In the midst of its grant application review period, representatives from the Pasadena Community Foundation were making one of 31 nonprofit organization site visits in March when the top administrator of an applying organization began gushing about one of Pasadena’s most active foundations.
“The foundation has been fabulous to us,” the founder and director of the applying organization told the committee. “We couldn’t have gone on without the foundation.”
In this case, the quote belonged to Mikala Rahn of Learning Works Charter School, an organization that applied for and received $25,000. But for the stakeholders of a foundation that has given away millions to support the charities that serve Pasadena, it’s a familiar refrain, one that they’ll very likely hear again on June 18 at the annual Local Heroes Celebration breakfast event, at which PCF will formally recognize its 2015 grantees.
“The breadth of what we do is very rewarding,” said PCF Executive Director Jennifer DeVoll. “We’re narrow geographically but broad in the types of organizations we fund. We meet people who have literally lost everything to the disease of addiction, and then sail over to the Pasadena Symphony or Pasadena Conservatory, which is equally important.”
In total, PCF awarded 35 grants from 52 applications for $530,802, ranging from $1,500 to $26,000 for a variety of services that sometimes go unnoticed or unrecognized by the organizations’ donors. Some of them included requests for radios, all-terrain vehicles, showers, windows, copiers and plumbing. DeVoll laughed when recalling having trouble calling the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, which requested — and received — funding for a new phone system.
“We’ll do the unsexy thing to buy you a new phone system because that’s often hard money to get,” said DeVoll. “Donors want to fund programs or house a family, but replacing a truck is also important.”
Speaking of trucks, a story of transportation from a few years back sums up the need for a connecting and funding group like PCF. When Journey House applied for and received a grant for funds to buy a new truck, one of the representatives came to PCF’s offices to pick up the check. But on the way there, the soon-to-be-replaced truck died on a Pasadena street. In that case, the organization demonstrated a need right in front of PCF staff.
Of course, visiting 31 sites in less than a month can be stressful, and PCF’s team has to keep each organization and its needs straight. But seeing the programs in action can be rewarding, too. DeVoll said that while visiting the Walter Hoving Home, a faith-based rehabilitation center, they witnessed a young woman graduate from the program. At the conclusion of the graduation, the young woman’s boyfriend got down on one knee in front of PCF’s crew and proposed. The woman suddenly had a new lease on life and a new fiance, while PCF had another feel-good story for its cause.
“This really feeds your soul,” said DeVoll. “It’s the site visits and the interaction, because we’re out in the community all year long. The board members work all year long on other stuff such as fundraising and the audit, but there’s no question that the site visits keep them interested in PCF.”
The visits, which last 45 minutes, focus on five key categories: strength of leadership, need of the organization, what the project entails, how geocentric the service to Pasadena is and the state of the organization’s finances.
Applications are submitted in February to PCF’s 17-member Board of Directors, who then begin what DeVoll called a “short but efficient process” that includes the site visits. Despite knowing the leadership and general state of the organizations, DeVoll and her team don’t skip site visits because grants are won or lost during an in-person visit.
“We’re so geographically focused that we feel it’s important to stay in close touch with the community,” said DeVoll. “We make sure we have up-to-date information and we know the leadership, so we’re meeting with the people and making sure we’re not carrying around dated perceptions.”
After 62 years of providing millions to local agencies, PCF has a reputation around town of being a generous granting agency that puts the community first. While the annual giving of more than $500,000 is impressive on its own, DeVoll said the goal is to reach $1 million in donations to applicants.
To do that, PCF will need more support — and eventually more site visits. But that’s fine for DeVoll, who has an early word of advice for 2016 applicants.
“I tell them, ‘Invite us over when stuff is going on because we don’t want to sit in a conference room and just talk to you,’” said DeVoll. “We want to see your program in all its glory.”
For more information on Pasadena Community Foundation, visit PasadenaCF.org or call (626) 796-2097.