Inside CAP COM's Focus On Infrastructure

The New York credit union is directing its grant money toward infrastructure needs from potties to podcasts.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • CAP COM provides infrastructure grants that fund needs that don’t normally appeal to gifting.
  • The credit union’s foundation is in its second year of granting $100,000 to a diverse array of service providers.

Infrastructure is an essential need that doesn’t easily attract funding, especially in the non-profit world. Its costs underly the ability to provide services but don’t directly benefit recipients.

To plug that funding gap, the CAP COM Cares Foundation of CAP COM Federal Credit Union ($2.8B, Albany, NY) has rolled out an infrastructure initiative that provides cash to upgrade facilities.

The foundation originally planned to present 10 gifts of $5,000 each but increased it to 20 gifts of $5,000 in response to demand. Now in its second year, the infrastructure initiative will award 10 organizations grants of $10,000 to maximize the impact of each grant as community partners seek to upgrade their facilities inside and out.

“The infrastructure initiative allows us to support new projects and add diversity to the range of partnerships where we can collaborate on improving the lives of families in the Capital Region,” says Becky Daniels, CAP COM’s director of community engagement.

Here, community relations team members, in another collaborative effort, offer background and insight they’ve gleaned from the infrastructure initiative.

 

How did you arrive at the idea of infrastructure grants?

CAP COM Community Relations Team: One of ourfoundation partners reached out to us a few years ago looking for funding for a septic system on their property that would allow them to build accessible bathrooms for the individuals they serve. While it wasn’t the prettiest of projects we’ve funded, it made a huge difference for that non-profit.

Not long after that project, we received a request to fund a new software program that was being mandated by the state but came at a significant cost. We were able to cover the cost of this program to allow the non-profit to continue to improve their services without having to cut other crucial needs or staff.

We then began asking our non-profit partners about what they really needed, and a pattern of these types of requests, projects, and equipment emerged. Thus, the infrastructure initiative was created.

How do these grants differ from your traditional giving?

CAP COM:  Our infrastructure grants are designed to help local non-profit organizations fund projects that aren’t program-specific but help them to ultimately meet their mission. Each grant will help to support and sustain the vital services the non-profit provides.

Some non-traditional uses include equipment needs, building construction, and structural improvements. The CAP COM Cares Foundation supports a variety of non-profits and currently prioritizes programs that focus on hunger and food insecurity, mental and behavioral health, and workforce readiness.

Why are these needs hard to fund?

CAP COM: Oftentimes, individuals and organizations who donate to a non-profit want to see their money go directly to the individuals or communities that are served by that organization — and those gifts are, indeed, incredibly important. However, to function effectively, non-profits need access to safe spaces, and up-to-date equipment and technology. Oftentimes, small investments in these areas can result in huge efficiencies in how an organization can function.

What challenges and opportunities do these infrastructure grants help recipients address?

CAP COM: Many non-profits in our region and beyond struggle with how to do great work without the tools and infrastructure to do so. This program helps to address this challenge, andwe hope we can inspire other foundations and funding organizations to do the same. Let’s all help to make sure these organizations are in safe, well-maintained offices and have the equipment, tools, and training they need to provide critical services to our communities.

Talk a bit about the 2021 winners.

CAP COM: We made a $100,000 investment in our community — 20 organizations received $5,000 each. They represent a range of endeavors, from urban farming to youth shelters, food banks to mental health providers. They used the funding for items such as technology, HVAC, and security upgrades and a variety of physical improvements such as a new roof, ramps, and grounds improvement. Check out our infrastructure initiative winnerspage for videos about each of them.

Can you share a good example of the kinds of projects you funded?

CAP COM:A great example of a non-traditional project is funding podcast equipment for Wellspring, a domestic violence and sexual assault resource center. Using this communication platform allows Wellspring to share vital information about resources, services, how to recognize signs of abuse, and more in an effective, efficient, and private way. We loved the creative thinking and problem-solving that this grant application employed.

The funding recipients from the CAP COM Cares Foundation’s infrastructure grant initiative gather with CAP COM leaders in June 2021 in the credit union’s headquarters lobby.

What did you learn from the first year of the program that will help the program be more effective?

CAP COM:We learned $5,000 goes quick! That’s why in 2022 we’re growing the donation amount but choosing fewer organizations. We’re hopeful the $10,000 can make a greater impact for our recipients.

What diversity does this program add to your grants program?

CAP COM: Diversifying the range of non-profits that we work with was part of the goal of this program. Word-of-mouth helped us reach non-profits we hadn’t worked with previously. We added new partners to our giving portfolio that range from smaller, grassroots organizations to long-standing education institutions and mental and behavioral healthcare facilities.

Some of the new organizations we worked with include an inner-city charter school for girls, the Albany NAACP, a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, the Veterans Community Housing Coalition, a support organization for sexual assault, and The Charlton School, which specializes in serving high school students struggling with trauma and mental health.

How many organizations applied the first year? How many do you expect this year? What’s the timeline?

CAP COM: We had 64 applications last year. We have more than 30 applications so far, but we anticipate that number to grow significantly as we rev up a final week of social media plugs and outreach. The deadline is Feb. 18. We’ll notify all the organizations by March 18, and in April we’ll hold a press and social event at CAP COM headquarters to celebrate the winners.

Who reviews the applications and decides on recipients?

CAP COM: The five staff members of the community relations team serve on the selection committee along with employee volunteers from our diversity and inclusion group (an internal working committee) and members of the CAP COM Cares Foundation’s board of directors.

What structure do you have in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the grants? What kind of follow-up do you do?

CAP COM: Our community relations team maintains close contact with all partners. We do check-ins through email, video conference, or, when possible and safe, in-person tours to talk with partners about the projects. We like to stay in close touch with our partners to assess current projects as well as their challenges and opportunities throughout the year.

Do you have plans to continue this program?

CAP COM: The entire CAP COM team has embraced this program and takes great pride in the support we give to the recipients. As we explore an intent to merge with the team at SEFCU, this is a project we hope to continue and expand in the new, larger organization.

What was your biggest challenge in this endeavor? How did you overcome it?

CAP COM: Picking just 20 organizations. We loved them all. We’re certain it will be just as hard in 2022 to make selections. One of the things we do to work through the challenge of selection is to provide a scoring rubric to each member of the committee. This ensures each application is scored on the same criteria and serves as a great basis for our discussions during the selection process.

Beyond the money, how does this program fit into the other grant programs and community service efforts of the CAP COM Care Foundation?

CAP COM: After we awarded the 20 organizations with grants in 2021, we developed relationships with many of these non-profits. This has increased the organizations that we give back to and where we send our employees to volunteer. An example is the Veterans Community Housing Coalition. This program has strengthened our relationship with VCHC, and we now send volunteers there regularly.

How do you get the word out to eligible organizations?

CAP COM:Press releases and news coverage, the CAP COM website, email and letters to members, social media, word-of-mouth, and marketing in branches. Our non-profit partners are also collaborative — they often share the opportunity among one another. We also distribute information through other local foundations and funding organizations.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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