This post originally appeared on the Funding Information Network, in the FIN of the Month series.
Congratulations to our July FIN of the Month: The Texas Grants Resource Center (TGRC) at the University of Texas at Austin for recently completing a re-branding initiative and developing a sustainability plan! We asked Ellen Moutos Lee, FIN supervisor, to discuss these processes and explain how the oldest network partner stays relevant in their local community.
Formerly the Regional Foundation Library, TGRC became the fifth FIN location in the country. Started as a program of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas at Austin, TGRC started to offer free access to Foundation Directory and over the years still retains entire print collection, spanning 1960-2016.
Today Foundation Center resources are housed at the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE) at UT-Austin, and as Ellen explains, “The Regional Foundation Library name did not accurately reflect our current services…as Foundation Center resources developed we felt the brand needed an update.” Through a series of focus group discussions led by a university rebranding committee, they chose TGRC and are in the process of rolling out the new name and promotional materials this summer. Their communication plan includes announcing the change via social media, and informing community members as well as university faculty and students.
Working parallel was a second committee made up of local, key stakeholders tasked with creating a financial sustainability plan for TGRC. They worked to identify strategies for securing financial and in-kind resources to support their mission. As a result, they have implemented new inititiatives including a quarterly fee based grantwriting workshop and a membership networking program that will gauge the needs of their nonprofit community to generate financial resources. Ellen and her team will also soon be conducting focus groups that will provide them with important information about how to better serve their diverse audience of nonprofits, artists, researchers, and students.
After more than 50 years, the FIN program is not only relevant, but now revitalized in the Austin area. Ellen notes that “With only a small percentage of grant making foundations having a web presence, Foundation Center resources provide the community with the means to identify funders starting with the foundations in our neighborhood.” She adds that their main goal has and continues to be assisting underserved populations in Central Texas, particularly those in rural areas, as they aim to become successful grant seekers. In the coming year, she hopes to be able to provide more offsite workshops in those communities in order to expose them to our resources and identify their additional needs. From our Network Achievement Report (NAR) results, we know now that over 30% of our partners are providing training outside of their designated FIN location – a true testament to the importance of localized access.
For our new partners, Ellen shares how TGRC has ultimately become both successful and sustainable, “Partnering with community organizations, other colleges and universities in the Central Texas area, statewide associations, and school districts increases our visibility. We have been called a “hidden gem” numerous times but our intention is for everyone to know about our resources as well as those of other Networks.” She encourages new FINs to identify what is unique about their programs – for example, TGRC has largely worked with small nonprofits that are new to grant writing and can confidently say that they have helped many people find their very first grant through their services – an imperative first step for any organization.
After a busy 2016, Ellen has once again set some impressive goals for the coming year. TGRC is in the process of piloting a membership program that was inspired by a recent survey of area nonprofits. It was clear that they wanted a space to network and learn from one another. To meet this need, TGRC now hosts a weekly coffee hour or brown bag lunch with a local, social sector expert who shares their knowledge and insight. Ellen hopes to make the membership program a permanent part of TGRC’s services – currently participants complete a brief survey after each event that includes what monetary amount they would pay in the future. TGRC will then use this data to structure an affordable fee based program.
Ellen Moutos Lee is the director of the Texas Grants Resource Center at the University of Texas at Austin (TGRC) and the FIN supervisor at TGRC.