Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas works hard to make successful, long-lasting matches between Bigs and Littles, but a similar mindset extends to the agency’s fundraising and grant application processes as well. This is a key focus for Lorie Barzano, BBBS’ grants manager, who works to find foundations and grant-making organizations that mesh well with BBBS’ culture, philosophy and mission.
“I research foundations to find out about their priorities,” said Lorie. “I’m looking to see if they are a good fit for BBBS. That is an imperative, that they are a good match for us. Looking for funding from organizations that don’t match what we do is counterproductive.”
Part of determining a good fit means spending a lot of time doing research. It is a process that can take hours or days. “I look for foundations that are similar to BBBS in mission, vision, policies and priorities,” said Lorie. “Some of the things I look for are if they are focused on education, serving youth – particularly at-risk youth, and serving minority communities. I also look at whether they have an emphasis on family engagement, on single-parent households, and on advancing the needs of women and single moms.”
Once she determines which foundations to contact, the grant submission process begins, which can involve anywhere from 2 to 5 steps. It is not a matter of simply applying for funding. “Foundations may require a letter of intent, a full proposal, a presentation before the foundation’s representatives, and even a site visit to BBBS before considering our submission,” said Lorie.
Once a grant is secured, Lorie then keeps the foundation informed about BBBS’ activities, such as the number of children served, match activities planned, and how the money provided is being utilized.
It’s a lot of information to handle for a single foundation, let alone the 50-60 that BBBS works with. “I’m generally keeping 2-3 balls in the air at the same time,” Lorie laughs, “because each foundation has its own requirements and deadlines for submissions, and for follow-up reports.”
For Lorie, just like for BBBS’ mentoring services, it all comes down to building a personal connection. “It’s all about developing relationships,” said Lorie. “It’s about that one-to-one connection, and about reaching out to the foundations to keep them informed about, and connected with, what we do.”
That personal, peopled-focused aspect of the job is what has kept Lorie in the non-profit field for most of her career. “I never really looked at other industries because the kind of work I do has always been more important to me than the size of the paycheck or climbing the corporate ladder,” said Lorie. “I need to do something I believe in.”
Lorie has followed that philosophy from her childhood home in Chicago, to working in San Francisco, central New Mexico, and ultimately BBBS in Austin. “I’ve always believed in BBBS’ mission, and in the power of one-to-one mentoring,” she said. “It gives me a lot of satisfaction to raise money for programs for at-risk kids.”
“It also gives me a lot of satisfaction understanding a foundation’s needs and meeting those, while also meeting the needs of kids who need help. I enjoy balancing those things and producing positive outcomes.”
When not working on grant proposals, Lorie enjoys spending time with her partner Moye and her daughter Erin, who attends The University of Texas at Austin. “I also enjoy reading and my favorite author is Virginia Wolfe,” she said. “I like reading the classics and poetry. I also spend time practicing yoga. It helps keep me centered.”
Staying centered is crucial to handling the stressful deadlines Lorie has to deal with, but she quickly adds that no one at BBBS has an easy position. “Everyone has a job description that fills a big need in the organization,” she explained. “And I recognize how important each of our different functions is for this organization to be successful. We are a lean and fine-tuned organization, and we are fortunate to have a very talented team.”