Foundations for Philanthropy: Maria Paparella discusses lessons learned

Photo of the 2022 FFP cohort

Presented by the Cleveland Foundation’s Center for Philanthropy, Foundations for Philanthropy is an interactive cohort experience designed to launch emerging leaders into lifelong charitable giving. Supporting a pipeline of diverse, rising philanthropists, the program shares the critical skills and strategies necessary to leverage time, talent and treasure into meaningful impact for Greater Cleveland, the nation and the world. In this blog, 2022 Foundations for Philanthropy cohort member Maria Paparella reflects on her experience in the program and her approach to philanthropy.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you first learned about the Cleveland Foundation?

I first learned about the Cleveland Foundation when I was in high school. Cleveland Foundation Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Lillian Kuri and I were featured in our high school magazine in the same issue, her as an alum and me as a student. I reached out to her at that point looking for mentorship and guidance as I was just beginning to launch my nonprofit, Chair-ity. Initially, I did not know much about the Cleveland Foundation or really what a community foundation was. Little did I know I would be a part of a cohort that taught me all of that.

Why did you initially decide to participate in Foundations for Philanthropy (FFP)?

I was initially interested in the FFP program because of the cohort. The opportunity to connect and work with leaders in the community that are passionate about giving back and seeing change was an opportunity that I could not pass up.

Is there something new or surprising that you learned through your participation in FFP?

Before being involved in FFP, I knew that the Cleveland Foundation was one of the largest community foundations in the world, but I did not know it was the oldest, nor all of the history that came along with it. Learning about the origins of the foundation and the work it had done in the past illuminated how integral the foundation has been in keeping vital parts of the city alive, like Playhouse Square. Learning about the foundation in this capacity makes me hopeful as they move to MidTown and hopefully can have a similar impact on that area!

What did your FFP cohort decide to focus on and why? Can you talk a bit about the journey you shared as a cohort?

My cohort focused on mental health. Our journey to choosing the nonprofit that we would fund was eye-opening from a funding perspective. Before we dove into coming up with a mission statement that would drive our decision-making process, we learned how to evaluate an organization from a funding perspective and what red versus green flags would be in these situations. We also learned about community foundations and specifically, the Cleveland Foundation’s deep history of working with and in the community to create change.

Can you discuss how your cohort arrived at its grantmaking decisions?

There were so many great and impactful nonprofits that we could choose from, but when we really applied what our mission statement was, it helped refine the number of eligible organizations. One of these qualifications was population, and we chose to focus on children. With a cohort of about 20 people, you can imagine there were many different opinions in the room when making the final decision. Some found themselves more compelled by one organization and others thought their values and our mission aligned better with a different organization. There were also members of the cohort that became so passionate about an organization after the site visit that during deliberation they became major advocates, truly trying to make the case and hold up a convincing argument as to why the organization they were drawn to should be awarded the funding. Ultimately, we chose to grant to two organizations and did so by thoughtfully dispersing the dollars in amounts that would impact the two in a similar way, which meant giving a larger sum to an organization that served more children.

What do you feel was the most valuable part of your FFP experience?

For me, FFP was both a personal and professional experience. Personally, FFP made me more mindful about my giving and gave me the tools to evaluate which one of my four T’s (time, talent, treasure or ties) would be most impactful for what organizations. Professionally, I was able to gather insight from a funder perspective to hopefully assist me in writing more powerful and impactful grants. While those lessons were separate, the connections made and relationships built during this cohort will be long-lasting and overlap in both my personal and professional life.

Would you recommend FFP to someone else and, if so, why?

I definitely would! As someone who writes grants on a daily basis, this program offered a lot of insight into how funders make their decision. It especially shed light on how difficult their job is; there are so many impactful organizations that do great work in our backyard, and I am so glad I was able to learn more about them and be exposed to some that I have not heard of before!

Foundations for Philanthropy is recruiting for its 2023 cohort! Applications will be accepted Aug. 1- Sept. 2, 2022. If you have big dreams for Greater Cleveland and want to learn more about how you can make an impact in your community, you can learn more about FFP and apply here!