Deadlines

Oh, deadlines. They have a tendency to sneak up on us. Whether it’s Tax Day or a stack of Kohl’s Cash about to expire in your wallet, we are all familiar with that “is it really already that day?” feeling.

Here at the Community Foundation, we have a list of deadlines posted near Katie’s computer that gets longer every year. With over 200 funds granting over $2,000,000 each year, it seems like some batch of applications is in process at all times.

But when it comes to making grants around here, everything pales in comparison to the annual Community Grants Program. If you aren’t familiar with this program, this is the one time per year any nonprofit serving the citizens of Chemung and Southeastern Steuben counties is welcome to apply. This “all call” isn’t restricted to one kind of program, like youth.

(You can learn more by clicking here.)

We understand that there is a fair amount of turnover among the program staff writing these applications, so we try hard to have a predictable set of deadlines that nonprofit teams can etch in stone on their annual planning calendar.

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These dates are September 1 to send us your letter of intent and September 15 for the complete application. No matter what, we stick with September 1 and 15.

Five years out of seven (or something like that… I know leap-years complicate the picture every four years) these dates land on a weekday. But every so often, they both fall on a Saturday or Sunday, as they did in 2019.

We understand this is frustrating for some grant seekers. No one likes the idea of hitting submit at 5:29 p.m. on a Sunday evening. (This is prime “making dinner and choosing a Hallmark movie to watch” time.) Fortunately, the deadline is just the LAST chance you have to submit. Something that can get lost in the rush of daily life is perhaps the most important date of all: JULY 1.

On the stroke of midnight on July 1, the grant portal for the new Community Grants cycle springs to life. Grant seekers are welcome to submit a letter of intent immediately, though Sara is an early riser so she is guaranteed to be sound asleep at 12:01. However, if you have a pretty solid idea about what your program needs, you can enter those few sentences knowing you have over two months ahead to submit the full application. For those who like to celebrate Labor Day with a true day off, you can even set your own internal deadline for the full application before that well-loved three-day-weekend.

Really, it is up to you. September 1 and 15 are just cut-offs in our system to ensure a well-managed and fair process. They aren’t intended to create stress for the already overworked grant writers in our community or to force anyone to work on a Sunday. We delight in receiving submissions earlier! Anything that arrives ahead of the rush gets even more time, which translates to more attention.

So please scroll ahead in your calendar to July 2020 and make a note of July 1. We promise that you will thank us on Tuesday, September 1 when you are making plans for Labor Day 2020!

Toni Morrison

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The world lost an icon on August 5, 2019. By now you have likely read a number of moving remembrances of this iconic author and Nobel Prize winner, many of which tap into her prolific written legacy to remind us how powerful and brilliant she was in her own words.

Perhaps she summed up mortality best by saying, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

It is no surprise, considering how beloved she and her books are (including, of course, her masterpiece Beloved) that the Toni Morrison Society became the 41st author society of the American Literature Association when it was created in 1993 – five months before she won the Nobel Prize.

Like other societies, this group presents academic analysis related to her body of work through a newsletter and biennial conferences. But unlike other similar organizations, this society launched a national service initiative focused on secondary school teachers and young readers called “Language Matters.” Designed by high school teachers, this program created instructional material to help teach imaginative literature. This led to the launch of the Young Readers’ Circle, a community outreach initiative that helps students aged 9-13 engage with the kind of lyrical fiction embraced by Ms. Morrison and her readers.

At this point, her works are so thoroughly embedded in our culture, you have likely been influenced by her thought leadership even if you have never opened one of her books. She influenced and inspired practically every fiction writer born in the last 50 years, and her relationship to the publishing industry allowed her to help countless writers throughout her career more directly.

You and I may not be quite the towering figure that Toni Morrison was in literature, but there is likely some area where we shine. As you consider the measure of your life, take a moment to consider what “language” you speak. It might be more visual, like photography, or as delicious as baking the greatest cookies in your neighborhood. No matter your gift, please share just a little more of yourself with the people around you today. As the world mourns a loss like this one (and, tragically so many others on any given day), we all need to do a bit more of whatever it is we do to show love.

