What is the mission of TRCF?
Three Rivers Community Foundation promotes Change, not charity™, by funding and encouraging activism among community-based organizations in under-served areas of southwestern Pennsylvania. We support groups challenging attitudes, policies, or institutions as they work to promote social, economic, or racial justice.
What kinds of grants does TRCF award?
TRCF specializes in small grants with big impact. The grants often provide organizations visibility and a track record that can lead to recognition and attention from other funders and organizations. The Foundation, which is located in Pittsburgh, serves a ten-county area in southwestern Pennsylvania, including Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington, and Westmoreland counties.
TRCF offers two types of grant support: Project or Operational Grants, ranging from $500 to $4,000; and Special Opportunity Grants of up to $500. The Special Opportunity Grants are designed for unplanned opportunities that arise during the year for which the organization did not budget.
In assessing grant proposals, TRCF strongly considers grass roots organizations with budgets under $200,000; new organizations or projects that have not been previously funded by TRCF; projects addressing persistent divisions in society based on race, color, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, religion, disability, sex, ancestry or national origin; organizations or projects which take affirmative steps to assure that their workplaces, programs and services are accessible to people with disabilities; projects that develop new grass roots leadership, with strong components of community organizing, community education, problem identification and solving, and community building; youth-led projects and those promoting youth activism; projects addressing emerging or cutting-edge issues and/or new approaches to problem solving; and collaborations or coalitions that emphasize joint strategies and projects.
Occasionally, TRCF will have special, issue-specific grant cycles, depending on funding. Recent examples are the Reclaim the Vote Initiative, run in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and the Media Justice Initiative, run in 2008 and 2009.
What are examples of some representative grants?
The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, Pittsburgh, developed and purchased educational materials for workshops that make schools safe and inclusive environments for all students. Both teachers and students go through their workshops, where they learn about the negative effects of stereotyping, bullying, and name-calling. Through TRCF grants, GLSEN Pittsburgh has implemented a “Safe and Respectful Schools Project,” a series of region-wide programs that prevent harassment, discrimination, and violence against children who are perceived to be different by their peers, hosted a Safe Prom for All, and held the first Unified for Youth (U4Y) Conference, a weekend-long event attended by students and teachers to build leadership skills, discuss current LGBT issues, and create a Peace Quilt.
The Black Political Empowerment Project has used TRCF support, through both the Reclaim the Vote Initiative and TRCF’s annual grant cycle, to supplement and enhance their operational plan, allowing them to expand their voter registration, education, advocacy, and election protection work, both independently and as a participant in coalitions. They surveyed voters to find out what their experience at the polls was like, including their attitudes toward voting, and sponsored or co-sponsored candidate forums. They have also received TRCF support, through the Media Justice Initiative, to work with Greater Pittsburgh Student Voices to implement a program getting students to analyze how youth, especially youth of color, were portrayed in TV news coverage. After analyzing the data, the students held an open forum, inviting members of the media to attend, at which they revealed how negatively youth were portrayed, and called on the media to change their tactics.
The Garfield Community Farm began when, in the winter of 2008, members of The Open Door Presbyterian Church and Valley View Presbyterian Church joined forces to convert abandoned lots in the Garfield and East Liberty communities into organic gardens, providing wholesome food to the residents and summer job opportunities for the youth. In 2009, TRCF supported the construction of a hoop house, a specialized green house that would extend their growing season by four months, and general operating support, including stipends for community youth to intern at the farm. In this short time of being around, Garfield Community Farm has grown quickly, branching out to even more space (now three acres) and to providing a CSA (community-supported agriculture) service.
Prevention Point Pittsburgh began in May 1995 when two Pittsburgh AIDS activists set up a sterile needle program in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. A handful of volunteers provided sterile syringes, alcohol wipes, condoms, and biohazard containers to injection drug users. This was illegal at the time in Allegheny County. TRCF supported them anyway – providing them with grants in their first years to purchase clean supplies. In November of 2001, the Allegheny County Board of Health declared a public health emergency in regards to HIV and Hepatitis C, and by April of the following year, PPP was a legal, officially-sanctioned needle-exchange program. Their most recent grant from TRCF, in 2005, was to implement an Overdose Prevention Project, which trained people on how to recognize and treat drug overdoses.
What is the grantmaking process of TRCF?
TRCF is committed to a process that is open, honest, compassionate, and accountable to the wider community.
Decisions are made by a committee whose members reflect the diverse composition of the Pittsburgh region. All members – including activists, community representatives, past grantees, board members, or donors – have equal status and decisions are made by consensus.
The process and interactions with grantees are designed to give resources to those who have been disenfranchised. The grantmaking process is developmental rather than just evaluative, and includes grant-writing workshops, in-depth review of proposals by all committee members, rating of proposals according to established criteria, telephone, email, and face-to-face interviews with applicants, and site visits. TRCF strives to be inclusive in its processes, activities and events. It promotes collaboration and seeks to build bridges between donors and grantees and between grantees and other community groups.
Project or operational grants are reviewed once each year. The submission date (usually in February) may vary from year to year. Special Opportunity Grants are available throughout the year.
TRCF awards 10 to 20 grants annually that range from $500 to $4,000. The Foundation’s operating costs are maintained at a very modest level.
Who supports TRCF and why?
TRCF is a public foundation that is supported through an annual appeal, special events, and a network of individual donors and businesses that share an interest in enhancing the quality of life in southwestern Pennsylvania. TRCF’s more than 200 donors respect the Foundation’s values and share its concern with social justice. Our donors want to be part of a thoughtful, caring, and inclusive organization that supports community groups that might be otherwise overlooked, marginalized, or ineligible for funding. Both the number of donors supporting TRCF and the annual dollar amounts raised through the Foundation’s annual appeal have been increasing every year.
