We ended 2023 with a bang at the Otsego Community Foundation. What a year! The generosity of this community was evident with the tremendous success of Extreevaganza and year-end giving. Thank you for entrusting us as your philanthropic partner.

As 2024 gets underway, it is time for us to shift our focus. That means helping individuals in this community connect to what matters to them. A big part of connecting people and organizations to causes they care about is through grantmaking—which funds local projects and programs and allows funders to put their money toward causes that matter to them. How is that accomplished? The Community Grant Program.

The Community Grant Program started in 2015, the brainchild of OCF Executive Director Dana Bensinger. Like most innovations, the Community Grant Program emerged as a solution to a problem. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and Dana saw a need for increased efficiency in the grant application process. It was cumbersome and redundant for both the nonprofit organizations applying for grants and for the OCF.

 On the funding side, the resources of the OCF were limited. The OCF had only $2,000 in discretionary funds to grant to nonprofits. The demands put on the OCF staff throughout the grantmaking process were tremendous. At the time, it disproportionately stretched the OCF staff to the amount of money being put back into the community. It didn’t add up. Other local funding organizations were facing the same issues. They had smaller amounts of money to grant and had the burden of administering a grant application process.

Local nonprofits needing funding applied for multiple grants from multiple organizations. These organizations were already strapped for time and resources, so duplicating the application process further stretched their capabilities. The redundancy in the process was draining organizations on both sides. This was a problem.

“Ironically, we ask nonprofit organizations if anyone else in the community is providing similar services to avoid redundancy. I noticed that the OCF, United Way, Rotary, and other funding organizations had a similar process for grant applications. We, as funders, were exhibiting the redundancy we asked the nonprofits to avoid.”

-Dana Bensinger, OCF Executive Director

The Community Grant Program is analogous to the Common Application high school seniors submit when applying to colleges. With the college Common Application, a student submits one application viewed by multiple colleges. It’s more efficient for the student, increasing the chances that they will find a good fit for both them and the school. Colleges want applicants that will enhance their student body, and students want to find a place to study that meets their needs. If a student can have their application viewed by more colleges, it increases the chances that this will happen.

The same is true of the Community Grant program. Nonprofit organizations need funding. Funders want to give money to projects that align with their mission. The Community Grant Program streamlines the process, exposing nonprofits to more funders and vice versa with a single application.  The OCF acts as the administrator of this program, overseeing and centralizing the application process. Nonprofit organizations apply for grants once, and multiple funding sources review their application. Collectively, they are known as the Community Funding Partners. The 2024 partners are Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Kiwanis Club of Gaylord, Drzewiecki Agency/Meemic Foundation, Munson Healthcare Otsego Memorial Hospital, Otsego County United Way, Otsego Wildlife Legacy Society, Rotary Club of Gaylord, and over three dozen funds from the OCF.

After all grant applications are submitted, the OCF staff confirms that each organization meets the requirements of the grant process. Completed and screened applications are distributed electronically among Funding Partners depending on area of interest. Community Funding Partners and the OCF Grant Committee convene in early March to hear from each applicant in person. This process allows each nonprofit to expand the reach of its story, both in person and electronically, in the hope of finding a suitable funding match.  Each Funding Partner independently decides which projects to fund and submits their commitments to the OCF.

The last step in the process involves the OCF Grant Committee. This year, the Grant Committee is comprised of nine members—Jan Kellog, Barbara Brown, Cherie Nutter, Bob Wilson, Jessi Jo Boulter, Brian Switalski, Joe Marsiglia, Leslie Vendzuh, and Alex Huges—each of whom brings a diverse viewpoint and background. The OCF Grant Committee reviews any application that is not fully funded and makes recommendations for grant distribution from various unrestricted OCF funds.   

The Community Grant Program has grown in both size and scope since its inception. In 2015, the OCF alone awarded $2,000 in grants. In 2023, through the power of collaboration, the Community Grant Program awarded over $160,000 in grants to meet our community’s needs and advance opportunities. An enhancement in 2023 was the introduction of four different grant types—Expansion, Seed, Capacity, and Sustaining. As this program grows, Otsego County nonprofit organizations and our community are strengthened.

This process has also given rise to something unexpected since its inception, adding a layer of meaning to “connect to what matters.” When community members gather around a table and listen to local nonprofits’ stories, they learn about their community and neighbors in an entirely new way. Perceptions change. Connections of all kinds are forged. This deeper understanding of our community calls some to action. Moved by local nonprofit missions, they leave wanting to fund projects and programs that matter to them. The reach of the Community Grant Program extends beyond matching nonprofits and funders.

The Community Grant Program application opened on 1/3/24 and will be open until 2/1/24. Eligible nonprofit organizations include 501 (c)3, schools, and government entities that serve Otsego County. Please visit here to apply, and email Karin Beyer with any questions at karin@otsegofoundation.org.