Redefining what it means to "work"

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While on our CFxChange to Montana, we visited Foundant Technologies, our grant and financial management software company. We set up a training to learn how we might best simplify our grant and scholarship procedures. Sounds boring, right? It was far from it! Foundant Technologies is a company with just over 80 employees that landed in Outside Magazine’s top 50 places to work in 2018. It didn’t take long to find out how they made the best of list. Within the first 5 seconds after walking through the door we spot jars of candy sitting on the welcome counter!

We were not only greeted with candy but puppy kisses as well! Foundant is proud of their “casual, dog friendly work atmosphere” highlighted on the Team information page on their website. From the people who appointed their office cat the Chief Philanthro-paw officer, we think Foundant takes it to a whole new level of awesomeness by highlighting the “Dogs of Foundant” above the “People of Foundant.” (Possibly because we too, agree that dogs land higher on the social hierarchy than humans.) With water bowls on the floor and people working at their desks alongside pups, it was hard not to feel at ease immediately.

 The down-to-earth atmosphere set the perfect stage for learning. There were no power dynamics at play with us, or with anyone in the company. We walked into a room with “Welcome Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes” on the whiteboard, shook hands with everyone we passed and others brought their dogs to say hello because they heard we liked pups. Heather Fust, the VP of client services, remembered us from two years ago when we met at a conference in D.C. (She still has Penny Lane’s business card!) People at Foundant are genuinely happy to be at work, and it spills over to anyone who walks in.

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Foundant isn’t just a software or tech company…they are our strategic partner. The company operates in the land of technology all the while listening and learning from clients about philanthropy. Foundant is able to expertly merge the two fields and provide more than a just a technological solution.

For example, we met with Sammie Holzwarth who is one of the Project Managers, and is also the leader of a youth philanthropy program just like our Rose’s Youth Philanthropists! Foundant partners with the Bozeman Area Community Foundation by providing funding and training for youth in the area. Even while at Foundant for our training, employees were able to educate us on best practices for scholarship follow-ups and grant review techniques. It might seem odd that our software company was teaching us how to do philanthropy.  When you take a closer look at how Foundant structures its business and more importantly hires and takes care of its employees, it all makes sense.  

In another instance we were chatting with Ben Luchsinger, our Client Success Manager, about our grant-making program. Ben told us what he had learned at a work training about mindful self-compassion. We were a little confused, how did this work training relate to his job duties? He then told us that part of the benefits of working for Foundant is that each employee receives funding for “Professional AND Personal Development.” Annually, each employee is able to tap into two budget lines for trainings: Professional - those trainings that are directly related to your work (tasks, workflow, project management), and Personal - whatever you as a person have wanted to learn or what you find interesting (yoga, meditation, guitar lessons). Foundant puts no red tape around what you use your personal training dollars for, as long as it is something of interest to you.

You can read all about the perks and benefits of working for Foundant on their website. What we found is that even more than the unlimited time off, paid vacation (yes, they’ll pay you to take vacation) and other benefits, every step of the way Foundant is telling its employees that “we care about you as an employee, but we really care about you as a person.”

We knew this training would help us bring home tips and tricks for how to make our (and our applicants’!) lives easier. What we didn’t know is that we’d also walk away with important lessons on workplace culture. What Foundant has incorporated into their office culture is not brain surgery. They’ve actively and intentionally infused kindness and compassion into every facet of the company -two simple ingredients that have a powerful impact.  

As we look forward to Gratitude Summit 2020, we realized that a lot of what we are trying to incorporate in our own workplaces were found during our visit to Foundant Technologies.  We are grateful to be their partner in philanthropy and are excited to share our experience on both the tech side and the heart side with our nonprofits.

Quality of Life

Every five years we embark on an exciting strategic planning journey. Though we have a clear sense of our ultimate goal – to create a permanent charitable endowment flexible enough to meet the needs of the community now and forever – it is important to pause and talk about the best ways to reach that goal in the five-years immediately ahead of us.

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 During our 2015 planning process, we realized something was missing from the conversation: all of you! Even with a volunteer board of directors and skilled staff working to represent the various groups that make up our community, we had never asked the people of the Finger Lakes directly what they want and need to have a great life.

