplies for 325 children annually and Christmas gifts to 40 families, Harvest Fest for 150 children and 10 weeks of summer programs to promote healthy eating and physical activity. Funds will help recruit board members and transition from a volunteer to a paid executive director. Annual operating budget: $122,489.
  • Orange Arrow: $10,000. Since 2013, Orange Arrow’s flagship program, Overtime, uses sports-themed curriculum over four consecutive years with male student athletes ages 10 to 13 to foster leadership, decorum, peer coaching, arts and culture, entrepreneurship, financial management and career exploration. Currently, the program is offered in McKees Rocks, Shadyside, Regent Square, Garfield, West End and Wilkinsburg. College athletes from the University of Pittsburgh's Athletic Department and Robert Morris football team volunteer as assistant coaches for the Overtime program and offer summer academies on the college campuses. This grant will extend the program to possibly five new sites through Pittsburgh Public Schools. Annual operating budget: $106,250.
  • Prevention Point Pittsburgh: $15,000. For the past 21 years, Prevention Point has been the sole legal syringe access program in Western Pennsylvania, and is the largest provider of community-based overdose prevention training and free naloxone distribution services in the region, as well as counseling, safer sex education and STD testing at its Perry Hilltop, Hill District and Oakland locations. Prevention Point is losing its Oakland space and this grant primarily supports relocation within Oakland, as well as staff retention and expansion of service. Annual operating budget: $350,000.
  • The Isaiah Project: $15,000. Founded in 2009, The Isaiah Project gives high school-age youth a safe haven from the violence in Pittsburgh's Allentown, Arlington, Beltzhoover, Carrick, Knoxville and Mt. Oliver neighborhoods. The organization provides meaningful work experience, academic supports, violence prevention/life skills groups, community service opportunities and emotional support from caring adults. Some students are offered paid work experience from licensed tradespeople in carpentry, landscaping, electrical work, painting and culinary arts. This grant will help increase management capacity, service delivery and formalize partnerships with other organizations. Annual operating budget: $299,976.
  • Western PA Community of HOPE: $5,000. This Wilkinsburg-based nonprofit is dedicated to creating an environment where children, young adults and families are encouraged to make healthy choices. Programs include academic help, social support and life skills training; summer camp, community service, and family and community gatherings; and connecting families to additional services. This operating grant will support the organization as it serves at least 20 more children, raises $50,000 in funds, establishes communications guidelines and finds a new space. Annual operating budget: $85,478.
  • Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank: $15,000. One in three mothers in the U.S. report a lack of sufficient supply of diapers to keep their infant dry, clean, and healthy. Many child care facilities don’t allow parents to leave their children in the facilities without disposable diapers—meaning parents can’t work. Since 2012, this small, volunteer-run organization has worked with more than 30 nonprofit agencies, childcare providers and faith-based institutions to distribute 250,000 diapers at no cost to families in need. This operating grant will support The Diaper Bank as expands warehouse and delivery capacity, uses social media and speaking engagements to raise awareness of need, and unlocks a match from Huggies to significantly increase the supply of diapers available to families in need. Annual operating budget: $119,815.

In the inaugural round of Small and Mighty funding, $145,000 in program and capacity grants were made to:

