Smarter Grantmaking in Action: John T. Vucurevich Foundation

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How a collaborative funding approach helps the John T. Vucurevich Foundation be more proactive, strategic, outcomes focused and learning oriented.

Challenge

The John T. Vucurevich Foundation facilitates solutions to key challenges related to health, human services, education and the arts in western South Dakota. Prior to becoming fully funded in 2007, the foundation had a responsive approach to grantmaking. With more money and a larger staff, JTVF shifted to foundation initiatives focused on big issues. It now provides funding and human resources through a collaborative approach that creates a sense of shared responsibility among partners. It is out of the foundation’s efforts to be more proactive, strategic, outcomes focused, learning oriented and inclusive that the Collaborations for Change Initiative was born.

Solution

Collaborations for Change is a strategy used by the John T. Vucurevich Foundation as a key to solving issues in western South Dakota and the Black Hills region. JTVF seeks to understand community issues through partnerships with other funders, community leaders, organizations, governments and schools. The foundation convenes community meetings and taskforces to identify and understand pressing issues and then proactively solicits grant proposals.

One of the first things JTVF did was link collaboration to its organizational goals because organizations that have success with collaboration are explicit about what they want to achieve and how collaborative efforts can help advance those goals. Another important step for JTVF was to determine how it fit into the community landscape and what role would be most helpful for it to play. Sandy Diegel, president and CEO, says, “Collaboration could be strategic leadership by us, but it doesn’t have to be. That is how it started, but I can see that as time goes on others in the community are stepping forward to lead collaborative change.” Through the Collaborations for Change initiative, the foundation redefined its role to become a curator and a steward, and participated in collaboratives such as Partners in Nursing, a crisis care center, Future of the Arts in Rapid City and the Prosperity Initiative.

Collaboration happens through trust. You need to make sure people aren’t coming to the table because they think there’s a consequence if they don’t come to the table. Put the grantees at ease and be clear with expectations right from the start.

– Sandy Diegel, president and CEO, John T. Vucurevich Foundation

Building Trust

Successful collaborations require trust and for trust to develop, grantmakers must prioritize building strong relationships with grantees and other partners. In preparing for collaboration, it’s important to foster a culture that values trust, as well as a willingness to be flexible and sometimes give up control.

Inspiring Ideas for Improvement

Be patient. Know that it’s an organic process and you won’t have all the answers right up front. That’s really where trust comes in to play. - Sandy Diegel, president and CEO

Always ask ‘who else needs to know?’ and ‘who else needs to help with this?’ As you are moving along in the process that can change or there might be new people at the table, so it’s keeping everyone informed over time and keeping in mind who needs to know what. - Jessica Gromer, program officer

Be willing to change. Say you have your goals and objectives lined out and you get six months into the process and realize something isn’t working. Don’t just wait until the end of the grant period to adjust. Have that open communication with your grantee right from the start so that you can make that midterm adjustment as soon as possible.” - Sandy Diegel, president and CEO


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