That was how the Community Foundation Quality of Life research project was born. From day one, it was guided entirely by community voices. Focus groups touching every corner of our area identified the categories that became the framework for the larger research activities. Then nearly 1,000 community members responded to our survey! Thanks to you and your neighbors, we now have a clear sense of what is important to the people that call Elmira, Corning, and the Finger Lakes home.

We will now use all of this information as we build the 2020-2025 strategic plan. A few key themes jumped out right away, especially around child care and transportation. But we will also be digging in deeply to these findings to make sure we are on the right track in all of our activities.

 The full report is available here on our website:

We can’t wait to see what we learn in 2025 when we replicate this research. Let’s work together to ensure this great place to live only gets better.

Their Challenges Are Also Our Challenges

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We’re still reeling from our CFxChange trip to the beautiful state of Montana. It was an amazing professional development opportunity to dig in and work with communities that are literally 2,236 miles away from home. This was so different from any conference or workshop that we’ve attended. Not knowing what we’d actually be doing until we got there was a little unnerving, especially for an organizer like me. 

There was no conference brochure, line-up of keynotes, or hour by hour itinerary. Instead, we had the freedom to think about the kinds of questions we wanted to ask, and what information we wanted to learn. It was like a choose-your-own-adventure book!

When we arrived, we were prepared to ask the hard questions: What does poverty look like in Montana? What’s the housing stock? Are there enough childcare slots, and is it affordable? How about public transportation?

We received answers to all of these questions, and more. Poverty is surely an issue, and people are indeed food insecure – 1 in 5 people in Kalispell are hungry. Housing is incredibly expensive, the median income is somewhere around $50,000 with the average home price being over $250,000!  Local government and developers are working hard to find affordable options.

There is quite a large number of homeless youth in the region so they’ve set-up shelters and programming. Youth run away from home for a variety of reasons, but a large percentage in the Flathead Valley are leaving due to their parent’s drug addiction. Organizations like Sparrow’s Nest are working hard to provide supportive housing and resources for the homeless youth.  

Finding affordable and quality childcare is a struggle, especially for middle-income families. There have been incidences of sex-trafficking nearby. Any of this sound familiar?  The unforgiving climate (It snowed in June!) and its cloud of depression can often cast a shadow over this beautiful, wild and free landscape.

We found ourselves nodding our heads in agreement and saying things like, “yep, those are some of the same issues in our communities.” Aside from the challenges, and there are some pretty heavy ones…we saw first-hand the impact of colonization on Native Americans in nearby Browning, Montana.

We also saw people who were very emotionally tied to their home town. The love and respect that Montanans have for the environment is incredible. There’s the sense that everyone shares a similar responsibility in taking care of their piece of the planet. This is a state with two National Parks, mountains galore, wildlife, lakes and valleys…the landscape is indescribable, and it’s been maintained in large part by community members.  

Hyalite Reservoir - Bozeman

Hyalite Reservoir - Bozeman

The biggest take away for me were the conversations we had with every day peeple.  For instance, Charlie Abell, a volunteer for the Stumptown Historical Society and a *native of Whitefish, MT, tells the story of how year after year he’s refused to sell his land to former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt. He tells the story with a snicker. Or, while volunteering for the Farm Hands booth at the Farmer’s Market we chatted with kids who attended a school program facilitated by the educators. The kids were given a coin to buy fruit, vegetables or a vegetable plant. They proudly came back to the booth to show us what they had chosen.

Maria & Sara - Glacier National Park

Maria & Sara - Glacier National Park

I can’t forget my cousin Maria Butts who is the Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Whitefish. Maria helped put us in touch with several key contacts in Montana prior to our trip.  After having not seen her for nearly 12 years, it was so interesting to see the full scope of what she does for the city, and the opportunities her department provides for youth. One special program is encouraging youth to volunteer in exchange for ski passes to Big Mountain, because not all families can afford season passes, but all kids should have an opportunity to ski. This mountain literally stares you in the face every day. Something that seemed so out of reach for these kids has now been made possible, and they’re learning about philanthropy at the same time!

