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2nd Celebration of Catalogue Reviewers & Charities

On Tuesday, June 17th the Catalogue celebrated our 2014 reviewers and newest class of charities at a reception in the Clarendon Ballroom. With a warm welcome to all from Catalogue Board Treasurer, Tom Raffa — who makes the financial review possible year after year — this event recognized the incredible dedication of our 120+ person review team and welcomed the charities they selected for the upcoming 2014/15 Catalogue, 26 of whom are brand new to the Catalogue network.

In a special presentation, President & Editor Barbara Harman honored several long-standing reviewers who have given over a decade of service to the Catalogue — including Oramenta Newsome (LISC DC), who has participated in all 12 years of the Catalogue’s review since our inception in 2003! Reviewers Bob Wittig (Jovid Foundation), Julia Baer Cooper (Lois & Richard England Family Foundation) and Silvana Straw (Community Foundation for the National Capital Region) were recognized for 11 years of service, and Suzanne Martin (formerly of the Fowler Foundation) received the “above and beyond” award in recognition of the quality & quantity of her thoughtful reviews over the past six years. The Catalogue is made possible by our program and financial reviewers and we were so pleased to have so many join us and meet the Class of 2014/15!

A huge thanks to our host and long time friend Sandra Hoehne at the Clarendon Ballroom, our nonprofit representatives, our reviewers, the Catalogue Board and special friends of the Catalogue from the Meyer Foundation, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, the Cohen Foundation and the Otto Whalley Foundation. Thanks to everyone in attendance for making this our best celebration yet, and stay tuned for updates as our production process leads us to the release of the Catalogue on November 1st!

President Barbara Harman presents awards to Bob Wittig, Silvana Straw, and Julia Baer Cooper for 11 years of Service


President Barbara Harman with 12-year reviewer Oramenta Newsome

Getting to Know the Catalogue Review Team: Part 3

Today marks the 3rd and final installment of our “Getting to Know the Reviewers” blog series. We’re excited to introduce our readers to Hedrick Belin, President of the Potomac Conservancy (a Catalogue charity) and 4-time Catalogue reviewer. Approximately one-quarter of our review team is comprised of members from peer nonprofits. Between these reviewers, members from foundations, corporate giving programs, other partner organizations and philanthropists, the Catalogue team is always confident in the work of this group to help us determine which small charities are truly “the very best” in Greater Washington.

What do you enjoy most about reviewing nonprofits for the Catalogue?

Hedrick Belin, Potomac Conservancy: It lets me see what other innovative conservation groups are undertaking to clean our air, safeguard our drinking water supply and protect wildlife. There are many amazing groups making a real difference in our overall quality of life with very few financial resources. Every spring, I come away re-energized after spending a weekend reading through a dozen applications.

What is one piece of advice you would give to future Catalogue applicants?

Hedrick: Specifics matter. Assume the reviewer does not know anything about your organization. What can you put in your application that shows the concrete impacts and on-the-ground differences that your organization is making? Quantify by including lots of metrics to demonstrate you are not just a nice organization doing nice things, but are really filling a community need and making a difference when it comes to changing lives or improving the community. Make it easy for me to recognize immediately that you are one of the best.

What is one piece of advice you would give to new/future Catalogue reviewers?

Hedrick: Come with an open mind, but a critical eye. The Catalogue is supposed to represent the best small non-profits in Washington, DC, not every small non-profit. You should be open to innovative approaches to solving some of the chronic problems in the region, but also read the applications carefully to see which groups have the best return on investment.

How has being a reviewer had an impact on your views of philanthropy in Greater Washington?

Hedrick: The region is blessed with an incredibly strong non-profit sector that is getting stronger every year. I’m constantly impressed with the passionate individuals fighting every day on the front lines to build a more just and sustainable world and have seen the power of this sector to change lives and save lives. The larger non-profits that have been around for decades tend to get the press, but the non-profits that the Catalogue selects deserve to be recognized as well for the tremendous difference they are making in our local communities.

What do you feel your unique background brings to the Catalogue review process?

Hedrick: As an Executive Director, I quickly assess organizational alignment. Do the organizational mission, vision and strategies tie together in a concise, compelling way? Is there a clear theory of change that the organization is employing to drive every decision?As a former consultant working with over 100 social purpose organizations across the non-profit spectrum, I’ve developed an ability to evaluate the entities’ efficacy and impact by looking at a few key answers in the application. For example, I look at the size and composition of the board. I also look at revenue streams, both in terms of diversity of sources and also if they have the revenue engine to drive the short and long-term goals listed in question.

To learn more about Potomac Conservancy and find out how you can donate or volunteer, head over to their Catalogue web page, or connect with them on their website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

Getting to Know the Catalogue Review Team: Part II

Welcome to week two of our “Getting to Know the Catalogue Review Team” series, where we invite you to get to know the members of our community who help us determine which small charities are the very best in Greater Washington. Part one can be found here.

This week we’re featuring Sandra Hoehne, ‎a 2-time reviewer and Catalogue supporter, and Maegan Scott, Program and Communications Officer at Meyer Foundation. This year marks Maegan’s 3rd as a Catalogue reviewer.

