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Getting to Know the Catalogue Review Team: Part II

Welcome to week two of our “Getting to Know the Catalogue Review Team” series, where we invite you to get to know the members of our community who help us determine which small charities are the very best in Greater Washington. Part one can be found here.

This week we’re featuring Sandra Hoehne, ‎a 2-time reviewer and Catalogue supporter, and Maegan Scott, Program and Communications Officer at Meyer Foundation. This year marks Maegan’s 3rd as a Catalogue reviewer.

How did you hear about the Catalogue? And, how did you become a reviewer?

Sandra Hoehne, Catalogue supporter: I cannot remember how I found out about the Catalogue. Around ’09 or ’10 I was planning our yearly giving. Like many people, I give at the end of the year so that I know exactly how much we can afford to give. I found the Catalogue’s Donate Now / Decide Later option and was hooked. Also, my husband and I live and work in Arlington and so many of my favorite local non-profits have been featured in the Catalogue.

As to reviewing – after meeting Barbara and Nancy and being infected by their enthusiasm and energy, I knew that I wanted to do whatever I could to help them. Donating money was one way, but getting my hands dirty with the reviewing process was the next step.

Maegan Scott, The Meyer Foundation: The Meyer Foundation has been a long-time supporter and partner of the Catalogue, and was one of the funders that helped to bring the publication to DC in 2003. Meyer staff has served as reviewers each year since the Catalogue launched in the Washington region. I was honored to become part of that tradition three years ago.

What do you enjoy most about reviewing nonprofits for the Catalogue?

Sandra: I enjoy seeing that though the need in the DC area is so great in all areas that the Catalogue covers, the drive to help is just as strong and lack of resources does not discourage dedicated people.

Maegan: There are actually two things. I love being introduced to organizations that haven’t or may never apply to Meyer for funding. I feel like it gives me a much more comprehensive understanding of the great work taking place across the region. I use that information in a lot of different ways, for example connecting friends to organizations they may fall in love with or even to pursue volunteer opportunities myself. I also just love the Catalogue’s mission and the emphasis it places on storytelling. I know that the organizations that are selected to be Catalogue nonprofits are going to get excellent visibility and coaching and become part of a network that will help increase their overall effectiveness.

What is one piece of advice you would give to future Catalogue applicants?

Sandra: Be succinct. And, maybe don’t include the resume of each Board Member in your application.

Maegan: Remember that this application will be read by a real live human being. I think so many groups are used to producing proposals and reports that are highly structured (especially groups with government grants and contracts) that they hesitate to tell their organization’s story beyond numbers and metrics. Of course, numbers and metrics are important, but don’t lose the passion and enthusiasm that brought you to the work in the first place. I want to read about it!

What is one piece of advice you would give to new/future Catalogue reviewers?

Sandra: Clear your schedule for a day to do this. It is more taxing emotionally than you would think and you will need a little recovery time.

Maegan: Give yourself plenty of time and look at everything, including websites. Spend just as much time with the organizations you’re familiar with as you do with the groups that are new to you. Be honest in the comments; constructive feedback is sometimes more useful than glowing praise.

Given your experience as a reviewer, when you see a nonprofit with the Catalogue’s “seal of approval” what does that mean to you?

Maegan: I love seeing the Catalogue seal! I think it’s such a powerful branding tool. When I see the seal, I know that this is a well-managed organization doing meaningful and impactful work and that it survived a thorough financial review by RAFFA. And because not all Catalogue nonprofits use the seal, I also know that this organization cares about leveraging and maximizing its inclusion in the Catalogue.

How has being a reviewer had an impact on your views of philanthropy in Greater Washington?

Sandra: It has really educated me on how much work nonprofits do, in addition to their primary purpose, to handle the very rigorous scrutiny to which something like the Catalogue subjects them. Having good intentions, identifying a need, and addressing it seem to me only a part of the equation. I have new respect for nonprofits that make it through these vetting procedures and are able to sell themselves and prove their worthiness. They not only have to accomplish their stated goal, but the organization itself and the administration have to be exemplary.

What do you feel your unique background brings to the Catalogue review process?

Sandra: I have been involved in small businesses my entire career. I find myself reading every application as if it were a business plan and the investment being sought is placement in the Catalogue. I wonder what kind of returns can be expected and how quickly. Since space in the Catalogue is limited, I only want the organizations that seem most poised to leverage that “investment” to have access to it.

Maegan: Even before working at the Meyer Foundation, a lot of the work I did focused on systems-building — who and what need to be in place to get the job done. Since joining the Foundation, I have seen and learned SO much about what works and what doesn’t work in how nonprofits are built (especially in terms of finance, boards, and executive leadership) and my belief that solid infrastructure matters if we’re going to see the social change that we’re all working to create has deepened exponentially. So a lot of what I bring to the review process is that — I’m assessing the organization’s capacity (including its potential) to advance its mission, I’m asking how well are the internal gears working.

When reading applications, have there been any “industry trends” (i.e. program design, donor engagement, ways of measuring impact, etc.) you have noticed since becoming a reviewer? Or, what trends in the nonprofit sector have caught your attention in the past year?

Maegan: I’m partially biased because of my role at the Meyer Foundation, but increasingly I’ve noticed organizations using social media as a way to strategically engage all of their stakeholders and not just the rote “thank you” tweet or Facebook post to a foundation or donor as a way of acknowledging a gift. We’re seeing more active engagement with clients and volunteers, and assertive program messaging and advocacy.

I’ve also seen more comprehensive and creative ways of talking about sustainability. Beyond secure and diverse funding streams, nonprofits applying both to Meyer and the Catalogue are writing about infrastructure and investing in talent and talent pipelines.

Stay tuned next week when we hear from Hedrick Belin, Catalogue reviewer and President of Potomac Conservancy!

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