Twenty-eight years ago, Patrick (Pat) DeMoon, co-founder of the Kara Foundation in Las Vegas, thought philanthropy was little more than writing a check and waiting for a warm and fuzzy thank you letter. “Back then, my wife Judi and I thought everyone and their brother was deserving of a grant.”
“We didn’t know how to say no. We had no idea what we were all about, or how to give intelligently.”
In time, the foundation sharpened its mission and focus, and kept a simple and streamlined approach to its funding.
Today, the Kara Foundation—named after the Greek word for caring—funds 60–65 grants per year to health, education, and social welfare organizations, coast to coast. “We give to small organizations where the funds can be used immediately to benefit the individuals served by those organizations. We don’t want our grants to get lost in a larger institution, where what we give amounts to no more than a day’s worth of postage stamps. We want to see results.”
The foundation takes a proactive approach to its grantmaking—identifying partners rather than accepting unsolicited proposals. They stay open and curious to what’s out there, allowing their own learning—and, at times, serendipity—to guide them. “Judi and I actively research organizations we learn about. We might read something in the paper, or hear about an interesting organization by talking with other funders through Exponent Philanthropy.”
For example, once the DeMoons saw a television segment about a mobile medical service that sends doctors and nurses into rural Appalachia. It attracted their interest, and, after thoroughly vetting the organization, the foundation awarded it a grant.
“Our motto is this: To fund an organization, we’ve got to first fully understand it and care about it. Once we do, we’re happy to help in any way we can,” says DeMoon.
The best way to get to know an organization, says DeMoon, is through site visits.
“Our motto is this: To fund an organization, we’ve got to first fully understand it and care about it. Once we do, we’re happy to help in any way we can.”
“Judi and believe strongly in site visits before we give a grant. Site visits give us the opportunity to learn firsthand, beyond what a grantwriter wrote, the workings of any group we support. We meet the people responsible for operating the organization, and, in many cases, the people they serve. It’s a way for staff to share their stories with us.”
To keep its application process simple, the foundation omits the requirement for a grantee application or formal proposal. “We ask organizations to tell us, in three pages or less, what they need and how we can help. We tell them: If it’s more than three pages, you are taking up too much of your own time.”
Once a grant is underway, the foundation remains flexible and responsive to grantee partners’ needs. “We make it clear to them upfront that, if they run into a problem, they can reach out to us. They don’t have to wait until their next grant cycle.” For example, the Foundation once gave an emergency grant to quickly repair a roof that had collapsed on a grantee organization that housed the elderly. “With this grant, the organization was able to fix the roof before winter, without having to move its residents.”
At the end of the day, impact for Pat and Judi DeMoon is knowing that they have personally made a difference in people’s lives.
One of its decade-long grantees, and one they are most proud of, is the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation. “We give to assist children and their families who are affected by a devastating or life-threatening disease. If our grants can provide any comfort to those kids and their parents in their time of crisis, we know we’ve done our job. That’s why we do what we do.”