Who’s Behind This Unusual Grants Competition in Northern Kentucky?



As we’ve discussed before in our coverage of local funding, small grants are a popular way to expand the breadth of giving and dabble in new strategies without taking a big leap. Such grants—or mini-grants, as they’re sometimes called—are usually awarded by community foundations, family funders, and occasionally corporate givers, too.

But what we don’t see very often are small grants grants awarded by multi-funder collaborations, which is why the NKY Funders’ Grants program caught our attention. Last month, the program awarded 10 grants to nonprofits after hearing three-minutes pitches at a public event at the St. Elizabeth Technology and Education Center in Erlanger.

A group of five local foundations came together to create this grant competition to highlight some of the nonprofits doing good work in Northern Kentucky.

The funders involved so far are the Butler Foundation, the Charles H. Dater Foundation, the R.C. Durr Foundation, Horizon Community Funds of Northern Kentucky, and the Elsa Heisel Sule Foundation. Each of these foundations picked a single area to focus on with its new grants. And while each funder has a different approach to grantmaking, they all have a dedication to Northern Kentucky in common.

The Elsa Heisel Sule Foundation is focusing on the arts, the Dater Foundation on children and youth, and the Butler Foundation on economic opportunity. Meanwhile, Horizon’s focus is on education and the Durr Foundation’s is health.

At the event last month, the five partners chose a first-place winner in each category to receive $6,000, and a second-place winner to receive $3,000.

An additional $5,000 award was up for grabs at the event, determined by audience popular vote. It went to the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky.

While there’s been some understandable criticism of Shark Tank-like events to disburse grants, such competitions can also serve useful purposes. They can push contestants to refine their pitches—in this case, describing their missions, visions, needs, metrics, and outcomes all in three-minute segments. This event was also a great opportunity for local nonprofits to get the word out about what they do and connect to residents who might otherwise be unfamiliar with their services.

Related: The Wonderful World of Mini-Grants: Who’s Giving Them and Why?