Contributed by Lauren A. Curry
I love data.
More accurately, I love stories. And to me, data tell some of the most compelling and important stories out there.
- 29% of low-income boys in Vermont do not graduate from high school on time. 94% of girls who are not low-income do.
- At any given time, 110,000 Vermont households (20% of our population) access public assistance benefits through the State’s Economic Services Division.
These and other statistics about poverty, education, aging, and strong communities have informed our grantmaking over the past ten years. In that time, we’ve engaged with partner organizations all over the state, working to turn around the bad statistics and build on the good ones … one grant at a time.
We’ve also tried to be good neighbors. Knowing that we are one on a very short list of Vermont foundations, and recognizing the many, many people out there working hard on behalf of causes they believe in, we’ve made an effort to keep our doors wide open. We’ve awarded grants to all kinds of different organizations supporting all kinds of different programs, all lumped under the large umbrella of improving the quality of life for people in Vermont.
Very large umbrella. Perhaps overly large.
Since 2006, we’ve made grants to more than 350 different organizations. In the last five years alone, we’ve issued upwards of 370 separate grant checks. That’s a lot for a foundation our size. Maybe too many.
We all know how the saying goes. You can’t be all things to all people. Much as we might like to try to be, no one is well served by that approach in the end.
Data stories matter. And our data story tells us it’s time for a change. It’s time to narrow our focus, and put more money into the grants that have proven to make the greatest difference in the work we most care about.
You can read more about our new strategy in the Community Grants section of our website. In short, from here forward our Community Grants will focus on the following distinct populations and goals:
- Youth: Resilience and Aspiration
- Working-Age Adults: Employment and Financial Independence
- Seniors: Comfort and Dignity in Aging
- Communities: Local Resources and Investments
Under each of these headings, you will find that we have identified specific strategies as the focus for our investments. We have done so based on our interests, and your data stories … on what our non-profit partners have taught us over the years are the most meaningful and cost-effective interventions. We will concentrate our funds in these areas, and as ever will make grants with minimal restrictions to give organizations the flexibility and control they need to run the very best and most efficient programs.
The tradeoff here, of course, is that we’ve made some cuts. Extremely valuable work is being done in areas that did not make our list, and we are grateful to other foundations, businesses and individuals that continue to invest in those areas. We are committed, though, to funding programs that best fit our values and theory of change, and that demonstrate the kind of impact and cost efficiency we seek.
We have heard many times over the years that we “don’t act like a typical foundation”. It has always been meant as a compliment, and frankly, we’ll take it. We – and many of our peer foundations serving this state – approach this work with a deep sense of gratitude, a keen interest in true partnership, and a binding commitment to make the greatest impact we possibly can with the dollars we have.
While I understand not everyone out there will be happy with these changes, I trust that those who know us will see the thought, care, and discipline that went into them.
I’m thinking as I write about Deb’s belief that our Foundation can make a difference, and Rich’s powerful statement on being good stewards. With these changes, I think we are doing just that.
Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.