Foundation Conversation: Outhwaite Foundation

Welcome back to the blog column of the Grant Center in which we talk with foundation leaders to get some detailed information about their values, practices, and viewpoints. Please email us at if you have specific questions you would like us to ask a funder.

A conversation with John Poucher, Trustee, and Tori Moray, Grants Manager

How does the grant selection process work work?

There are three trustees who review the applications through our online system. The system allows us to input comments about the applications so we can see each others’ initial thoughts. Then we meet in person to discuss them. At the meetings, we consider each application, then come to consensus on what to fund. Each trustee is also given a personal allocation of a limited amount to award to organizations of their choosing. These allocations are a small fraction of the total amount that we distribute annually.

Certain legacy charities are given priority. When she was alive, Mrs. Outhwaite selected 20 charities that she made donations to. When the Outhwaite Foundation was set up, instead of making those 20 charities the sole beneficiaries, she agreed to creating seven priority giving areas that the initial 20 charities represented.

After looking at the legacy organizations, we next look at organizations that are serving current, high-profile needs in the community. It could be a capital campaign like the Cottage or Granada campaigns, or it could be certain event-driven things like the Montecito disasters.

Next, charities that we’ve not previously considered but which have an appeal to one or more of the trustees are considered.

We have a policy of granting the money to South County organizations. We have done a little in the North County and we rarely do anything with national organizations.

Regarding the application, how much should grant writers reiterate from one section to another? Is it okay to be repetitive?

Do not reiterate information. We like to have a streamlined application.

What is the impact of the Montecito disasters on giving this year?

It will have a minor impact, as we are supporting local disaster relief efforts. We want to be responsive when there is a natural disaster that affects communities. For example, last year we we gave money for the hurricane disasters.

How many organizations apply? How many do you fund? How many new organizations per year do you fund, on average?

We receive around 100 applications, and we fund around 40. We fund very few organizations that are new to us.

What’s the most important thing about the reporting process for non-profits? How would you respond to an organization that didn’t meet its projected goals or objectives?

We require reporting, and if organizations don’t report we won’t consider them again for a grant unless there is some extenuating circumstance. The reports are really their moment to shine. We’ve had relatively few organizations who do not report in a timely way.

We’ve had some organizations who couldn’t use the grant for the intended purpose, and we usually allow them to use it for another purpose. It’s important that they not redirect the funds without contacting us and explaining it. We have been disappointed by some reports, but in general our grantees are quite diligent in the use of the funds.

Tell us how you view strategic planning and sustainability in terms of supporting non-profits. How important is it for them to demonstrate this type of thinking?

Yes, it matters to us, but it’s not the only factor. Sustainability has to be reviewed in the context of what the grant is for. If it’s for operations, strategic thinking matters a lot, especially for new grantees. We don’t want to take on an organization that will become permanently dependent on our grants. If you’re talking about a building project or capital campaign, the ability to meet the goal of the campaign is important, but we don’t weigh operational sustainability as heavily.

What is the Foundation’s perspective on the “overhead” debate? Do you see “overhead” as separate from programs?

We don’t have a fixed rule about it because the trustees have different viewpoints on that issue. It definitely can be an impediment to getting a grant, although we haven’t actually seen many organizations who are out of the running because of this issue.

What are some common mistakes or missteps organizations make in applications?

The most common mistake is missing the deadline and coming up with excuses about why they missed the deadline. We are really hard-nosed about the deadline, because otherwise the process drags on and on. So, don’t get in a position where the deadline is a concern. We’ll take applications any time! Don’t wait till the end of July.

Accuracy and precision can also be an issue. For example, sometimes people upload things in the wrong format (Word instead of a PDF). But if people make a mistake, we give them a chance to fix it.

Do you have one tip for non-profits that you’d say is the key to success in grant-seeking?

We have a concern about duplication of services. We make an effort to avoid funding multiple organizations that essentially provide the same type of services. For example, there must be dozens of at-risk youth organizations in town. We know that they have different approaches or address different nuances, and we do fund some of them. But our concern is about effectiveness. How effective can multiple small organizations doing the same thing be in addressing larger issues? So we suggest that you make it clear how your organization is not duplicating services.

What is your average grant size, and the total amount that you give annually?

Our grant sizes vary quite a bit. I would say most of them fall in the range of $10,000-$25,000. But we’ve made a number of $50,000 grants in the last few years. These are generally for big campaigns, or larger organizations like Direct Relief. These are mainly capital projects where we do multi-year pledges of, say, $250,000 paid over five years.

A request for $7,500 to buy wheelchairs for a senior living facility would be an appealing request to us. It’s for a one-time specific project, accomplishes a worthwhile goal, and it’s a modest request. Modest, project-specific, or small capital requests are reviewed with favor. Specific education requests are also appealing.

Last year we gave away around $900,000-$1,000,000. We get requests for three or four times that amount every year. So not everyone is going to get funded.

Anything else to add?

Please send your applications in early! It’s helpful if they come in prior to July first.


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