  • 5A Elite Youth Empowerment: $15,000 to support the pilot phase of the Peacebuilders Institute for Social Justice. An informal survey of youth by the Metro-Urban Institute of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary found that 79 percent of youth ages nine to 18 had a close friend or family member who had been shot. To help youth transition from victim or bystander to change agents, this grant funds the pilot Peacebuilders Institute for Social Justice and Non-violent Interaction program. Fifteen Urban Pathways Charter School high school students will come together each month to cultivate internal peace, define and address community needs, and build peace with peers and leaders. This work will lead to a Youth Manifesto, media event and a Peacebuilders Youth Summit. Annual operating budget: $181,574.
  • Acculturation for Justice, Access, Peace Outreach (AJAPO): $15,000 to support the cost of immigration services for refugee youth. Between 2000 and 2014 more than 18,000 immigrants and refugees arrived in Allegheny County. As the immigrant population regionally is expected to grow, AJAPO aims to empower refugees and immigrants, helping 320 people each year secure jobs, integrate into schools, adjust their legal status, and rebuild their lives after persecution in their homeland. This operating grant will help 35 young refugees, ages 10 to 24, obtain permanent residency and provides temporary staff to speed up medical and passport photos, application submission and follow-up required by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for 140 children. AJAPO is one of only two organizations in the region providing immigration services. Annual operating budget: $525,271.
  • Casa San Jose: $15,000 to support the Saturday Bridges to the Future Program. Since 2013, the trained, bilingual staff at Casa San Jose has assisted more than 1,000 low-income Latino immigrant families with referrals for housing, medical care, legal assistance, family issues; advocacy for immigrant rights and immigration reform; assistance with applications for work or social benefits; and after-school programming. This grant will fund the Saturday Bridges Program providing 20 youth ages eight to 16 with homework help, English as a Second Language instruction, Latino-centric art and cultural activities, “Noche de Ciencias (Science Night)” in collaboration with volunteers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, field trips through Tickets for Kids, and social activities such as baseball camp and a community garden. Annual operating budget: $126,299.
  • Open Hand Ministries, Inc.: $15,000 to support the 2017 Family Development Program Circles Cohort. This ministry by four churches in Garfield and East Liberty promotes home ownership by helping local families to become “wealth-builders” through debt reduction, budgeting, saving and investing as they work to become mortgage-ready. Open Hand also transforms vacant or abandoned properties into safe, energy-efficient, and affordable homes for its clients to purchase and provides up to three years of affordable and safe rental affordable housing for clients while they improve their credit, develop a budget, build savings and qualify for a mortgage. This grant funds 12-week “circles” that match client families to allies who provide support, act as a safety net during the wealth-building process and mentor clients as they work to achieve their goals. Annual operating budget: $391,000.
  • Proud Haven, Inc.: $13,000 to support the hiring of a part-time case manager. Since 2014, Proud Haven has provided safe shelter, emotional support and independent living skills for homeless LGBTQ+ youth ages 12 to 24 through a developing network of partners. The Allegheny County YOUth Count survey found that 38 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+. Proud Haven is one of the only resources for safe housing for this population. This grant will fund a part-time case manager to conduct regular outreach, establish consistent office hours to help youth navigate supportive services, and better coordinate with board members to provide housing and social service referrals, transportation subsidies and personal care items. This grant will also support board and staff training on topics such as mental health first aid and comprehensive crisis management. Annual operating budget: $15,000.
  • Rainbow Kitchen Community Services: $15,000 to support the 2016-17 Anti-Hunger Program. For 32 years, Rainbow Kitchen has been a strong and reliable source of aid for people in need. Its food pantries provide five-day supplies of food to individuals and families. The Kids Café prepares and delivers meals to youth program sites and the breakfast program provides a hot meal each weekday morning to individuals and families, many of whom are homeless. Other quality of life initiatives include winter coat distribution, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, and service and volunteer opportunities for young people. This grant will fund wages for one part-time cook as well as food and supplies with the goal of providing 19,500 dinners through the Kids Café, serving at least 20,000 daily breakfasts, and providing weekly supplies of food to 475 families through its food pantry. Annual operating budget: $407,955.
  • Recovery United Pittsburgh, Inc.: $15,000 to underwrite the monthly program fee for 10 women in the Female Transitional Living Program. Overdose deaths in Allegheny County nearly double national averages, and our region has a shortage of residential options for those in recovery. Started in 2008, Recovery United Pittsburgh Foundation, Inc. serves Carrick, Mount Oliver, Brookline, the Hill District and surrounding communities. This grant supports programming and living expenses for 10 women in the Transitional Living Program. Programming includes relapse prevention, job training and counseling. Participants will also have access to the outpatient treatment services provided by Recovery United. Annual operating budget: $300,000.
  • Fight for Lifers West: $9,000 to support 2016-2017 public education and advocacy. Twenty percent of all juveniles in the United States in prison for life without parole are incarcerated in Pennsylvania. In 2012, a group of mothers of juveniles serving life sentences formed Fight for Lifers West to create public support for changes to Pennsylvania laws and to engage the state legislature in reform. This grant will support a two-day workshop by an attorney and Fight for Lifers volunteers at the State Correction Institution Forest in Marienville, Pa., where they will educate 100 inmates about getting their life sentences reduced, and two-subsequent volunteer days at the facility. They will also facilitate a panel discussion for the public and state legislators about the prevalence and impact of the inmate abuse in jails and prisons and will conduct a study of Pittsburgh Public Schools' discipline policies, perceptions and alternatives to the School to Prison Pipeline. Annual operating budget for fiscal sponsor Thomas Merton Center: $268,947.
  • Steel Smiling: $10,000 to support program costs for the second phase of its community-based mental health pilot program. Steel Smiling is a volunteer-run organization formed in early 2016 to provide African Americans in low-income neighborhoods with basic needs and referrals to quality, affordable mental health services. More than 40 residents in 12 predominantly African American neighborhoods have received financial assistance for basic needs and access to mental health care referrals. This grant will provide at least 50 Arlington Heights residents with three new services: a mental health advocate who will be the first point of contact in determining needs; a social worker to engage one-on-one with residents; and eight hours of mental health "first aide training" including warning signs, crisis response and how to connect people to initial supports. Annual operating budget for fiscal sponsor Thomas Merton Center: $268,947.
  • Youth Opportunities Development: $15,000 to support the Stay Positive Clairton project to reduce school absences, detention and suspensions. Formalized in 2014, the organization's mission is to ensure peaceful, prosperous communities through mentoring, education and empowerment of youth. The “Stay Positive Clairton” membership program works intensively with students to resolve barriers to school attendance and behavioral issues that result, sometimes unfairly, in school discipline. In 2015, a grade 4 to 8 program was added through the Clairton City School District to improve attendance and reduce detentions and suspensions. This grant will fund the development and implementation of five community projects for at least 300 community members, leading to a 30 percent decrease in detention, suspension and tardiness, and reduce new contacts with the juvenile justice system to less than five percent of members. Annual operating budget: $96,000.
  • Zellous Hope Project: $8,000 to provide Hope Chests and Hope Vouchers to low-income families in transition. Begun in 2011 as a program of Dress for Success Pittsburgh, Zellous Hope provides women in the Westside communities who are transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing with a "Hope Chest" of essential household items such as dishes, cookware, towels, bedding, and cleaning products. Hope Vouchers help clients pay for necessities such as photo ID for employment or a tire replacement for a car used for work. This volunteer-run program also provides peer advocacy and support for addiction and recovery, referrals to services and Christmas toys. Last year, with a program budget of only $3,000, Zellous Hope Project served 19 families. With this grant, Zellous Hope Project will increase the women served through its Hope Chest and Hope Voucher Programs from 19 to 100 families, providing them with weekly wellness checks to assure their transitions go smoothly.  Annual operating budget: $21,500.

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Contact: Kitty Julian