United Way pitching idea to help non-profits

Robert Houk • Nov 9, 2019 at 12:00 AM

United Way of Washington County wants to partner with the governments of Johnson City and Washington County to create a position to help local non-profit organizations obtain grant money to do their vital work.

The “non-profit support specialist” would focus on grant writing and helping local charities meet their marketing, communications and networking needs. The Washington County Health, Education and Welfare Committee endorsed the idea on Thursday, and has agreed to forward it to the full County Commission when it meets on Nov. 25.

Kristan Spear, the president and CEO of United Way of Washington County, said Friday the grant writer’s position would be co-funded by the city and county, with her organization providing office space and related support.

She said the non-profit specialist would work with all of the 290 non-profit organizations in Washington County, not just the United Way’s 22 partner agencies.

“There are grant opportunities out there for for literacy, poverty, child care and food assistance programs,” Spear said.

Finding The Resources

Grant applications will be made to federal, state and private sources, as well as to business and philanthropic foundations. Spear said the non-profit support specialist would also help local non-profits to better pool their resources.

She said the position will “strengthen and support non-profit organizations, and help them make a greater impact on our community.”

Richard Griffin, the director of the Washington County Library, said helping non-profits secure grant funding is key in a time when many government sources are being stretched very thin. Griffin began discussing the idea of a hiring as professional grant writer with County Commissioner Jodi Jones and otherHealth, Education and Welfare Committee members earlier this year.

He said those discussions took a new direction when county officials learned United Way leaders were thinking of a similar proposal. Griffin said it made sense to combine efforts, and to include the city and county in the plan.

He said funding a grant writer will allow non-profit organizations to concentrate solely on their missions. 

“Non-profits do a lot of good for our community,” Griffin said. “It takes time to write grants, and that takes non-profits away from other things they need to be doing.”

Picking Winners and Losers

Supporters say the grant writing position will help local governments move away from the difficult task of deciding which few local charities should get a share of an increasingly limited amount of public funds.

The City Commission has discontinued the practice of giving out annual appropriations to non-profit organizations, and county commissioners have talked about phasing out the process in recent years.

Johnson City Commissioner John Hunter said Friday he is pleased to see the idea of a grant writer gaining traction in the County Commission, and hopes he and his colleagues will soon have an opportunity to address the issue.

He said the concept would provide non-profits with a valuable “fishing pole” to help them land the resources they need.

“It is definitely a great example of a public/private partnership with the city, county and United Way,” Hunter said.