Community engagement grants: 2023 review

Everyone should have access to the opportunities they need to design the future they want. That core belief drives the Gates Foundation’s work around the world and in our home state of Washington, where we work at the local, regional, and state level.

In the Seattle region, our Community Engagement team is guided by the legacy of Bill Gates Sr., the first employee of the Gates Foundation. He worked tirelessly to address challenges and create opportunities for his neighbors to flourish. We continue to honor Bill Gates Sr. by supporting solutions that address the most pressing issues facing our local community.

“I think about Bill Sr. every day; he set the bar for how the Community Engagement team endeavors to ‘show up,’” shared Community Engagement Director Amy Carter. “He listened attentively, and used the privilege we hold as funders with care and responsibly. The challenges facing our community are hard but together, we can – and are – making things a bit better for the community. He said it so well: ‘There is one lesson I’ve learned over the years as a father, lawyer, activist, and citizen which stands above all the others….it is this: We are all in this life together and we need each other.’”

Through both proactive and responsive grants, our Community Engagement team partners with local organizations closest to the needs of their neighbors and neighborhoods. These grants focus on emerging community needs and issues like housing security and homelessness, racial equity, support for immigrants and refugees, and strengthening the nonprofit sector.

summary grant making

Here’s a summary of our team’s grantmaking in 2023.

  • Number of grants: 38
  • Percent of organizations that are first-time Gates Foundation grantees: 39%
  • Total grant funding: About $15 million

Stronger Communities Fund

Through our Stronger Communities Fund, our Community Engagement team provides flexible, multi-year funding to nonprofits in the Greater Seattle region. In 2023, these grants focused on three core areas.

1) Strengthening the nonprofit sector

This includes funding to support training and leadership development, capacity-building to help nonprofits effectively deliver their mission, and capital campaigns that help nonprofits expand their reach and serve more community members.

Why this is needed: While our region has a culture of giving, not all grants provide multi-year funding that isn’t tied to a specific, time-bound project. Flexible funding through general operating support grants allows nonprofits to choose how they strengthen their organization – and puts them on a path to more sustainable outcomes.

Snapshot: Potlatch Fund

Potlatch Fund is a Native-led nonprofit organization that provides grants and leadership development to Tribal Nations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. We made our first grant to the Potlatch Fund in 2004, and our longstanding support of their work continues. Our Community Engagement team renewed this relationship with a $1 million grant this November.

Examples of 2023 Community Engagement grantees in this category

  • BIPOC ED Coalition (fiscal sponsor Byrd Barr Place)
  • Potlatch Fund
  • Renton Regional Community Foundation
  • Seattle Works
  • University of Washington Foundation

2) Addressing basic needs and services

We support organizations that provide wrap-around services to support communities experiencing food insecurity, housing, and homelessness, including funding food banks and refugee and immigrant service providers. Due to rising housing costs and inflation, most of our grants fell into this category in 2023.

Why this is needed: A recent University of Washington study found that “28% of working-age households struggle to meet their basic needs, a significant rise from 22% in 2019, showing the profound economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Additionally, “45% of Latinx, 44% of American Indian households, 45% of Black, and 36% of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander households struggle to make ends meet.”

Snapshot: Family First Community Center

In May, the Community Engagement team provided a grant to the Family First Community Center, founded by former Seattle Seahawks player Doug Baldwin Jr., who is also CEO of Vault89. The center offers a wide range of programs and resources to foster personal growth, promote wellness, and cultivate meaningful connections.

We caught up with Doug and First Family Community Center CEO Jackie Montgomery to learn more about their goals and the community they serve.

What are your top priorities right now as an organization?

Doug: Our top priority is to build trust with the Benson Hill and Cascade communities and make sure we are serving their needs. With a new facility, there is a lot of learning taking place, and we are committed to getting it right for our community.

What do you wish people knew about the community you serve?

Jackie: The Benson Hill and Cascade communities are brimming with diversity and vitality. This area of Renton holds nearly 25% of the City’s population. Situated right in the heart of these communities and within a 3-mile radius of ten schools, the Family First Community Center prides itself on being the first all-ages community center in Washington State with traditional services alongside a health clinic that offers medical, dental and behavioral health services all under one roof! Our hope is to offer a holistic approach to a person’s well-being by providing a variety of programs, activities and services with a focus on recreation, education, wellness and togetherness to ensure our neighbors have the tools they need to thrive!

