At Funders Together, we make it a goal to share the work of funders across the country so you can learn what's working and adapt these strategies to your own community. One way we do that is through our Featured Members. Some are featured because of their innovative grantmaking. Others are featured because they are making connections and bringing new people into the conversation about ending and preventing homelessness. Still others are featured because they are challenging the very systems that allow homelessness to persist. In each case, our Featured Members are an integral part of the solution to homelessness.
Founded in 1959, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the country. Located in Owings Mills, Maryland, outside of Baltimore, the Foundation focuses on granting in both the U.S. and Israel to nonprofits that serve low-income and vulnerable populations. We spoke with Amy Kleine, Program Director, Basic Human Needs & Health, about the Foundation's grantmaking strategies around homelessness, housing, and exciting investments in employment through a social enterprise restaurant.
1. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. Could you explain a little bit about what the Weinberg Foundation does and in what capacity it is involved in homelessness?
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation is one of the largest private charitable foundations in the United States. The Foundation provides approximately $100 million in annual grants to nonprofits that provide direct services to low-income and vulnerable individuals and families, primarily in the U.S. and Israel. Grants are focused on meeting basic needs and enhancing an individual’s ability to meet those needs.
The Foundation awards grants through seven areas of giving, the two largest being Older Adults and Workforce Development. Other program areas, in order of annual funding goals, include Education, General Community Support, Disabilities, Basic Human Needs & Health, and Veterans.
While the Foundation does fund nationally, particularly involving capital grants, most of its grantmaking is focused within priority communities: Maryland (statewide), Northeastern Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Greater Chicago/Illinois, and Israel. Most of these areas are also Foundation “hometowns” which represent deep, personal ties to the life and legacy of Harry Weinberg. Demonstrating the Foundation’s commitment to these priority communities, a significant portion of the Weinberg Foundation’s total grants distribution each year remains within Maryland. Of the roughly $30 million granted statewide, most of the funding is directed to the greater Baltimore area, supporting multi-service organizations that provide a range of high-quality services to those in need.
Efforts to make homelessness rare and brief, and to support those who are experiencing homelessness, cut across many of the Foundation’s program areas. If a nonprofit’s primary focus is on homelessness, the grant request would fall under Basic Human Needs & Health. The Weinberg Foundation has invested more than $15 million in the past three years in homelessness initiatives, mostly in the form of capital grants for new permanent supportive housing (PSH).
The Foundation is funding two new projects in Baltimore City, which are particularly exciting. One will create 12 PSH units; the other will add 22 units. Another recent grant that aligns with this strategy involves Light House, a homeless prevention support center. This grant will support construction of a social enterprise restaurant. This is an appealing project because it combines housing in the form of four PSH apartments, culinary training through their Building Employment Success Training (B.E.S.T.), and job creation by allowing graduates to work at the Light House Bistro.
In addition to grantmaking, since 2009 I have served on Baltimore’s Continuum of Care (CoC) board (overseeing homeless services). Serving on the CoC board has also complemented the Foundation’s grantmaking decisions, as it helps to provide greater organizational understanding of the context of this work, as well as broader policy context, gaps that private funders need to fill, and what providers are facing on the front lines.
2. The Foundation has been very active in the housing sector, specifically in working with the state of Maryland to provide affordable housing for individuals with disabilities. Can you speak to your efforts around this as well as how you went about facilitating this public-private partnership?
The Foundation has continued its support of programs in Maryland and Illinois to provide deeply-affordable housing for people with disabilities. Initially funded in 2011, the Foundation will provide a total of $3 million in Maryland and Illinois to finance affordable, quality, independent, integrated housing opportunities for very low-income individuals with disabilities who meet certain eligibility criteria. This program provides persons with disabilities greater choice and independence in their daily lives.
While this highly successful program was developed under, and is administered through, the Foundation’s Disabilities area of giving, the concept of public-private partnerships can be applied to those working within the area of homelessness.
Through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, the Foundation provides a grant to the project developer. This grant, which reduces the developer’s debt, allows the developer to rent a certain number of units specifically for people with disabilities who receive either Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Supplemental Security Disability Income (SSDI) from Social Security. The rent for these apartments is set at 15-30% of area median income (AMI), in contrast to the 60% of AMI rentals generally paid by non-disabled, low-income people under other programs, such as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. Through this partnership and approach, the Foundation has created 22 units in Maryland ranging in size from studios to two bedrooms. This program is especially appealing because apartments are leased at below-market rate for 30 years, making it less expensive than a voucher. To date, nonprofit developers have demonstrated more willingness to participate. Also, the program has been more attractive to developers when there is an additional mortgage involved, since the grant becomes instrumental in reducing their debt.
We have not used this strategy to create housing for formerly homeless households, but the same concept could be applied assuming there are services available. The approach was highlighted by the Technical Assistance Collaborative as a best practice.
3. This year, you will be providing over $99 million in grants! That is an amazing amount! Aside from large grants, you also have a small grants program. Can you talk about this program and also what types of initiatives, programs, or projects these funds have been distributed to?
The Weinberg Foundation’s Small Grants Program (SGP), formerly known as the Maryland Small Grants Program, has awarded more than $25 million grants since its inception in 2007.
The SGP allows smaller Maryland and Northeastern Pennsylvania nonprofits to apply for a grant–operating, program, or capital–of up to $50,000 for two years ($100,000 total). Unlike the Foundation’s standard grantmaking process, there is no deadline for grant requests and a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) is not required. Budget size is limited to $1 million or less, and an external financial review is required regardless of budget size. After two years of funding, organizations are required to take a year off from support before being eligible for an additional two years. After a total of four years of funding, organizations must shift to the regular grant process, including submitting an LOI.
