The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation is a well-known charitable foundation founded by Michael Benedum from Bridgeport, W.Va. The foundation focuses mainly on community and economic development, education, health and human services in the West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania areas. Annually, they typically give out $15 million in grant money for these types of projects to nonprofits (501(c)(3)). What people don’t know about the foundation, however, is the strategy behind what they do.
It’s all about planning. When a project is well planned, has a Return on Investment (ROI), is measurable (sound familiar public relations students?) then communities can really thrive. The objectives for these plans are new or expanded businesses, job retention and creation, and new markets and products, and if they aren’t properly executed, it’s not even worth that initial investment.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Mary M. Hunt, Senior Program Officer of the Benedum Foundation. We specifically talked about economic development within urban planning. Hunt described the process as complex, to say the least. It involves evaluating strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis, again for you PR folk). It also involves partnerships, conflicts, priorities, collaboration, leadership, among many other things. It’s one thing to have a charity. It’s another thing to have a successful, well planned one.
Hunt gave one particularly great example of a grant they funded that gave back: “From Farm to Table: Growing the Local Food Economy.” After (a whole lot of) research, the foundation found that 25 percent of food in cafeterias is wasted and that a large part of the budget was going toward food from out of state.
According to Hunt, one “local dollar spent is recycled three times more in the community” compared to purchasing outside of the state.
The Foundation partnered with the USDA, the WVDA and many local farmers and communities to create a local food day in one county. The local schools bought all West Virginia-grown fruits, vegetables, meats, etc., and it was a huge success. This year they will be doing it again to gain more media attention. This time they will be doing five local food days in five counties.
One initial sum (donated) goes into this project. The project produces new markets and products, allows job growth, stimulates the economy, etc. ROI is measured.
This is just one example of the Benedum Foundation helping nonprofits and other groups. They’ve also worked on projects to fix up brownfields and to promote West Virginia’s thriving technology economy (that you probably didn’t even know about) within the past year.
Do you have an organization that you think does good but needs some funding? Do you have a plan that will create new jobs, businesses or markets? Will it spur economic development and be a good investment? Apply today!
To quote Hunt, It’s all about “doing good, and doing it well.“