Does TRCF have specific, or targeted, funds?
Donors now have the opportunity to earmark gifts to TRCF’s Endowment. Gifts can be pledged over a period of five years to the General Endowment or to one of 6 target funding areas: Disability Rights; Economic Justice; Environmental Justice; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Allies Rights; Racial Justice; and Women, Youth and Families. With a gift of $5,000 or more, a donor may honor or memorialize a friend or family member by establishing a named fund.
With all of the philanthropic resources in the Pittsburgh area, why is another foundation needed?
Although southwestern Pennsylvania is fortunate to have substantial philanthropic resources, none of the other local foundations share the philosophy or approach of Three Rivers Community Foundation. In addition, there are few foundations that focus on issues of social, racial, and economic justice – yet it is commonly agreed that there are substantial needs in these areas.
TRCF provides resources to small organizations that might not otherwise receive support and, through its grantmaking, encourages the development of new grassroots leadership. TRCF’s grantees address issues such as racism, homophobia, homelessness, hunger, economic disparities, and discrimination. Many of the other local foundations are serving larger organizations and have different grantmaking emphases.
Does TRCF assume any roles other than grantmaking?
As a charitable foundation, grantmaking is TRCF’s primary activity. To further support its mission, however, the foundation engages in other types of activities that focus on empowerment, education, and leadership development. TRCF co-sponsors forums and information sessions; offers technical assistance to grantees and referrals to additional resources; links donors and grantees through the grantmaking process and at an Annual Grant Awards Event; connects grassroots organizations so that they might better leverage their resources; and promotes the principles of community-based philanthropy.
In recent years, TRCF has begun hosting Regional Mini-Summits on Social Change in the counties surrounding Allegheny, to do outreach to these oft-overlooked areas. These summits bring representatives of social change organizations from those counties together for a day to examine issues and build capacity skills. The Foundation is also coordinating the first-ever region wide, multi-day summit on social change and justice. Titled Building Change: A Convergence for Social Justice, this event will take place in the Spring of 2011.
TRCF is planning to launch two social change programs specifically for high school students – the Teens 4 Change program and Young Ambassadors Program. To read our description about involving youth in social change and justice work, please click this link.
The Foundation also hosts up to 12 internships per term to train enterprising and committed young people in a wide array of skill sets related to nonprofit management and community organizing for social change and justice.
Is TRCF formally related or connected to any other foundations or organizations?
Three Rivers Community Foundation is a member of the Funding Exchange (FEX), a national association of foundations that share a commitment to supporting social change and community-based philanthropy. All of the member foundations of the Funding Exchange share a commitment to “Change, not charity™.” The Funding Exchange offers TRCF a rich source of learning, information, networking and collaboration.
TRCF is also a member of Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania. GWP is a professional membership association formed in 1985 by leaders who wanted to create an organized mechanism for grantmakers to learn and work together. GWP currently has 85 members, from Elk County in northern Pennsylvania to Fayette County in southern Pennsylvania.
TRCF currently holds a small endowment fund at the Community Foundation of Fayette County. CFFC promotes philanthropy and community improvement by attracting, managing, and distributing charitable resources.
What has TRCF accomplished in its 20 years of grantmaking?
One of TRCF’s most important contributions to the region is that it has sustained hope for many grassroots organizations that, for the most part, are operating in a climate that does not foster social justice and social change. It is akin to a candle or an eternal flame here in southwestern Pennsylvania that ensures that new voices will be heard and that new approaches to solving community problems will be supported.
More specifically, its accomplishments can be counted in the outcomes produced by its grants. Its grants are designed to help people work to change their own lives and communities for the better, resulting in small, but critical changes. TRCF’s impact is experienced through nourishing confidence in children, bridging differences across lines of race, sexual identity, and disability, helping tenants who feel individually powerless to organize and become empowered as a collective, infusing a sense of hope among people who have long felt disenfranchised, and supporting artistic expression that produces a galvanizing force for change in the community.
When and how was Three Rivers Community Foundation formed?
TRCF was formed in 1989 by a group of community activists who created a new kind of philanthropy in southwestern Pennsylvania. They formed TRCF in order to invest in activist, grassroots organizations working to bridge divisions in society. These divisions centered on issues of race, economic status, gender, sexual identity and disability. The founders of TRCF embraced the philosophy that the best way to bring about social justice is by supporting community-based organizations that are working “on the ground floor” of change. Three Rivers Community Foundation continues to embrace this philosophy.
TRCF is based on human possibility and a vision of justice that the founders, donors, board members and supporters believe is possible. Its vision is to achieve sustained, measurable impact at the community level by supporting grassroots groups that will influence how community problems are defined and resolved.
How can people become more involved in TRCF’s work and support it?
Our work depends largely on the financial support of many individual and group donors. Our greatest needs are for operating funds, which we raise through our annual appeal, and for expanding our grantmaking endowment to enable us to make additional grants throughout our ten-county service area. You can support social change and justice by contributing to our annual fund; donating to our grantmaking or operating endowment. You can donate by cash, check, or credit card – by mail, in person, or online at our website.
Some donors choose to create a lasting legacy with their own charitable fund, choosing a specific TRCF action area to support. Establishing a fund is simple and does not require great wealth. Our staff and advisors assist donors in this process.
Donations to TRCF are tax deductible, and our Foundation is approved for United Way Contributor Choice contributions.
Also, many opportunities for volunteering exist at TRCF, from promoting our special events to serving on one of our committees.
Finally, attending our special events helps to generate funds to support our grantmaking. All of these options are explained in the Get Involved section of our website.