The Forest Highlands Foundation, a significant and unique, but quiet, funder of many of Flagstaff’s nonprofit organizations gets the spotlight as this year’s Arizona Daily Sun Organization of the Year.
The foundation was created in 1999 by members of the Forest Highlands community just outside the city limits of Flagstaff, said Bob Golub, one of the Foundation’s board members. It’s one of a few nonprofit organizations that is made up of members of a specific neighborhood rather than a group of individuals who come together to raise money for a specific cause.
“They came together with the desire to be good neighbors. They wanted to find a project they could support,” he said of the original Foundation members.
A lot of the members of the Foundation live in the Forest Highland community part-time, but that doesn’t diminish their sense of belonging to or wanting to help Flagstaff organizations, Golub said. Many of them donated to their churches, their kids’ schools and charities in their home towns and they want to do the same here.
“There’s no one here that doesn’t feel that Forest Highlands isn’t a part of Flagstaff,” said Bill Griffon, who is also a member of the Foundation and the general manager of the Forest Highlands Golf Club. “We may live outside the city limits but we shop in the same stores and eat at the same restaurants. We feel we’re very much a part of the fabric of the community.”
That first project was the Oliva White Hospice Home, Golub said. In the last 16 years, they’ve given out 709 grants worth more than $4.3 million to more than 80 local organizations.
This year the organization helped fund projects for 31 different organizations with a total of $252,000 in grants, including the Flagstaff Family Food Center, the Children’s Chorale of Flagstaff, Poore Medical Clinic, Housing Solutions of Northern Arizona, Literacy Volunteers of Coconino Country and Girls on the Run of Northern Arizona.
The Flagstaff Family Food Center has been a favorite of the Forest Highlands Foundation for the past couple of years, Golub said. This year, the Foundation gave $53,000, its largest grant request it awarded in 2015, to the Family Food Center.
The grant applications come to the Arizona Community Foundation of Flagstaff between April and June and are disbursed to the 11 nonprofit partners of the ACFF, including the Forest Highlands Foundation. Each ACFF partner looks at the grant applications and decides who to fund and how much and interviews are held with each grant applicant around the end of July each year, Golub said.
At the Forest Highlands Foundations, the grant applications go to the grant committee, which has subcommittees that research and evaluate each application, said Jean Brown, another member of the Foundation’s advisory board. The subcommittees bring their evaluations to the main committee,, which makes its recommendations to the 15-member Foundation board.
Griffon said the engagement of the group is very different than any organization he’s been a part of in the past. Foundation members want to know what the money was used for and who it went to. They conduct site visits and try to establish a relationship with the board or directors of every organization they donate to, Golub said.
“This is personal, really personal, to a lot of members of the group,” Griffon said. “They really take the time to choose the right groups.”
Once the board decides on which organizations to support and how much to give they meet with the Arizona Community Foundation and the 10 other nonprofit supporters of the ACFF. At the end of August, the ACFF and its partners hold a group meeting where each partner states which nonprofits they would like to support and with how much money, Golub said.
A lot of horse trading goes on, he said.
“It’s really an amazing process,” Golub said. “There’s very little argument about who’s funding what and how. We actually have people who come from other grant organizations that come to view the process and try to replicate at home.”
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