Jean Hakuzimana, deputy editor of Amjambo Africa, sat down with Gloria Ines Aponte C., Senior Community Partner of the Maine Community Foundation (MaineCF), to discuss the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Fund (BIPOC). The fund supports organizations that serve people of Native American, Latino, African, Arab, and/or Asian descent. The goal of the grant program is to help people of color in Maine achieve greater equity. In 2023, the BIPOC Fund distributed grants to 35 organizations in Maine. Applications are open for the 2024 grant cycle, and the deadline for applications is February 15, 2024. The maximum grant amount awarded will be $10,000; organizations are encouraged to apply for the full $10,000. All grants will be general support and will be for two years.
JH: It’s a pleasure to meet with you today. Please introduce yourself, and then let’s talk about the BIPOC Fund.
GA: My name is Gloria Ines Aponte, and I am an immigrant from Colombia. I have lived in Maine for 23 years now – it seems like a long time, and at the same time it seems like I arrived just yesterday! Coordinating the BIPOC Fund at the Maine Community Foundation really does bring me joy. It’s nice to be a community partner and support community.
JH: Tell me about the fund. How long has the BIPOC Fund existed?
GA: The BIPOC Fund started in 2007 with a gift from the River Rock Foundation. Its first name was The People of Color Fund. Then in 2020, when George Floyd was murdered and people started paying much more attention to racial equity, the fund was renamed Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Fund. We at MaineCF had already been working on racial equity, so in 2020 when people began searching the internet for ways to help address systemic racism, donations increased. This year we even got a donation from an anonymous donor for $500,000!
JH: Wow. That’s a big donation. You say MaineCF does community-based grant making. Can you explain what that is, especially in relation to this fund?
GA: Sure. What happens is we accept money from people who want to donate it and then we give it out to organizations that are doing great work. The grantmaking decisions are made by community-based partners. I don’t make the decisions. It’s a really beautiful way to do the grantmaking because the people who are in the community know the most and are the best placed to make what are often really difficult grant decisions – because we get more applicants than we can fund. We work to shift the power by leaving the decision making to members of the community and hope that the organizations that are getting funded are the drivers of change. We center human dignity and connection and agency.
JH: Could you share some details of the BIPOC grant process itself. How does it work?
GA: There are some big changes this year, which we believe will help applicants. For one thing, we have made the application easier. Organizations don’t have to submit a project budget this year, for the first time, because all grants will now be for general support of the organization. This means nonprofits will have the flexibility to use the funds in the way that the organization sees as best. The other big change is that we’re going to provide a two-year grant, so if an organization gets an award in 2024, so long as they talk to an advisor at the end of the year, they’ll get a second grant in 2025 without having to reapply. So, they’ll get funding for two years. The next year the BIPOC Fund will be open to applications is 2026.
JH: Those changes sound wonderful. You know, sometimes the community is fearful of applying for grants. They feel like they don’t have enough knowledge both about how this is done, and also how the money is awarded. They think maybe there is something going on behind a curtain, and that will make it impossible for them to get a grant.
GA: I’m glad you asked that. Being transparent is very important to us. We make sure the process is fair and equitable for everybody. We write all our applications with the intent that anybody can fill it out. You don’t have to hire a grant writer. We find that grant writers often don’t prepare the best applications because the grant writer isn’t doing the actual work of the organization. And the community partners who make the decisions (known as advisors) can really tell in an application when the heart and soul is coming through, and the energy behind the commitment to the community. And John Ochira and I are here to help with the specifics of the application, which will be translated on the website into Arabic, French, Portuguese and Spanish by December 15. I know from experience that it’s more difficult to write in a language that isn’t your first language, but the advisors are used to that, and want to fund really great organizations and very great work, and not just a very well-written application.
JH: If someone is thinking about preparing an application, how do you suggest they begin?
GA: We provide information sessions every year to the community, and this year we hope to do some in person in Portland and Lewiston and Bangor. My colleague and friend, John Ochira and Katie Howard will join me. And I will hold a session on Zoom from noon-1 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 19, to talk about the BIPOC Fund and answer any questions people have. Registration is free; just go to our website. Also, people are always welcome to contact me and I’m happy to have conversations about the fund and the application and how to apply.
JH: Do you have any advice for people?
GA: Yes, each of the grant programs, including the BIPOC Fund, has specific criteria, or priorities, that are explained on the website and in the information sessions. It’s really important for applicants to look at those because the advisors will make their decisions based on whether the grant application fits with the criteria and priorities. So I suggest that applicants really use the information that’s on the website. The advisors will look at the big pool of all the applications and make awards by June 1. Last year we had 70 proposals. We make sure to fund applications from all over the state, and we fund different sectors – for example, not just social service, but the arts, the environment, economic opportunities, health. The advisors will do their very best to make an equitable final decision. Thank you for sharing this information with the community.