The Ojai Women’s Fund (OWF) is proud to have our first grants cycle underway. Our goal this year is to raise $50,000 for distribution in 2016. We’re delighted to report that we now have over 200 members and approaching $40,000 in donor donations! With about six weeks left until the 2016 Grant Cycle-OWF Membership closes on Sept 1st, we urge you to help us meet our goals by inviting more women to join and donate during OWF’s inaugural year. Donations received after Sept. 1st will be applied to 2017 grants.
While final decisions about grant recipients will be made by OWF member-donors, the Grants Committee is now conducting careful preliminary selections. OWF’s Grants Committee, composed of twenty-one diverse women from our Ojai Valley communities, has been working hard for months to develop the needed elements of a grants cycle. The committee designed the online grant application, spread the word about the open application period, and reviewed protocols for confidentiality and fairness in the evaluation process, all in preparation for receiving the first batch of applications.
The OWF Steering Committee established five funding priority areas: arts, education, environment, health and social services. In collaboration with the Grants Committee, the selection criteria were established. “It’s a lot of work to get all of this up and running in the first year,” said Margo Haas, a member of the Grants Committee. “We wanted to make the process as inclusive and fair as possible while maintaining high standards of performance for ourselves and for prospective grantees.”
Thirty-one grant applications came in this year! The Grants Committee is currently reviewing them. “The proposals are impressive,” said Grants Committee member Mary Ann O’Connor. “They demonstrate real needs here in the Ojai Valley and contain imaginative approaches to meeting those needs.” This year, there was a fairly even distribution of proposals across the five funding priority areas. Proposal requests are in the $5,000-$10,000 range.
The Grants Committee typically meets as a whole, but is also divided into research working groups. Currently, review of the grant applications is being conducted by the smaller research working groups. These groups delve much more deeply into one area – say Social Services in the Ojai Valley – and then closely examine the applications submitted in that category. They research the organizations and conduct site visits to those organizations being advanced for further consideration. Each research working group then reports its findings and decisions at a full Grants Committee meeting. After the full Grants Committee has identified all of the proposals to go forward on the donor ballot, they will present their recommendations to the Steering Committee for ratification.
“It is a careful review process,” O’Connor noted. “There are two rounds of deliberations in the research working groups. After each round, a presentation is made to the full Grants Committee. There are opportunities for questions and insights. It’s excellent training for the committee members in analyzing non-profit organizations and programs; in presenting to a group; and in being educated philanthropists. It’s hard work, but everybody seems to be enjoying it. The energy at our meetings is terrific!”
The ultimate decision on grant recipients belongs to our donors, of course. Once final nominees are identified, the Grants Committee will prepare a ballot and send to donors to make a choice in each of the five funding areas. The ballot will include descriptions of each organization and proposed program. “It will be a difficult choice,” said Haas, “they will all be worthy organizations and well-designed programs. Our hope is that donors will be inspired to be even more generous in the coming years when they see what great work is being done here in the Ojai Valley.”
“Donors should know that grant recipients will be held accountable,” O’Connor added. “There will be final reports including measurable outcomes required at the end of each grant year. In every way – from the grant applications to the research to the final reports – we are trying to make sure that every dollar donated is well spent. And we’re doing it all without paid staff – amazing!”