Halfway Through a Five-Year Commitment to Middle School Youth, High Country Regional Council Staff Reflect on the Value of Multi-Year Grant Making
By Adelita Aguirre and Reilly Torres
Over the last several years, a number of El Pomar’s regional councils have initiated multi-year grants, rather than single-term grant recommendations. In 2019, the High Country Regional Council dedicated itself to this approach by committing nearly all of its grant making allocation over a five year period—a total of $1 million—to five organizations serving at-risk middle school youth in the region.
Previously, the Regional Partnerships newsletter has covered the Council’s commitment to youth development and to supporting its grant partners through these multi-year grants. Now that the Council is halfway through its five-year grant term, salient lessons have emerged, revealing the immense value and opportunities for engagement afforded by a multi-year grant making strategy from a funder’s perspective.
From the outset, the High Country Regional Council recognized the opportunity for greater impact through making long-term commitments to nonprofits. According to Regional Trustee Dave Palenchar, “the additional security of future years of funding provides the nonprofit the opportunity to spend more strategic time on mission engagement and allows it to better address and adapt to the changing challenges it will likely face while pursuing its programmatic objectives over several years.”
For the Council, long-term investment in select grant partners creates a framework for more robust relationships and targeted support. Without the need for annual funding decisions, councils with multi-year grants can direct their energy toward continuous engagement with their grant partners’ operations. Palenchar shares that for the High Country Regional Council, this has meant “staying on top of any leadership turnover and remaining aware of the nonprofit’s ability to continue to implement the goals and purposes of the multi-year grant.”
Over the past two and a half years, the High Country Regional Council has remained flexible in order to best support its grant partners—both through grant dollars as well as organizational support. In 2021, through ongoing conversations with its grant partners, the Council learned about the tremendous toll the pandemic had on the staff at each of the five organizations. In response, the Council recommended additional grants to each of its grant partners for the broad purpose of “staff well-being,” allowing the organizations to creatively use the funds to boost the morale and sustainability of their staff. The Council has also worked closely with its grant partners to offer flexibility around existing grant dollars, making adjustments to the explicit grant terms when needed to support organizations in adapting to changing needs and circumstances.
Entering the second half of its multi-year grant term, the High Country Regional Council is focused on supporting its grant partners through the conclusion of the grants. When structuring its multi-year grants, the Council built in match requirements – requiring a certain percentage of the remaining grant funds to be matched by dollars from another funding source – for the final two years as a way to promote the organizations’ sustainability after the conclusion of the Council’s grant. At this point, the Council is considering the best ways to support its grant partners in strategically planning for the future as we approach the final two years of funding.
Responding to grant partners’ shifting circumstances, needs and priorities over several years is typically not feasible or practical for single-term grants. The High Country Regional Council, however, has appreciated the opportunity to engage with its grant partners over a multi-year period and offer sustained support, while balancing Council engagement with grantee autonomy. The Council is honored to support its grant partners in their important work with at-risk youth, and it is grateful for the lessons learned thus far through these partnerships.