Like most funders, the Health Fund asks grant applicants to describe how a project will be sustainable in the long run. We want to know that our grants will result in lasting change, and we don’t want Michigan residents to come to rely on a program that might disappear. At the same time, we know nonprofits are constantly fundraising to help sustain their work and don’t necessarily need a reminder from foundations that their support won’t be around forever. After five years of grantmaking, we feel we can do more than ask about sustainability—we can support it.
Last year we worked with the Center for Effective Philanthropy to survey our grantees, and one of the key takeaways was the need for assistance beyond the grant dollar (especially since our grants are limited to three years). Our partners expressed a desire to “connect with new funders, collaborate with other agencies, attend events, receive trainings, and increase their reach,” and we made a commitment to find different ways we could help them address these capacity needs.
One of the ways we’re supporting our grant partners is through a virtual volunteer matchmaking platform called Catchafire. The concept is simple: organizations post volunteer opportunities based on their immediate needs, choosing from over 120 pre-scoped projects. Professionals then apply to help with these projects pro bono, donating time and skills that nonprofits often can’t afford on their own. The volunteers are vetted and often highly specialized; they might come from the C-suite at a Fortune 500 companies or offer decades of experience in a niche field.
Since launching the Health Fund’s Catchafire portal in February, we’ve offered increased capacity to more than 225 organizations working on health issues across Michigan. Our current and past grant partners have used the service for a variety of projects including marketing materials, business plans, data and analytics reports, literature reviews, technology audits, and even translation of existing materials. Through these collaborations, volunteers can connect deeply to the nonprofit’s mission, often creating relationships that last long after a project is complete.
So far, our Catchafire partnership has led to almost $200,000 worth of volunteer work, with an average value of $4,000 per project. Those figures don’t just represent money saved by nonprofits but work that would never have happened and tools that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the additional capacity.
After seeing how valuable the service is to our partners, we’re hoping to grow the platform in Michigan by partnering with community foundations and other health funders in high-need areas. We know that other funders grapple with how best to support sustainability; expanding offers a few key opportunities. It would facilitate strong collaboration among funders and provide a simple way for community foundations to support their local nonprofits. Looking ahead, it would also help our field better understand the pressing capacity needs nonprofits face, helping us and our grant partners alike be more effective stewards of progress.
If you’re a funder interested in partnering with us on Catchafire, contact Program Officer Megan Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.