By Sannie Hodgetts

At Silver Lining Mentoring, we have five core values: Commitment, Community, Innovation, Cultural Responsiveness, and Gratitude. These values guide every aspect of our work for every member of our team. As Development Manager, my primary responsibility is to write and manage all aspects of the organization’s grants from public, private, and corporate foundations. I want to share a bit more about how SLM’s values show up for me in my work.

Commitment: I regularly highlight SLM’s commitment to young people in our grant proposals, emphasizing that our average match length is over six times the national average and that we continue to support young people after they leave foster care for adulthood at 18. I am proud to share that SLM has foundation partners that are equally committed to our young people. There are foundations that have supported the organization for over 10 years. That kind of long-term support has a significant impact.

Community: Donors, including grant funders, are all part of the SLM community. There have been several times where SLM community members, including members of the Board or Board of Ambassadors, mentors, or even other funders, have connected us with new grant opportunities. In the past five years, the amount of money SLM raises through grants has nearly doubled. Community members leveraging their networks on behalf of SLM has helped us grow and support more young people.

Innovation: Support from foundations has been critical to the innovation and growth of SLM’s programs to meet the needs of young people in foster care. In 2012 a grant from the United Way helped launch SLM’s successful Learn & Earn program for teens and young adults to learn financial literacy and employment skills for adulthood. Most recently, in 2019, SLM received a multi-year foundation grant to launch its new national thought leadership department. Without the partnership and willingness of foundations to fund new and innovative programs, SLM would not have been able to evolve its services.

Cultural Responsiveness: Cultural responsiveness is an area of continuous growth and learning for all of us, including foundations. (Vu Le has many blog posts on Nonprofit AF if you’re interested in reading more about funders, fundraising, and cultural responsiveness). Many foundations are decades, if not scores, of years old, and many were founded by wealthy, older, white, able-bodied, cis-gender individuals. As such, some of the questions they ask in a grant proposal, often about demographics, restrict me to “boxes” that don’t represent all SLM youth.

Sometimes it is frustrating and challenging; for example, I’m only allowed to enter numerical values for male and female youth served. Sometimes there is an opportunity for funder education, a chance to include text alongside the number of male and female participants, where I can explain SLM also supports youth who identify as non-binary or transgender. The best times are when funders will include an option for “Other” in demographic fields, or even better, have specific boxes for non-binary and transgender participants. I’ve been known to cheer sitting at my desk when this happens! Cultural responsiveness, authentically representing SLM’s youth and values while also satisfying the needs of the foundation, can be one of the most challenging parts of my job.

Gratitude: Gratitude is integral to all development work. We must let funders know we appreciate their support. It’s important to remember though, that SLM’s work with foundations is a partnership; they have a mission to give money to organizations, just as we have a mission to support young people in foster care. Every once in awhile, if it’s a very special day, we’ll get a call from a foundation saying they appreciate our work and want to give us additional grant money that we didn’t apply for. I call this, “surprise money.” When this happens I feel deep gratitude for our foundation partners and know that they recognize and value the hard work SLM does every day to support youth in care.

SLM’s values go beyond nebulous ideas. As I just shared, they show up in our work every day. I hope that these values continue to shape the future of SLM and educate our funders as well as it ultimately better supports our young people. Thank you for being a part of this community.