Financial help is certainly critical to a nonprofit’s success. However, when a foundation opts to give more than money, both the foundation and grantee benefit. Grantees can gain immeasurable assistance from a foundation’s local knowledge, field research, experienced board members, and funding network. At the same time, foundations leverage their funds, augmenting their impact.
Such “high engagement” philanthropy is fostered in San Francisco based foundation Three Guineas Fund. Started in 1994 by Catherine Muther, a former Cisco Systems executive, Three Guineas Fund “promotes social justice by expanding access to economic opportunity for women and girls.” One would think that a mission so considerable requires a large staff and endowment, but Three Guineas Fund, with assets less than six million and only one full-time staff person, proves that small can be great.
Bess Bendet, Director of Three Guineas Fund, says that their commitment to fulfilling their mission starts with their selection of grantees. Bess feels like they do more due diligence than typical larger foundations, meeting several times with the grant-seeking organization’s leadership and staff, talking to colleagues in the field, and spending time discussing whether the organization is a good fit with their mission.
One of the qualities the Fund looks for in new grantees is innovation. Most grantees are at earlier stages in development, and the Fund prefers to give as a “catalyst at a critical juncture [in which] a partnership with the Fund will add value to the model beyond the grant dollars.” The Fund’s grant money makes a significant difference when the organization needs it most.
Whirlwind Women, one of the Fund’s favorite grantees, is an example of the Fund taking a risk and offering help beyond financial support. Founded in 1997, Whirlwind Women trains disabled women in countries such as Uganda and Mexico how to build wheelchairs for their own use and for sale. For many of these women, these wheelchairs are their only chance for economic self-sufficiency. Alicia Contreras, the organization’s director, enthusiastically spoke of Whirlwind Women’s relationship with Three Guineas Fund. “This is the best foundation I have found to help us with our mission, which is fairly specific and usually difficult to match with other funders” said Alicia. “I feel so lucky to have found them. Bess [the Three Guineas Fund Director] is always available and helpful. Usually with funders I have to only give good news about how we are doing, but with Bess I can tell her anything—good and bad. She is available to help us in any way she can.”
This honesty about the victories and trials of the organization has allowed Three Guineas Fund and Whirlwind Women to work together to find the best ways for the organization to improve. As Whirlwind Women expands and plans new initiatives, the Three Guineas Fund staff and board have been right by its side, offering advice and brainstorming strategies.
The Three Guineas Fund demonstrates faith in many of their grantees by introducing them to other funders or contacts. Bess believes that though Three Guineas Fund grants are relatively small, if they can back them with advice and organizational help, the grantee will be more appealing to larger funders.
By reaching out to their grantees and helping them develop their organizations, Three Guineas Fund has made more effective use of their grant dollars. Bess Bendet summed up their approach by saying, “Good relationships with grantmakers are valued highly by grantees.” Three Guineas Fund cultivates good relationships with their partner grantees and in turn serves their mission, to promote economic opportunities for women and girls, more effectively.
For more information on Three Guineas Fund, visit http://www.3gf.org/. For Whirlwind Women, go to their website: www.womenpushingforward.org (in 2004 they changed their name to Women Pushing Forward).