My View: Reflecting on the impact of an Arizona nonprofit grant-making milestone

April 8, 2021

My View: Reflecting on the impact of an Arizona nonprofit grant-making milestone

By Mary Jane Rynd – Contributing writer
Originally published April 8, 2021, Phoenix Business Journal

Arizona’s nonprofits are vital to our state’s socioeconomic infrastructure. They know the needs of our communities and are dedicated to fulfilling their missions. They also are employers, conveners and service providers.

At Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, a private foundation honoring the legacy of Virginia Galvin Piper, we know the work nonprofits do is demanding in normal times, let alone during the extraordinary challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. If the past year has shown us anything, it is that a robust, interconnected network of nonprofits is key to building community resilience.

Our nonprofits have the vision, creativity, and know-how to support our community in ways that could easily be taken for granted — because they do it so well. They fill gaps in our health care systems. They serve meals to hungry people in creative, dignified, physically-distanced ways. And they enrich our lives with art and culture by bringing it to us, in our homes or through new outdoor venues, so we can stay safe.

Strengthening the region’s nonprofit sector is a core investment strategy of Piper Trust. Recently, the trust surpassed a grantmaking milestone of investing more than $500 million in nonprofits and programs that enhance the lives of people in Maricopa County.

This $500 million has produced substantial impact by our nonprofits. As the trust considers how to best support this impact again over the next 21 years, we are exploring the magnitude of this collective investment.

While it is deep work to quantify, Piper Trust’s aggregate investment in our region has real economic and social impacts. Dr. Anthony Evans, a senior researcher at the L. William Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University, estimates the economic impact of $500 million-plus philanthropic dollars on Maricopa County over 20-plus years at more than 4,015 job-years of employment; more than $213.1 million in labor income; plus more than $495.3 million in total contribution to the state’s gross domestic product.

Evans relayed that these impacts are a significant — but conservative — estimate of Piper Trust’s contribution to Maricopa County. He said, “The numbers don’t factor in social impact — things like the number of people who have benefited from health, human services, or educational programs funded by the trust; or the number of arts and culture initiatives that have improved the quality of life within the local community. If we could accurately measure all of those things, the absolute impact of the trust’s support for nonprofits and programs over the last 20 years could be at least double or triple the GDP impact.”

Communities in need

Chris Camacho, the president and CEO of Greater Phoenix Economic Council, agreed. “Nonprofits serve as a critical frontline multiplier alongside the public sector in meeting the needs of our community that can’t be accomplished by any one domain alone. Piper Trust’s dedication to grantmaking in Greater Phoenix allows that multiplier effect to take hold by providing a hand up to our region’s most vulnerable, which impacts present and future trajectories,” he said.

While Piper Trust is a place-based foundation grounded in strategy, it responds when communities are in need. Typically the trust awards approximately $22 million annually to Maricopa County nonprofits. The past year not being anywhere near typical, the trust dipped into its endowment and awarded more than $37 million, much of it in response to Covid-19. We also told grantees the funds were unrestricted — meaning they had the discretion to use the grant funds how they saw best to meet their missions.

They did that, and then some. Driven, dedicated, creative, and passionate, they are getting things done despite the losses, reductions, and increased demand for services. They are collaborating, drawing on, and inspiring each other — looking at how to make our community even stronger and more vibrant.

As the trust reflects on the investment at this poignant time, we are so proud to partner with our nonprofit community. Virginia Piper was the epitome of a servant leader — and our nonprofits exemplify this beautiful trait every day.

Mary Jane Rynd is president and CEO, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.