Rather than throw a big party for Medina Foundation’s 70th anniversary, the board and Executive Director Jennifer Teunon decided to celebrate the milestone by rewarding existing grantees with professional development opportunities.
The board initially approved $90,000 in new funds, above and beyond its regular grantmaking, for professional development requests. Then, the Medina Foundation sent out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to 200 past and present grantees in January. Teunon said her board intentionally kept the RFP simple and straightforward so it was not a heavy lift for organizations.
These nonprofits were invited to apply for up to $5,000 toward any opportunity they needed to strengthen their organization, such as a conference, training, or consultant of their choice. The goal was to be as responsive as possible to the unique needs of each organization and not be prescriptive.
“We envisioned this money to be flexible, to go above and beyond our regular payout, and also not to supplant other funding our grantees may request from us this year,” Teunon explained. “We are big fans of general operating dollars and recognize that unrestricted funding is needed for programs, salaries and just keeping the lights on, so staff professional development often goes on the back burner.”
Nearly 150 grantees responded, seeking over $688,000, which led Medina’s team to have to make some very tough choices.
Ultimately, Medina granted $136,000 to 30 organizations across their 14-county focus region. Nonprofits receiving grants made the strongest case for the impact these dollars could have on the organization as a whole.
Teunon previously served as the Foundation’s King County program officer from 2003 to 2011. After leaving to work as a consultant for two years, she then returned in 2014 as Medina’s executive director. Prior to 2003, she’d worked for nonprofits and experienced firsthand the lack of money for professional development.
“That was part of the impetus for this,” she said. “Knowing professional development is something that is valued, but often challenging to pay for, we wanted to support organizations’ efforts.”
What struck her most was the diversity of experiences sought by grantees. There were requests for national conferences, leadership development, fundraising support, strategic planning efforts, technology help, and communications work—even a sabbatical. In some cases, it was evident that the executive director at each organization took the opportunity directly to staff, asking them about their individual priorities.
“It was a smorgasbord of requests,” she said. “Although over 20% did have a component of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training. We certainly recognize the importance of that work, so that was great to see.”
Teunon said some organizations are just starting to undertake DEI work and wanted to send staff to a training of their choice. Some already had very diverse staff and strong policies around DEI, but felt there is always room for improvement or wanted to be able to build in-house expertise on diversity issues.
Teunon believes this type of flexible professional development grantmaking is pretty rare in the Pacific Northwest region as well as nationally. Yet, the overwhelming response illustrates the demand for this type of funding in our sector.
While Teunon cannot attend Philanthropy Northwest’s annual conference this October, she said at least two board members, including past president Piper Henry-Keller, have registered and would be happy to join a panel or meet informally with interested funders who want to learn more about this project. Medina Foundation will share its RFP and any other materials that may be helpful with other funders who want to replicate the project.