Catapult: Funding and Coaching Emerging Nonprofits

In General

Being part of launching the Catapult program of the Community Foundation has been both exciting and challenging – perhaps for all the right reasons. Exciting because we’re engaging up- and-coming entrepreneurs in philanthropic and nonprofit work, and using their skills to create a fun and streamlined grantmaking and mentoring program that will help emerging nonprofits in the region.

On the other hand, the biggest challenge throughout this process, for me, has been to focus on how to push the status quo and think about “access” in very intentional ways – access to capital, access to people and access to resources for emerging nonprofit organizations that they might not otherwise have the capacity to find.

When the Steering Committee sat down to brainstorm the guidelines for the grantmaking portion of this program, the overarching goal was that Catapult should support emerging nonprofit organizations that are traditionally unable to receive assistance – either from the Community Foundation or other funding sources. So, in addition to awarding $7,500 grants to three emerging organizations in 2015, each entrepreneur on the Steering Committee served (and continues to serve) as a champion to one or more organizations, offering ongoing technical assistance based on his or her areas of expertise. Through their review of the first round of applications to Catapult, the Steering Committee realized that the strongest proposals were courageous, impactful and achievable, and those that demonstrated how a relatively modest grant could “catapult” the organization to a new level in their work. Additionally, the winning organizations were ones that were at the stage in their development where coaching would be most useful.

I found that it was important throughout last year’s review process to constantly ask ourselves how we were defining access, and if we truly were helping create opportunities for people and organizations that might not otherwise have them. I believe that it is our responsibility as people who work in the philanthropic sector to not make grant partners jump through several hoops to access capital, and to guide applicants through our processes as thoughtfully as possible. And while I know we work hard to do exactly that through our day-to-day general grantmaking program, I think Catapult offers something unique. We’re trying to think outside the box by funding grassroots organizations and coaching them into operating sustainable programming.

Our Catapult homepage lists last year’s grantees and highlights their programs. This year’s application is live, and I encourage all emerging nonprofit organizations (classified as having $500,000 or less in annual revenue) in southeast Michigan with a creative idea to apply! Please read the guidelines before beginning an application to verify eligibility, and call us with any questions. The deadline is June 1 and we will be following a similar process to last year: applications will be reviewed by the Steering Committee and narrowed down to approximately ten finalists (this number will vary based on the volume of applications), who will participate in a pitch competition to share their ideas. Up to five grant recipients will be named at the end of that event, and each will receive technical assistance and coaching from our entrepreneurs.

While those who apply to Catapult might not be our typical grantees, it is ultimate our hope that in a few years, these organizations will have grown in size, scope, and sustainable practice and be capable of putting forth competitive applications to all of our grantmaking programs. We want to support them in that process.  Apply today and help us spread the word!