How One Unlikely Boston Nonprofit Secured Support from the Cummings Foundation

The Cummings Foundation is pretty unusual in how it makes grants in the Boston area, with two signature programs for nonprofit groups to get in on. The annual $100K for 100 program supports mid-sized nonprofits in the Massachusetts counties of Middlesex, Essex and Suffolk. There’s also the major grant program, which builds upon the $100K for 100 effort and often provides funding of $100,000 or more for previous grantees in that program.

Today we look at one nonprofit’s story of what it's been doing for the local community to catch this funder’s attention.

Based in Lawrence, Maxine Harvey (age 20) and her sister, Talia Harvey (age 16) started Harvey Girls, Inc., which runs Debbie’s Treasure Chest. With donations of mostly clothes, books, and toys, this nonprofit provides aid and support for disadvantaged and at-risk families in the Merrimack Valley area. They were recently awarded a $10,000 grant as part of Cumming’s $100K for 100 program.

Julie DeSilva of the Cummings Foundation said that the girls’ story won them over because it was particularly compelling and unique. After reviewing the girls’ initial letter of inquiry, Cummings invited them to submit a full application. But this is a bit of a rare funding story for a few reasons.

Cummings tends to support organizations that have a more established structure so that the grant money can make a more immediate impact. The Harvey girls really weren’t all that established, and although Cummings was initially hesitant about funding them, it eventually came around and decided to take a chance. What changed the minds of the Cummings staff was that this is a childhood dream project that is gaining steam and looking to establish a better structure and more programs to benefit the local community.

“We don't typically fund something that is new or a startup, but clearly these girls have been dedicated to this for a long time and just making it work out of sheer force of will,” DeSilva said.

The Harvey girls plan to use the new Cummings money to hire a full time staff member to sustain Debbie’s Treasure Chest and offer more community service projects for children at risk. They also want to invest in some new equipment for the warehouse and inventory systems.

However, the Harvey girls’ efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by other funders in the area too. The Helen Diller Family Foundation, which largely supports organizations in the Bay Area of California, awarded the girls $36,000 in 2014, which funded a move from their donation warehouse into a larger space. Diller focuses grantmaking on education, science, and the arts, and it has a teen fellows program for Jewish teens.

But it’s the Concord, Massachusetts-based Jericho Road Project that ultimately brought the Harvey girls and Cummings together. This is a group of local volunteers that provides nonprofits with free professional expertise. Check out the Consulting for Nonprofits page on Jerico’s site to learn more about this opportunity.

Some of the other recent Cummings grantees include Beyond Soccer, Bread and Roses Housing, the Bread and Roses soup kitchen in Lawrence, Career Resources Corporation in Haverhill, and Seven Hills Community Services in North Andover. These are more typical groups that the funder supports. You can see a full list of the 2016 grant recipients and the major grant recipients, who are also based in the Boston area, on the funder’s website.

To keep in mind as the next Cummings grant cycle rolls around, this funder has prioritized health and education issues lately. And volunteer-run, continuous-need groups that address local hunger and homelessness are pretty typical grantees for Cummings, too.