Why unrestricted funding? Two Barra Award winners dish on the benefits - Generocity Philly

Funding

Dec. 5, 2017 4:58 pm

Why unrestricted funding? Two Barra Award winners dish on the benefits

When grant funds aren't tied to specific programs, nonprofits have the chance to do more and worry less. Plus, the Barra Foundation's 2018-2019 awardees.

Tiny WPA's Building Heroes in wood.

(Courtesy photo)

‘Tis the season of giving, which means ‘tis also a time to consider how year-end gifts and grants impact nonprofits.

With less than half of local nonprofits considered fiscally healthy (and 20 percent having less than one month’s worth of cash reserves), many organizations are looking to the new philanthropic trend of unrestricted giving as a solution.

Barra Foundation, an investor at the forefront of the movement that has offered more than $6 million in unrestricted grants through the Barra Awards since 2013, today announced the 43 nonprofit awardees of its 2018-2019 grant cycle, each grant totaling $50,000 over two years. The funder points to two West Philadelphia nonprofits as success stories of the model.

Neighborhood Bike Works’ (NBW) new program space on Lancaster Avenue is an example of the rapid improvements nonprofits can make when they control how they use their funding. Through a 2015-2016 Barra Award, NBW continued to offer its core youth bike ride and repair programming while simultaneously securing and outfitting its new headquarters.

Without the flexible nature of the funds, Steve Maluk, the organization’s executive director, says the team wouldn’t have been able to cover all their necessary costs.

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“Unrestricted funding gives mission-based organizations like us the breathing room to focus on program planning, innovation and building a healthier organization,” Maluk said.

Instead of being restricted to improving just one area, dictated by the grantor, NBW was able to invest in several different areas at the same time: Staffers negotiated a lease, completed critical building improvements, hosted staff diversity training and made incremental increases in staff compensation in just two years.

<em>Neighborhood Bike Works. (Courtesy photo)</em>

Neighborhood Bike Works. (Courtesy photo)

Through opportunities like the Barra Awards, funders shift the balance of power to nonprofits. An unrestricted gift serves as encouragement for innovation and collaboration; an opportunity for those closest to the mission — the folks with boots on the ground and the people they serve — to dictate the future of their work.

In addition, nominators for the Barra Awards are also members of the community, allowing hyperlocal insight to guide the awarding process. This year, in pay-it-forward fashion, Maluk nominated Tiny WPA — a relatively new nonprofit also located on Lancaster Avenue.

The organization “embodies innovation, both in the design work they do with youth and adults and in the way their founders, Renee and Alex, run the organization,” Maluk said. “From down the block, I see how Tiny WPA is engaging community members in making real improvements to their own neighborhood.”

Tiny WPA plans to use its awarded $50,000 of unrestricted funding over the next two years to grow its Building Hero Project, which provides youth and adults with year-round, hands-on training in design, fabrication and entrepreneurship. As a younger organization, its founders say the unrestricted funds allow them to be more nimble in a rapidly changing environment — a chance to do more and worry less.

<em>Building Heroes. (Courtesy photo)</em>

Building Heroes. (Courtesy photo)

For example, in addition to their training programs, the organization also sells products created by Building Heroes on Etsy and completes larger, custom fabrication jobs throughout the city.

The duality of its work, and the increase in demand for it, requires Tiny WPA to “wrestle with unexpected costs such as needing and acquiring different tools, higher insurance premiums and longer fabrication timelines due to steep learning curves amongst Building Heroes,” according to the organization’s co-founders, Renee Schacht and Alex Gilliam.

Without the unrestricted funds, experiential learning — the keystone of their programming — wouldn’t occur.

“We routinely see the great value these experiences have provided the Building Heroes,” the founders said, “but frankly this requires a level of responsiveness, risk taking and learning-by-doing on our behalf that wouldn’t be possible without unrestricted funds.”

Here’s the full list of 2018-2019 Barra Award winners:

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