Making a Difference In Our Community

By Amy Hobby Rickard
Community volunteer and
Chief of Staff and Operations for America’s Warrior Partnership

Augusta has been my home for 20 years. Approximately 6 months after I arrived here, I began working for Augusta Urban Ministries, and my first exposure to the Community Foundation of the CSRA came through making an application for grant funding to support AUM’s programs. When I participated in Leadership Augusta a few years later, I met a community volunteer who invited me to serve on a CFCSRA Unrestricted Community Grants Panel. For sixteen consecutive years following, I had the privilege of serving on, and later chairing panels for this unique granting program.

I did not know for many years that very few, if any, other places have such a robust method for inviting community volunteer involvement in the grant-making process. It seems like such a good idea, I thought everyone did it like we do!

As a panel chair, I recruit a team of approximately five volunteers who read all of our assigned applications (usually about 5) and participate in a site visit with each applicant organization. We ask questions, make notes, and one panel member prepares a report for each applicant. We discuss the applications during a rate and rank meeting and ultimately select the applications we recommend for funding. This requires approximately 20 hours of work over the period of a month and culminates in a comprehensive final report from our panel. In recent years I have deliberately tried to include new, younger volunteers on my panel to include their perspectives and voices in our conversation, and to ensure that another generation of Augustans gets to know our nonprofit community.

This process has allowed me to learn so many things about our community and the nonprofit organizations working to enhance life here, from brand new efforts to programs that are decades old. I have met volunteers and staff who go above and beyond to serve our neighbors, be it with food and housing, educational programs, artistic presentations, health interventions, or environmental preservation. I learned how to read a Form 990 (a nonprofit federal tax return) to learn about the financial and management practices of an organization. I have sharpened my critical thinking skills by engaging in lively debate about what applications are the most worthy of funding. My panel has discussed if we should fund the project that impacts the most people, or the project that makes the most significant difference in people’s lives, or the project that is filling an unmet gap. All are good answers, and it is incredibly unique that our community foundation allows the volunteers to make that decision. I keep coming back to panel work because I enjoy making a positive difference for our community.

None of the panel program would be possible without the significant, long-term generosity of The Masters Tournament and the members of the Augusta National Golf Club to support the unrestricted grants fund.

For me, it has always been critically important to give constructive feedback to every application my panels read. Since my first exposure to the process was as an applicant, I understand exactly what the applicants have done to get there and what it would mean for them to be funded. I also understand what it means and feels like to not be funded, and what can help make for a stronger application next time.

Participating in the unrestricted grants panel program allows me to be educated about our community, volunteer my time to a worthy cause, and feel as though I have a small role in supporting great work others do in our area.

The team at the Community Foundation for the CSRA will provide training for both volunteers sitting on a panel and non-profits applying for grants. If you would like more information on how to participate in the grants process, please visit Grant Opportunities.