Foundation incorporates crowdfunding as tool to meet local needs

Kol Medina has been on both sides of Kitsap Community Foundation‘s philanthropic endeavors. Medina, who took over as KCF’s executive director a year-and-a-half ago, formerly was executive director of the West Sound Wildlife Shelter. In that role, he wrote and received grants from the foundation on behalf of the shelter.

Medina felt the process of awarding grants could be made more “transparent” and interactive by putting applicants’ profiles online and directly inviting the public to support the cause of their choice. This variation on crowdfunding is a supplement to money the foundation will award through its competitive grant program.

The foundation has supported worthy organizations in Kitsap County and vicinity since 1999 through traditional methods of soliciting applicants and awarding grants. In years past, a small committee that included some board members would evaluate applications and make recommendations to the board for disbursing funds from the foundation’s endowment. “It was a fairly subjective review process,” Medina said.

Last year, the foundation disbursed $80,000 in funds through the competitive grant program. Another $800,000 was disbursed through endowments that donors have designated for specific causes or organizations. The foundation manages $4.5 million in endowed funds (money invested for the purpose of generating annual grants). The board’s goal is to grow the endowment to $10 million. The foundation’s operating budget this year is $170,000.

New this year, the competitive grant program selection committee is much larger and is made up largely of people with no connection to the foundation. Each applicant was scored on a scale of 1 to 100, based on responses to application questions about mission, community need, budget, track record of the organization and viability of planned programs.

The committee will make recommendations to the board based on the applicants’ scores but not until after the online crowdfunding campaign, which runs through April 7. The committee’s recommendations could be adjusted based on how and where needs are filled.

The public can’t see numeric scores, but the applicants in each category are listed in order with the highest scoring groups at the top. The categories are: Arts, Culture & Humanities; Education; Environment & Animals; Health; Human Services; and Public/Community Benefit. The public can see an abridged version of each application and determine for themselves whether and where to donate.

“Because we are a community foundation, I feel that it’s important to try to make the process as transparent as we can and to try to involve the community in the process as much as possible,” Medina said. “Our job is to take the community’s money and use it in the best way possible and the most transparent way possible, because it’s not our money; it’s the community’s money.”

That, says Medina, is the difference between a community foundation and a private foundation, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Medina and the KCF board were inspired to try the crowdfunding approach by the Orcas Island Community Foundation, which launched an online funding model last year and distributed $120,000 to its local organizations. Surprisingly, no other community foundations that Medina knows of have leveraged the power of online solicitations. A foundation in Renton recently made inquiries about Kitsap’s model.

So how has it gone on Orcas Island? “It’s been a little bit of a learning process both on our end and our donors’ end,” said staff member Kate Long. “But for the most part, we have increased our donor base and we’re really happy with the results.”

Toward the end of the year, OICF placed online a “holiday catalog,” where donations could be made in someone’s name. They raised $6,000 for causes this way.

The Kitsap Community Foundation offers donors several methods: donate directly to your organization of choice, send a check via KCF or donate online through KCF, which doesn’t collect a fee. KCF prefers the last two methods because it allows them to track whether a group’s needs have been met and to evaluate overall community needs.

For more information on Kitsap Community Foundation, visit, email, or call 360.698.3622.

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