We spoke to all of these people, and so many more, as if they had been friends and colleagues for years, just like we do here at home. Colleagues like Anita Lewis from EOP, or Elaine from Tanglewood and Meghan from the Food Bank. We listen to the great work they’re doing during the day, and laugh with them as they tell the latest story about their kids.  It’s somewhat comforting to know that communities all across the country face similar challenges. It really solidifies that saying “we’re all in this together.” I loved seeing that the nonprofits and foundations we visited have the same relationships we work hard for right here in the Finger Lakes. Those same relationships are what make living here and working here so great. Part of this xChange was also realizing that we love the work we do. No, really…we really love it. And our nonprofits are a HUGE part of the reason why we do.

 
*Interesting use of the word native. In this instance, native simply meant born and raised in Whitefish Mt. but it’s a loaded word for most.

Traveling Philanthropy

Last fall, the Community Foundation helped sponsor TBeX, a travel blogger conference brought to the Finger Lakes. As a sponsor, we hosted a “pre-bex tour” centered around philanthropy: “Voluntourism and finding meaningful giving as you travel. I remember when one of our participants, Michael, from @bemused backpacker, asked me how a typical traveler would find an experience like the one we created for them. I told him, “you simply look up the Community Foundation in the area you are visiting and email them.”

“Not everyone has heard of a Community Foundation,” he told me.

“Oh, that’s right. Hmm...then I don’t know,” was the best response I had for him at that time. After spending time in Montana, I have a much better answer now.

CFxChange was born from the idea of creating our own professional development training. Sara and I would travel to a different community to see how their local issues impact their decision making and how, as a community, they carry out their  own philanthropy. A week-long professional development that we get to plan from scratch? Where we can fill every minute with what we want to learn about and what interests us? Sign us up! It sounded awesome. But also quite overwhelming…

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Soon enough, Sara and I were headed to Montana where we set up a training with our software company and would meet with two Community Foundations. Whitefish then Bozeman were the perfect communities to visit for the first CFxChange! But what else? That was 2.5 days. What do we do with the rest of our time? So we both started with Google.

“Volunteer opportunities in Bozeman, Montana” 

“Volunteering in Bozeman”

“Bozeman volunteers”

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This led to some great volunteering opportunities; we would spend one morning at the Flathead Food Bank and one afternoon with a local food access program, Farm Hands. But what else is out there? Food insecurity is clearly a national issue, but we know it isn’t the only one. So both of us thought about where we live and the smaller nonprofits in our area that are focused on our localized issues. Nonprofits put on events to showcase local talents, fundraise, and celebrate their accomplishments. Surely, in other areas nonprofits are doing the same. How do we find those events? There are directories of nonprofits in chambers of commerce. Local libraries usually have calendars of events on their websites. We could also look at the street map of where we’re headed and see what offices are around. Our search methods changed and that’s when the floodgates opened.

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Here’s what we found. A nonprofit art gallery two blocks from our hotel hosting “Art on the Rocks” where we could make candles and sip on local ciders (um, yes please!) There is a maker space at a Science Center in Montana, too. On Wednesday, there would be a sci-fi trivia night at a brewery that benefits the local library (Katie’s dad would LOVE that.) Downtown Bozeman has an outdoor sculpture park, how cool! Also, there is a “Bike Kitchen” that takes drop in volunteers to help with bike repairs and sort bike parts! But what REALLY got us: Katie found an event to help fundraise for the local land trust and ALL WE HAD TO DO WAS HIKE AND ENJOY THEIR TRAILS. (hiking philanthropy?! SWOON.) Suddenly, we didn’t have enough time in our schedule. Not only that, but these are activities that match our interests and help support things we both care about. Both of us do things like that anyway in our travels, so why wouldn’t we do it while supporting a local nonprofit?!

So, Bemused Backpacker, we have a better answer for your question about meaningful voluntourism. If you’re traveling, make sure to check out the nonprofits there. “Voluntourism” doesn’t always take on the traditional meaning of “volunteering.”  You can give back to the community you visit by going to a museum, appreciating local work, and supporting nonprofits at fundraisers or events. Most of these events aren’t only for locals, but it is always good to check with the nonprofit leaders anyway and lends itself to a great conversation.

Yes, it might seem awkward; both of us sent a few emails that read, “This might sound strange, but we’re out-of-towners , from a small town, thousands of miles from yours, and we found your event online, can we participate?” We weren’t sure what responses we’d get because that IS strange. But, what we found, is that not only are nonprofits extremely welcoming to random people from small towns thousands of miles from theirs, they also LOVE travelers looking to help support their mission.

