At the Catalogue, we’re always so eager to tell people about our unique vetting process that helps us determine which small charities are the best in Greater Washington. Of course, our vetting could not take place without the help of our 100-person review team, which consists of experts from the local philanthropic community who each evaluate 10-11 charity applications during the months of March and April.
So, just who are these reviewers? Over the next three weeks, we’re pulling back the curtain and inviting you to get to know these members of our community of knowledge as they share their perspectives on the Catalogue review process and philanthropy in Greater Washington.
This week, we’re featuring Joseph Suarez, a 6-time Catalogue reviewer and Executive Advisor, Community Partnerships at Booz Allen Hamilton, and Jade Floyd, Director of Communications at The Case Foundation. This year marks Jade’s 2nd as a Catalogue reviewer.
How did you hear about the Catalogue? And, how did you become a reviewer?
Joe Suarez, Booz Allen Hamilton: I originally learned of the Catalogue having received a copy at home in the mail. My home fell into one of the targeted zip codes the original Catalogue was mailed to a few years ago. I contacted the Catalogue and eventually Booz Allen became one of the corporate supporters. We were impressed with the concept of the Catalogue and the potential impact it represented for smaller area nonprofits. Eventually Barbara Harman asked me to serve as one of the Catalogue reviewers.
Jade Floyd, The Case Foundation: I have served on the board of directors and development/fundraising committees for two nonprofits in the Catalogue portfolio, the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative and Project Create. This opened the door to becoming a reviewer for the class of 2013 and 2014.
What do you enjoy most about reviewing nonprofits for the Catalogue?
Joe: Having spent the better part of my career in the non-profit community, mostly with large national non-profit organizations as a development professional and now on the corporate grants side of the house, what I enjoy most about reviewing non-profits for the Catalogue is the opportunity to learn about the many smaller organizations in our community. Many of these non-profit organizations I was not familiar with, but who across our community provide vital services to those in need or add to the richness of the region. In many cases these organizations are not household names, but the Catalogue provides them an opportunity to showcase their services and the diverse constituents they touch. This platform — the Catalogue for Philanthropy — plays an important role in helping member organizations build their brand and name recognition while also helping generate new financial support.
Jade: Learning about the vast number of quality nonprofits across the region is one of the most enjoyable parts of this process. These organizations are providing critically needed services to disadvantaged populations. The quality of candidates we review is enlightening because each organization is so unique and dedicated to their missions.
What is one piece of advice you would give to future Catalogue applicants?
Joe: Take the time to apply! It is a lot of work to apply for admission to the Catalogue, but it is worth every bit of it. The return to your organization for the time invested is priceless. Over the years, recognition in the Catalogue for Philanthropy has been the “Good Housekeeping seal of approval” in many ways. Individual, Foundation and Corporate donors understand the high standards the Catalogue places in their selection process. This rigor in reviewing the mission and impact of the nonprofits selected for the Catalogue along with the auditing provides a high level of confidence that any donation given is going to be well used and have maximum impact. In addition, the Catalogue provides a tremendous platform to help member nonprofits build their name identification and in competitive markets, this can mean the difference in gaining that financial support or not.
What is one piece of advice you would give to new/future Catalogue reviewers?
Joe: Enjoy yourself, wade into the pool, it’s not deep, but use it as an opportunity to learn a little more about the community that we live in and those we might not see or know too much about. Your role as a reviewer will give you greater insight!
Jade: Venture outside of the box and get to know these nonprofits personally. Don’t simply rely on the application. Visit their websites, follow them on twitter and Facebook, or take the time to attend a performance. You are not only a reviewer; you are becoming an advocate and sometimes a patron for life for many of these organizations.
Given your experience as a reviewer, when you see a nonprofit with the Catalogue’s “seal of approval” what does that mean to you?
Joe: When I see the Catalogue’s “seal of approval” I know right away, the rigor and consistency that went into reviewing these nonprofit organizations and clearing them for their impact, performance and good fiscal stewardship. This high standard provides a level of confidence that any contribution or grant being made will be well used by the organization to address the need in the community they are focused on.
Jade: Individuals who donate to an organization want to be assured that their dollars will make an impact and be used wisely. The Catalogue’s “seal of approval” gives donors the confidence that these nonprofits are delivering on their mission to the community. As a reviewer, we have an insider’s look at the data and program outcomes that the general public may not have access to. It is our responsibility to evaluate their programs to the best of our ability and make very tough decisions about each nonprofit that determines their entry into the Catalogue family.
How has being a reviewer had an impact on your views of philanthropy in Greater Washington?
Joe: The diversity of organizations represented in the Catalogue stands out to me right away. For an affluent community, there is tremendous need and opportunity across the region. The Catalogue touches many communities and focus areas ranging from social service activities, to educational, environmental and arts and culture to name just a few. To me this diversity speaks to the richness that these organizations bring to the region, helping those needing a hand up so that they do not fall through the cracks in the system to helping bring or improve the vitality to the community as a whole.
What do you feel your unique background brings to the Catalogue review process?
Jade: For several years I have used the Catalogue as a tool to find reputable nonprofits to support in my own philanthropic endeavors. Years of board service have given me an inside look at the best practices and fail forward moments at several organizations that are within the Catalogue family. I also work at the Case Foundation and have gained a deepened knowledge of the social sector. Each day I see the impact a grant or large-scale donation can have on an organization and its mission.
When reading applications, have there been any industry trends (i.e. program design, donor engagement, ways of measuring impact, etc.) you have noticed since becoming a reviewer? Or, what trends in the nonprofit sector have caught your attention in the past year?
Jade: Several trends are catching my eye. The first is organizations who are failing forward.Often, the social sector is hesitant to admit their failures, fearing damage to their reputations or that funders will be dissuaded from supporting their efforts. Many organizations are taking the exact opposite approach and sharing their fail forward moments, tweaking programs and learning from them. For example, when the DC-based GlobalGiving Foundation University Scholarships for Women program failed, the nonprofit shared their learnings with the sector. Similarly, when the DC-based Cause “philanthropub” closed its doors after just one year, owner Nick Vilelle reflected on their challenge?publicly.
Second, nonprofits are reaching beyond their bubble.When nonprofits can work together with others in the sector on programs you often see greater returns and more impact on larger segments of the community. Collaborating spurns innovation and enables these organizations who partner to move the needle on the serious problems we face within our communities. The DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative partners with nearly 70 cultural institutions across the city — from Kennedy Center to National Geographic — to provide quality arts and humanities education for nearly 30,000 DC public and chartered public schools each year. Without their members it would be a challenge to provide this much access for students in the region.
And lastly is diversification of income. Nonprofits have learned a big lesson post-recession and are no longer reliant on just two or three sources of income. When I see an organization that has five or six areas of revenue (i.e. foundation grants, individual donations, earned income, in-kind, board giving, etc.) this is reassuring that they can sustain for the long term.
Stay tuned next week when we hear from two more members of our review team, Catalogue donor Sandra Hoehne, and Maegan Scott of The Meyer Foundation!