Organizations must speak with the appropriate program team member to determine if their organization is eligible to apply for a Small Grant. This conversation will ensure that the proposal is a fit with Foundation guidelines and goals.
In terms of Basic Human Needs & Health, specifically, SGP requests should be limited to services and supports involving homelessness, food security, and health. Examples would include small shelter providers and organizations that focus on homelessness prevention or perhaps a hot meal and case management program.
4. You are doing workforce development efforts for both adults and youth/young adults. Can you tell us a little bit about these efforts and the grantmaking process behind them?
Within its Workforce Development portfolio, the Foundation seeks to fund organizations that provide job training and placement services. Specifically, the Foundation looks for programs with good placement and retention outcomes and which require a minimum of one year of follow-up tracking (although the Foundation prefers two years of tracking). Strong grantees have a solid relationship with employers in the area and are committed to helping clients find a career, not just a job.
Grantees under this priority may have clients who have experienced, or are currently experiencing, homelessness. The Foundation has identified very few programs that are well-equipped to serve this population and that produce good results. As such, the Foundation has intensified its search for workforce development programs, especially in the Baltimore area, that are successfully serving those experiencing homelessness. Baltimore is one of the five Connection Project sites through Heartland Alliance. As part of this project, the Foundation hopes to build on current momentum to develop more employment programs specifically tailored to meet the needs of those who are experiencing homelessness.
Federal funding for homelessness services may not cover employment programs, so organizations may have to partner with, or refer out to, a workforce organization. Another option is to secure private funding from a source with a demonstrated commitment to working with people with high barriers to employment.
Again, the Weinberg Foundation grant to Light House for its social enterprise restaurant is a good example of homelessness services that include job training, also attached to housing. The Light House program is expected to create more than 50 jobs in its first year. Through the Light House Bistro, the program should be self-sustaining, able to generate revenue that will be reinvested and provide jobs for graduates. It is a smart, community investment, which the Foundation hopes will spur similarly innovative ideas.
5. What would you consider one of your most challenging efforts? What made it so challenging and what lessons were learned?
Proactive grantmaking is much more challenging, strategically, than reactive grantmaking. Historically, the Foundation has taken a reactive approach - the Foundation receives a grant request and, pending review, the grant is awarded or declined. Recently, however, the Foundation has had the opportunity to be more proactive, initiating larger projects with community partners.
In 2014, for example, we asked our board to consider making bigger investments into family homelessness. We agreed to grant up to $1.5 million to expand rapid re-housing (RRH) in Baltimore and selected a partner who had been doing RRH on a smaller scale. Through our grants, there was an increase in the number of families served from 27 to 65 annually, a program evaluator was hired, and there was additional funding for an employment specialists and housing navigator. Our partner now has a team of five working with families being served. To accomplish this, we partnered with fellow FTEH members: the local United Way, United Way of Central Maryland and a fellow foundation in the Baltimore area, The Abell Foundation. The project is now in its 3rd year and we are still seeing good results from our initial investment. In fact, the program was just awarded HUD Continuum of Care funds to further expand to serve 110 families annually.
This was a pivot in the way we did grantmaking and the Foundation is very proud of this work, especially as we were able to have a large impact locally.
6. Advocacy can seem a bit untouchable or unobtainable to many funders. What role does advocacy play at the Weinberg Foundation? Do you have any insight on successful strategy or challenges to be aware of when participating in advocacy?
The Weinberg Foundation has a charter restriction that strictly prohibits, among other things, advocacy. If an organization presents itself primarily in that way, a grant is not possible. However, if advocacy is only one part of an organization’s mission and work, the Foundation may be able to provide a grant with the stipulation that none of the funding be used in connection with the advocacy program.
Of course, the Foundation’s grantees use their experience to inform policy makers. If, for example, the Foundation funds an evaluation for a given program, the grantee (service provider) may present those results to policy makers. The Foundation also is willing to serve as a knowledge resource for policy makers, educating them on what programs or approaches have worked, as well as what has not worked, within the Foundation’s various areas of giving.
7. What advice would you offer to other foundations who are just starting to focus on homelessness – or maybe to foundations that are just starting out with any kind of grantmaking? Where can they start?
Just as my involvement with Baltimore’s Continuum of Care (CoC) board has complemented the Foundation’s consideration of grants within this area, I would encourage foundations to look beyond their role as funder, and seek out opportunities to engage as an active participant in the community discussion.
It is also important to understand that philanthropy dollars, while significant, are only part of the equation for meaningful results and change. Funders and other community stakeholders—within philanthropy, the public sector, and even the private sector—must work together as partners in focusing on certain aspects of the push to make homelessness rare and brief. Goals must be clearly, specifically defined and stated. Once that conversation begins, however, it is more than likely that others in the community will express similar goals and might possibly have already begun working toward success. Find those champions and connect with them.
8. How can groups like Funders Together support the work of foundations like yours?
Moving forward, Funders Together can provide valuable support as a source of information, particularly as it pertains to policy and advocacy. This is especially true for those who are not looped into these specific issues. Real-time knowledge in these areas can only help funders within the area of homelessness services better navigate change, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of their work.
Speaking for the Weinberg Foundation, Funders Together has been beneficial in several ways including highlighting best practices, hosting meaningful events, and providing a network of colleagues who represent a tremendous resource of knowledge and experience.
Interested in past featured member profiles? Check out our archive here.