Advantis GROW Community Fund: Making a Big Impact for Small Nonprofits

“We wanted to have a fund that was dedicated to serving and improving our community and to go about it in a way that, for an organization our size, we could have a significant long-term impact.”
—Wendy Edwards, SVP/Chief Administrative Officer, Advantis Credit Union

Katie O’Brien thought the number of homeless women and children arriving at Rose Haven, a Portland day shelter, would decline as the economy improved. That hasn’t happened. Instead, Rose Haven is on pace serving more than 3,000 individuals in 2014.

“We’ve grown at 25% a year for the past five years,” says O’Brien, Community Outreach and Development Officer. “It to us proves that we’re relevant. People out in these types of situations refer people to agencies that they think are helpful.”

Women and their children often arrive at Rose Haven wet, hungry, and tired. Many have also suffered from abuse.

The first step is always to take care of their immediate physical needs. The nonprofit provides nutritious meals, clothing, and other critical supports. 

As important, Rose Haven seeks to help its clients find more stability in their lives—whether it’s a place to live, a job, or a circle of friends they can count on.

Rose Haven is located in a church basement and with as many as 75 women and children inside on any given day, the quarters can be cramped. O’Brien recognized that the old paint on the walls and the sagging couches didn’t exactly offer the welcoming and uplifting environment she knows is so important.

This is where a $10,000 gift from Advantis Credit Union made all the difference.

Since 2011, the Advantis GROW Community Fund has contributed $200,000 to local small- and medium-sized nonprofits and funded 27 projects, including creating community gardens for elementary students, refurbishing a home for foster children, and providing kitchen equipment to an organization that feeds low-income adults with mental illnesses.

The credit union disperses $50,000 a year through the GROW fund, including $10,000 to Rose Haven in 2014.

In addition to focusing on smaller and midsize organizations, Advantis made an intentional decision to ask the community to decide who would get those dollars by inviting nominations and publicizing the names of the semi-finalists. The credit union made it possible for the wider public to vote through its website, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

“By inviting the vote it helps us understand the priorities of the broader community so we can make investments that deliver the most benefits,” Edwards adds.

O’Brien admits that she was skeptical when she heard a potential grant would be decided by social media. Today she’s a convert.

“It has been a real eye-opener for me personally because the whole process of having people vote became such an investment for everybody in the community,” she says. “Everybody felt a part of the success when we received this grant.”

Those dollars were quickly spent on fresh paint, new couches, and flower boxes for the basement window wells.

“It’s transformed our space into a place that is really lovely to be in,” O’Brien says. “It really helps lift spirits. It matters. And that’s what starts change.”

The credit unions of Oregon and Washington not only improve their members’ lives, they are foundational to the entire Northwest economy. Learn more here.

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