By JAMES BELL
Nothing in life is free, the old saying goes, but for nonprofit organizations in Ellis, Rooks or Trego counties, free money is on the table for community projects as the Heartland Community Foundation’s spring grant cycle has begun.
During this cycle, more than $100,000 is ready to be distributed for projects.
Projects eligible for funding include, “projects focused on improving quality of life, projects that support the public health of Ellis, Rooks and Trego counties and projects supporting education, health care, community social services and security, conservation and environment, arts and culture, and community beautification,” according to the organization.
The deadline for applications is May 15.
“We raised the money, during months like match month, and then that money is invested and endowed, and then we take that money, the investment growth off of that, the principle of those funds, and then we grant that out,” Heartland Community Foundation Executive Director Sarah Meitner said. “I encourage people to think about what projects they have maybe that they could apply for some grant money.”
Grant applications are made to be as accessible for possible for area organizations.
“Grants are one of those funny things that I think people are like, ‘This is a little intimidating,’ ” Meitner said.
They believe “I need to be a professional grant writer to even consider something like that,” she said. “And that simply is not the case, especially with our application.”
Part of that effort to make the applications easier was moving the process online.
“So ours is like that,” Meitner said. “You can find it on our website at heartlandcommunityfoundation.org.”
The application will ask for basic information, she said, including the organization’s tax ID number, along with a project description, budget and goals.
“Then those all of those applications come into our … grant interface,” Meitner said. “They come into this pool of applicants, and then they are reviewed by a committee of people within our community.”
Awards will then be decided upon by a committee, that determines award amounts, out of the total available.
Generally, grants are given from one of three county funds, but other funds can be used as well, Meitner said.
“But we do have something we call multi-county grants. So, for instance, you know, an application from like a DSNWK or Jana’s Campaign or Options, it might impact all three communities,” she said. “So, we might pull a percentage from each one that sort of mirrors the anticipated participation from within that community.
“And then there’s a couple of additional funds that we pull money from that are also within our portfolio, but are geared toward healthy living or recreation or medical needs,” she continued. “Some of those were established by the Kansas Health Foundation many years ago. And so, we look we pull those aside that have a health benefit, or an exercise fitness component or medical component, and maybe pull from another fund. So, it might free up a little bit.”
The committee making the decisions is made up of a variety of individuals from the community and updated regularly.
“We’re constantly reevaluating who that committee is made up of,” Meitner said. “When it’s all said and done, you can rest assured that there is a committee of your peers who are reviewing that. And then and then prioritizing them by need.”
And while the foundation cannot fund every request, she said every application is reviewed by the committee.
“I just wish we could say all yeses and not have any nos, because generally every project is worthwhile, or they wouldn’t be applying,” Meitner said.
To keep the process open and fair, she said she can help guide potential applicants through the process, but only serves as a facilitator as grant awards are determined.
“I am on the side of the of every applicant, I want to make sure that your application is strong,” Meitner said. “So, if you would like me to review it, if you would like to ask questions, if you’re a nonprofit leader and have questions, I would be happy to help you with that. I am a non-voting person on that committee, just simply for transparency.”
Committee members are not publicly listed as well, in order to help remove undue influence into the final decisions.
“If they have a conflict of interest with a particular application or applicant, they simply step out of the room or don’t score it in the process so that it’s kept fair,” Meitner said.
The process culminates with a grant-giving day, where recipients are told of their awards.
“It’s fun to go through each one and get really excited about a particular project and know how excited the applicant is going to be when they hear that their grant project was funded,” Meiter said.
But along with the awards, she said, unfortunately, the foundation has to inform those that did not make the cut.
“Those are so hard,” Meitner said. “And the nos vary for different reasons. I wish we could fund all of them.”
Most frequently, the applications that are denied come down to the limited amount of funds available during each cycle, with awards from $3,500 to $7,000 most likely to be approved. But, she said, larger amounts also sometimes make it through the committee.
But no matter the amount, she encourages anyone interested to apply and not be deterred by previous denials or the application process itself.
And while the committee continues to find organizations to award money to, Meiter said she will continue working to beef up available funds for the next cycle.
“It would be great to have no nos, and have all yeses in a particular grant cycle,” Meiter said. “And maybe someday we’ll get there.”
Cover image courtesy Pixabay