How did you hear about the Catalogue? And, how did you become a reviewer?

Sandra Hoehne, Catalogue supporter: I cannot remember how I found out about the Catalogue. Around ’09 or ’10 I was planning our yearly giving. Like many people, I give at the end of the year so that I know exactly how much we can afford to give. I found the Catalogue’s Donate Now / Decide Later option and was hooked. Also, my husband and I live and work in Arlington and so many of my favorite local non-profits have been featured in the Catalogue.

As to reviewing – after meeting Barbara and Nancy and being infected by their enthusiasm and energy, I knew that I wanted to do whatever I could to help them. Donating money was one way, but getting my hands dirty with the reviewing process was the next step.

Maegan Scott, The Meyer Foundation: The Meyer Foundation has been a long-time supporter and partner of the Catalogue, and was one of the funders that helped to bring the publication to DC in 2003. Meyer staff has served as reviewers each year since the Catalogue launched in the Washington region. I was honored to become part of that tradition three years ago.

What do you enjoy most about reviewing nonprofits for the Catalogue?

Sandra: I enjoy seeing that though the need in the DC area is so great in all areas that the Catalogue covers, the drive to help is just as strong and lack of resources does not discourage dedicated people.

Maegan: There are actually two things. I love being introduced to organizations that haven’t or may never apply to Meyer for funding. I feel like it gives me a much more comprehensive understanding of the great work taking place across the region. I use that information in a lot of different ways, for example connecting friends to organizations they may fall in love with or even to pursue volunteer opportunities myself. I also just love the Catalogue’s mission and the emphasis it places on storytelling. I know that the organizations that are selected to be Catalogue nonprofits are going to get excellent visibility and coaching and become part of a network that will help increase their overall effectiveness.

What is one piece of advice you would give to future Catalogue applicants?

Sandra: Be succinct. And, maybe don’t include the resume of each Board Member in your application.

Maegan: Remember that this application will be read by a real live human being. I think so many groups are used to producing proposals and reports that are highly structured (especially groups with government grants and contracts) that they hesitate to tell their organization’s story beyond numbers and metrics. Of course, numbers and metrics are important, but don’t lose the passion and enthusiasm that brought you to the work in the first place. I want to read about it!

What is one piece of advice you would give to new/future Catalogue reviewers?

Sandra: Clear your schedule for a day to do this. It is more taxing emotionally than you would think and you will need a little recovery time.

Maegan: Give yourself plenty of time and look at everything, including websites. Spend just as much time with the organizations you’re familiar with as you do with the groups that are new to you. Be honest in the comments; constructive feedback is sometimes more useful than glowing praise.

Given your experience as a reviewer, when you see a nonprofit with the Catalogue’s “seal of approval” what does that mean to you?

Maegan: I love seeing the Catalogue seal! I think it’s such a powerful branding tool. When I see the seal, I know that this is a well-managed organization doing meaningful and impactful work and that it survived a thorough financial review by RAFFA. And because not all Catalogue nonprofits use the seal, I also know that this organization cares about leveraging and maximizing its inclusion in the Catalogue.

How has being a reviewer had an impact on your views of philanthropy in Greater Washington?

Sandra: It has really educated me on how much work nonprofits do, in addition to their primary purpose, to handle the very rigorous scrutiny to which something like the Catalogue subjects them. Having good intentions, identifying a need, and addressing it seem to me only a part of the equation. I have new respect for nonprofits that make it through these vetting procedures and are able to sell themselves and prove their worthiness. They not only have to accomplish their stated goal, but the organization itself and the administration have to be exemplary.

What do you feel your unique background brings to the Catalogue review process?

Sandra: I have been involved in small businesses my entire career. I find myself reading every application as if it were a business plan and the investment being sought is placement in the Catalogue. I wonder what kind of returns can be expected and how quickly. Since space in the Catalogue is limited, I only want the organizations that seem most poised to leverage that “investment” to have access to it.

Maegan: Even before working at the Meyer Foundation, a lot of the work I did focused on systems-building — who and what need to be in place to get the job done. Since joining the Foundation, I have seen and learned SO much about what works and what doesn’t work in how nonprofits are built (especially in terms of finance, boards, and executive leadership) and my belief that solid infrastructure matters if we’re going to see the social change that we’re all working to create has deepened exponentially. So a lot of what I bring to the review process is that — I’m assessing the organization’s capacity (including its potential) to advance its mission, I’m asking how well are the internal gears working.

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?

Maegan: I’m partially biased because of my role at the Meyer Foundation, but increasingly I’ve noticed organizations using social media as a way to strategically engage all of their stakeholders and not just the rote “thank you” tweet or Facebook post to a foundation or donor as a way of acknowledging a gift. We’re seeing more active engagement with clients and volunteers, and assertive program messaging and advocacy.

I’ve also seen more comprehensive and creative ways of talking about sustainability. Beyond secure and diverse funding streams, nonprofits applying both to Meyer and the Catalogue are writing about infrastructure and investing in talent and talent pipelines.

Stay tuned next week when we hear from Hedrick Belin, Catalogue reviewer and President of Potomac Conservancy!