A Different Kind of Grantmaker

A Different Kind of Grantmaker


When I joined ACT for Alexandria in 2006, one of the things I was most excited about was awarding grants. I had always been in the position of being a grantee seeking funding and I thought it would be much easier and more fun to “give away” money than to ask for it. I soon learned it was much more thoughtful and strategic.

Traditional grantmaking focuses on awarding grants to worthy causes, often providing much-needed general operating or program support. At ACT, we have a different take on grantmaking, one that focuses on strategic philanthropy and catalyzing change for the nonprofit sector through capacity building grants.

What is capacity building?

ACT’s grantmaking focuses on strengthening the nonprofit sector through building the capacity of local nonprofits. Our goal is to ensure nonprofits have a solid foundation in place so they can better carry out their mission. But our support does not end there. In addition to giving grant dollars, we also serve as a convener and connector — encouraging collaboration among key stakeholders and connecting individuals with causes they care about.

This year ACT will award $75,000 in grants, but we typically receive close to $300,000 in requests. Our grant committee members consistently let us know that participating in the review process helps them better understand our community and its needs and the grant discussion gives them great insight into what the nonprofits do and how donors can best support them. This year we are piloting a new Side-by-Side Investment Program and inviting our donors to participate in the grant review process. I am pleased to share that ACT, in partnership with our donor advised fund side-by-side investors, has awarded $60,400 for our Spring 2017 Capacity Building Grants to support projects related to board development, fund development planning, and strategic planning. Grantees include:

Alexandria Seaport Foundation, funded by the Mark & Cindy Anderson Fund

Arts on the Horizon, funded by ACT, the Neuhaus-Speck Family Foundation Fund, and the Martha and Scott Harris Fund (first-time grantee)

Carpenter’s Shelter, funded by the Bruhn-Morris Family Foundation Fund

Casa Chirilagua, funded by ACT

Center for Alexandria’s Children, funded by ACT

Friends of Guest House, funded by ACT, the Ross Family Fund, the Martha and Scott Harris Fund and the Neuhaus-Speck Family Foundation Fund

Nueva Vida, funded by ACT (first-time grantee)

The Child & Family Network Centers, funded by ACT

But why is capacity building so important?

In 2015, ACT awarded a $7,500 grant to the Child & Family Network Centers (CFNC) for a consultant to work with the organization on strategic board governance. CFNC had recent changes in board and staff leadership and they saw this as an opportunity to make much-needed changes to the board structure and composition. As a result, CFNC was able to create a board that is better able to make policy and strategy decisions, monitor the organization’s performance, ensure overall accountability and set direction for the organization moving forward.

I recently spoke with CFNC executive director Lisa Carter and she was excited to share that the organization is a finalist for the Center for Nonprofit Advancement’s Board Leadership Award. This is a very prestigious award in the nonprofit sector and ACT is honored to have played a role in helping the organization in the process. ACT has always believed strong boards are a vital component of building strong and effective organizations. It is very exciting to see CFNC being recognized for their efforts.

This is just one of the many stories of ACT’s impact on the nonprofit sector. Alexandria nonprofits interested in applying for capacity building grants are encouraged to visit https://www.actforalexandria.org/grants. Applications for the fall grant cycle will be available beginning Oct. 2.

Brandi Yee is the chief program officer at ACT for Alexandria (ACT). Launched in 2004, ACT is a community foundation that seeks to turn ideas into actions and resources into results. Since ACT’s founding, 10,000 plus donors have leveraged more than $12 million to benefit important charitable causes in Alexandria and beyond.