Snapshot: Emergency Food Network

Emergency Food Network – an organization that provides Pierce County with a consistent, diverse and nutritious food supply so that no person goes hungry – received a grant from our Community Engagement team in 2023.

We caught up with CEO Michelle Douglas to learn more about their work and priorities.

What are your top priorities right now as an organization? 

Emergency Food Network is focused in three main areas: increasing access to healthy and nutritious food, improving staff longevity and work experiences, and upgrading, expanding, and improving our facilities. All these efforts are designed to bring more services directly to our customers with a focus on dignity, equity, and access.

What do you wish people knew about the community you serve? 

Emergency Food Network serves 75+ food pantries and hot meal site partners who have over 2,000,000 visits from customers annually. Our network and national data show that the rates of food insecurity have risen to 1 in 9 individuals, and in Pierce County we are seeing monthly increases for 2023 that are over 30% higher than 2022. Every day we hear from people that have never needed to access emergency food, they cite rising rents, increased food prices, and underpaying jobs as key reasons for seeking assistance. Many people using the food bank are children and seniors with people of color disproportionally impacted. Food Insecurity effects so many individuals in our community, this impact not only influences people’s ability to thrive but also to survive.

Examples of 2023 Community Engagement grantees in this category

  • African Community Housing & Development
  • Asia Pacific Cultural Center
  • Community Foundation of Snohomish County
  • Community Roots Housing Foundation
  • Emergency Food Network
  • Family First Community Center Foundation
  • FareStart
  • Food Lifeline
  • Multicultural Child and Family Hope Center
  • Northwest Harvest
  • Nourish Pierce County
  • Somali Health Board
  • Tacoma Community House
  • United Way of Pierce County
  • Vashon Maury Community Food Bank
  • Washington Low Income Housing Alliance
  • Wellspring Family Services
  • White Center Food Bank

3) Increasing local civic engagement

This work supports projects and organizations that encourage leadership development, civic participation, and community-centered solutions to work toward a more equitable society for all.

Examples of 2023 Community Engagement grantees in this category

  • Puyallup Valley Japanese American Citizens League
  • Seattle City Club
  • Seattle Works

Why this is needed: When local community members lack access to engage with government and other decision-makers on issues that affect their lives, policies and programs will fail to address their needs. If we support and empower communities that have been traditionally silenced in this process, we can ensure more voices are heard – whether it’s in their children’s school or with their city council.

Ultimately, change comes from people – and we believe in investing in human resources in our region to identify and make improvements in our community. We all remember well the Margaret Mead quote, which is absolutely true: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world.In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Community-Driven Grants

Through the Community Driven Grants program, our Community Engagement team works with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community leaders with deep local ecosystem expertise to nominate community-based organizations for general operating support grants.

Several organizations received grants through this program in 2023, including:

  • Alimentando al Pueblo: Promotes healing through comunidad, comida, and celebración.
  • Hummingbird Indigenous Family Services: Ensures healthy Indigenous babies are being born into healthy Indigenous families that are being supported by healthy Indigenous communities.
  • Millennia Ministries: Ends homelessness by providing housing instability advocacy, crisis, transition, and permanent supportive housing.
  • Modest Family Solutions: Nurtures spiritual grounding essential to emotional stability prior to navigating academia necessary to empower entrusted global citizens as economic, environmental, and social substantial stewards.
  • Next Chapter: Empowers lives and unlock potential in the technology sector.
  • Oasis Home, Oasis Courtyard, and Oasis at Allenmore: Provides housing for women who need a safe, clean, and comfortable home to renew their minds, bodies, and souls.
  • Refugee Artisan Initiative: Partners with refugee and immigrant women to foster an inclusive, prosperous transition to the U.S. through artisan skills training and micro business development.

We also set aside funding to support specific one-time projects as they emerge. These grants often leverage additional philanthropic partners. In 2023, our team was able to fund four organizations through this special project funding:

  • BLACKPAST.ORG: A website update co-funded with the Black Future Co-Op Fund.
  • Porchlight (Formerly Congregations for the Homeless): A capital campaign to support the only men’s shelter in East King County, which is co-funded with Microsoft.
  • Philanthropy Northwest: To help update their website to better serve their members and build more cross-sector collaboration.
  • Wing Luke Memorial Foundation: Funding to support repairs following a racially motivated attack in September.

Closing out 2023

Our Community Engagement team remains grateful for the opportunity to support local leaders who are strengthening communities in our region. As we look toward 2024, we’re committed to our ongoing focus on where our grantmaking can make the biggest impact and unlock opportunities for families and communities.

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