Matchmaker, matchmaker find me a grant

If Joyce Raught got to keep all of the money she earned, she would be a multimillionaire.

But since Raught is one of Pitt’s grant writers, the more than $100 million she helps wrangle for Pitt every year goes straight into a University bank account.

Raught works in The Office of Institutional Advancement at Pitt, which focuses on fundraising from the private sector. The office brings in more than $100 million every year by helping researchers and faculty apply for grants to fund programs and research ranging in subject from art to engineering. Though, for Raught and her colleagues, raising money takes a little “matchmaking.”

Raught and the other 17 employees in the Corporate and Foundation Relations department of IA connect with potential funders through phone, email and, most importantly, face-to-face communication. They also hold events, such as formal dinners, that allow faculty, and occasionally the chancellor, to directly connect with future funders.

“We do a lot of research into the ongoing foundations as their priorities and structures change,” Raught said. “As much as we can, we match faculty with the foundations, bringing faculty down to the foundation or bringing the foundation here.”

Sometimes, the meetings happen randomly, such as when Raught bumped into a funder downtown and started talking up Pitt faculty.

Within IA, staffers have focus areas of either individual donors — people, typically alumni, interested in giving annually or corporations and foundations. There are also researchers who compile information about the goals of different donors and which donors are most likely to contribute money to the University. Although the IA is there to help, some researchers choose to write their own grant proposals, and those requesting help to receive federal funding go through a different office, the Office of Research.

The express purpose of a foundation is to make grants available to a number of organizations that it would like to help. IA strategically establishes relationships with corporations because foundations entertain a lot of competition for funding, while corporations receive few to no requests for funding, according to Andrew Falk, executive director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for the Swanson School of Engineering.

For efficiency’s sake, the Corporation and Foundation Relations branch of IA generally focuses its resources on donors capable of giving $50,000 gifts or more, Falk said.

The most important of these capable donors include the Heinz Endowments, the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the Hillman Family Foundations. All three are local, as many foundations and corporations have missions that include supporting local research and community development.

For smaller funders, like alumni, Raught and Falk follow the same grant process.

“What’s still kind of surprising to me is that you put the same effort into a $15,000 grant as you do into a million dollar grant,” Raught said. “It’s a lot of work, but to me, it’s just as fulfilling to get a smaller grant because the impact it’s going to have on the program is substantial.”

Raught recently facilitated a $15,000 grant for Investing Now —  a program run through the Swanson School of Engineering for middle and high schoolers to increase minority and female participation in STEM education — from the EQT Foundation.

The grant will target women in STEM education as men outpace women in those fields and develop a support group for its female students.

At a jazz event downtown, two women bumped into each other and starting chatting. Strangers Ellen Rossi and Raught incidentally discovered they were opposite parts of an industry — funder and fundraiser.

“I happened to start talking to [Rossi] about what we do, and I am really familiar with Investing Now, so I started talking to [Rossi] about that program, and I invited her to campus to do a tour of the program,” Raught said. “I threw a lot of ideas at her like, ‘Would you be interested in funding this type of program?’ and she would give us feedback.”

This tactic, of striking conversation with funders, is one Raught and Falk use often. They find success when acting as mediators, facilitating conversation between the funders and primary faculty who would receive the grant. Ideally, the funder comes to campus to see the faculty in action, but Raught will jump in the car to drive the faculty to the funder if needed.

According to Falk, Pitt has three missions: education, research and outreach. A successful fundraiser finds a donor whose mission intersects with Pitt’s.

A proposal’s success depends largely on the relationship with the funder. Falk gives funders opportunities to stay involved but tries not to bombard them with emails. He also tries to research their changing missions, so he knows their priorities.

“If you just send a proposal to someone, your chances of success are far slimmer than if they invite a proposal,” Falk said. “You’re not going to surprise people in relationships if it’s a good relationship. We like to give them lead time, to give them an opportunity to tell you if their interests in the area are sufficient to consider a proposal.”

According to Raught, the relationship between grant writer and funder ideally develops over months or longer before any proposal is put in writing.

When it is time to write the proposal, the faculty members seeking grants will write a single page mission, and IA will edit that statement, clarifying how the mission aligns with the funder’s goals. Sometimes faculty can use common proposal applications, similar to the Common App for incoming college students, which Falk says most local foundations accept.

Always looking out for Alaine Allen, director of Investing Now at the Swanson School, Raught mentioned her program Investing Now to Rossi at the jazz event. Raught had helped Allen get funding in the past, so months later, Raught invited Rossi, along with other funders, to observe Investing Now.

As the observing funders mingled and made comments about the program, Allen and Raught took careful notes, so they could work to match funding proposals to funders’ missions.

While the funders were observing, Rossi casually mentioned to Raught that she would like to see more female students in the program. Raught, keying in on Rossi’s aside, passed the word along to Allen, who then made sure to emphasize how the grant would be used to encourage female interest in STEM.

Overall, Rossi said her immersion into Allen’s program proved to her it was worth funding and encouraged Raught to submit a proposal.

“I spoke with a couple of girls, asked how they were enjoying the program, asked if they were interested in engineering and if the program gave them a desire to major in engineering,” Rossi said. “I was really impressed…”

Rossi’s board of eight sat down to review their proposals — they tend to get 25 to 40 in one quarter — and unanimously agreed to award $15,000 to Investing Now.

Rossi said EQT has not donated money to Pitt in some time, since the foundation typically supports K-12 education.

“As a company, we recruit a lot of students from Pitt, so it’s nice to be able to do something charitable for them,” Rossi said.

Raught and Falk said many foundations and corporations look to fund community outreach before higher education, and they sometimes struggle to find organizations willing to donate to Pitt.

“For some of these foundations, Pitt is not a typical applicant. There are very few foundations in this entire country whose mission is to support higher education,” Falk said. “Their mission tends to be a lot closer to the needs of society. Most foundations are getting applications that are addressing poverty or social justice.”

Even after matching a program to a funder and securing the money, IA’s duties are not over. The office continues to update donors on progress and how their money is being spent.

“The relationship doesn’t — or shouldn’t — end once we get the grant,” Raught said. “It should, rather, continue as the project unfolds, and we all work together to ensure its success and start thinking and talking about other prospective programs.”

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