The limited time we spent alongside the employees and other volunteers at the nonprofits were more valuable than anything we could have found in a travel magazine. These are the people who are on the ground doing what we love and were able to give us such a unique perspective on the places we visited. A huge lesson learned from planning this trip is that when we travel, the tourism industry is what makes a place so special for visitors, but it is the work of the nonprofits that make a place sparkle for everyone.

Hospitality

I’ve found my way to a new volunteer gig: hosting the hospitality room at CPPHS home band events. This means I get to set up a lovely spread of food and drinks donated by band families to feed the visiting bands’ staff and bus drivers. Judges tend to drop in, too, for a cookie or two throughout the event.

My official role is to keep an eye on crock pots and tidy up regularly to make sure everything remains appetizing. Occasionally, I’m called on to direct a lost student or parent looking for the real band action or the rest rooms.

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But I’ve come to realize the hidden joy in my hours in the hospitality room is that I get to spend big blocks of time with bus drivers from all over New York.

These lovely men and woman get up early and stay out late to make sure their marching bands, color guards, and majorettes are transported safely. And in case you were wondering if they like what they do, the answer is almost always yes. They certainly love the kids. That is obvious as they gush over the latest show and keep an eye on the clock to make sure they see their band compete. One time I asked if the ride back would be quiet, and the driver said, “It depends if they win.” She was clearly hoping for a spirited ride home with celebratory kids.

Yet in the many hours I’ve spent talking to the unsung heroes behind the wheel, I’ve learned something important. As much as they love driving and the students, the day-to-day sense of satisfaction in their work hinges on the tone set in the central transportation office.

In some districts, drivers are given a lot of autonomy. Waiting an extra minute for someone dashing to the bus stop or sharing what they learn about the kids with guidance offices is encouraged by these school districts. Drivers are full time employees with full benefits, including summer work detailing the fleet. The level of engagement in these drivers is off-the-charts. They are members of a team and feel like they play a vital role in the school experience for students. The fact they are the first – and last – district employee to interact with the kids every day is something they take seriously.

On the other hand, some districts manage the drivers in a way that makes them feel untrusted, unimportant, and unvalued. That leads to a lack of engagement and satisfaction that even the students can sense. Coupled with contract or seasonal work creating financial instability, these drivers struggle to build relationships with other district members and families. By not including drivers on the team, the directors and students miss out on what those morning and afternoon interactions could be under different conditions.

At the end of the day, transportation costs make up a significant part of any budget. Instead of seeing this as a black hole of time, money, and resources, we (as community members and tax payers) need to see the light. Supporting and rewarding bus drivers might just be one of the best tools we have as we work to make schools safe, inviting, and loving places to learn.

If you’d like to see for yourself, you are welcome to join me in the hospitality room. Just make sure to bring cookies!


Guest Blog Post: Volunteering in Your Home Community

I am very thankful to have the opportunity to give back to the community that I have lived in for 33+ years. Volunteering at Appleridge Senior Living has been such a fulfilling experience. I assist the recreation department with a wide range of activities for residents. I have spent time serving refreshments during “tailgate parties” and social hours, participated in casino and trivia nights, visited with residents and their family members at the annual picnic, enjoyed live music by local musicians and traveled on field trips just to name a few.

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My main goals are to form relationships with the residents and to assist the recreation department with events. I have gotten to know the Appleridge community well and have learned how I can make the best use of my time while I am visiting. Sometimes simply being a friend, a listening ear or serving a resident their favorite snack is appreciated the most! The environment of Appleridge is truly unique and there are many wonderful activities and opportunities offered. I am so thankful to be welcomed to each event, and I look forward to participating in many more to come!

Appleridge Senior Living s a premier independent senior living community, with 112 luxury apartments situated on 22 acres of resort style living.  Nestled against a backdrop of a scenic wooded hillside, the Appleridge community offers privacy and is only minutes from shopping, services and area attractions.  Residents enjoy a selection of apartment styles with numerous floor plans and amenities including full kitchens, dining options, housekeeping, private garages, transportation and cultural events and stimulating activities, surrounded by beautifully landscaped grounds and friendly neighbors. Appleridge provides a respectful quality of life, the safety and security you need in a community you can trust.