Dimitra Tasiouras, Circle of Service Foundation

TITLE: Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: Medical research, Jewish causes, human services

CONTACT: dimitra@cosfoundation.org, (847) 716-2111

IP TAKE: Not many program officers spell out exactly what they're looking for in a grant proposal. Tasiouras breaks down the art of proposal pitching in twelve insightful steps.

PROFILE: Dimitra Tasiouras is a program officer at the Chicago's Circle of Service Foundation. But when she held a similar role at the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, she penned a rather insightful and telling document titled, “What Makes a Good Proposal: In 'Real People' Language.” Publications like this are like gold to nonprofit fundraisers. And although Tasiouas has switched foundations since she wrote it, many of the principles still guide her grantmaking. (Read Circle of Service Foundation: Chicago Grants).

Tasiouras got her start in the world of acting and earned a Bachelor's Degree in theater from Baldwin-Wallace College in 1985. She switched gears a few years later and earned her Master's degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago. She served as a program officer for the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation for five years before becoming the Executive Director at the Chicago Global Donors Network and the Director of Programs and Partnerships at the Illinois Humanities Council. At Fry, she focused her grantmaking on programs related to poverty, violence, and economic disparity.

At Circle of Service Foundation (COSF), Tasiouras is joined by three other program officers, a program associate, a grants manager, and a couple assistants. She's been with COSF since April of 2011. Each of the program officers are generalists and consider proposals from education, medical research, community service, and Jewish community organizations.

The first piece of Tasiouras offers grantseekers is to tell a story. You'll need to recall the basic questions of journalism and tell your organization's story in powerful terms to catch her attention. So as you craft your proposal, consider these twelve questions and form your grant request around them:

  1. What's the problem?
  2. How do you know it' a problem?
  3. What needs to be done about the problem?
  4. How do you know its the right thing to do?
  5. Why is your organization the right organization to do it?
  6. What specific things will you do?
  7. To whom, for whom, and with whom will you do it?
  8. How many times, how often, and in what time frame will you do it?
  9. What will it cost?
  10. How will all the costs be covered?
  11. How will you know your solution is working?
  12. Why is this a good fit for the foundation?

In an article she wrote titled, “The Benefits of Strategic Philanthropy,” also while at Fry, Tasiouras offered the following tips to small businesses and companies with limited resources for leveraging charitable activities to benefit their communities and businesses. “Strategic philanthropy isn't about disguising self-serving activities under a veil of good intentions or adopting a cause merely to sell products It's about showing consumers that your company cares about its community,” she said.

  • Invest in small, lesser-known causes where you can have an impact
  • Choose nonprofits that are a logical extension of your own businesses
  • Set up a program that encourages employees to personally contribute
  • Create ongoing partnerships with nonprofits, rather than giving one-time gifts
  • Promote your charitable activities to draw attention to your sponsored nonprofit

Tasiouras describes her professional specialties as program development, program planning, grantmaking, event planning, and organizational development. However, her personal passions are biking, food, and the city of Chicago. A few years ago, Tasiouras started Fork and the Road, a cycling tour group that organizes rides to showcase the city's diverse cuisine. “We take riders deep into Chicago's neighborhoods to discover the city's best food,” explained Tasiouras's business partner, Sharon Bautista. "On our visits to diverse restaurants and markets, we sample delicious specialties and talk to talented chefs and shopkeepers."

She's not only a philanthropist on the job, but on her downtime too. Tasiouras was recently recognized for her donation to Umoja, a family-school partnership that helps youth succeed in college. She's also been involved with Chicago charity soup kitchen, Soup and Bread. She was a Fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago and involved with the Technology Affinity Group, which promotes the use of technology in philanthropy.

Regardless of the program area, Tasiouras prefers to see outside-of-the-box solutions rather than cookie-cutter models. Innovation goes far with this foundation. To learn more about applying for a grant with COSF, take a look at the foundation's How to Apply page.

“Over the years, proposal writing has developed its own language, rules, regulations, dogma and mythology, Tasiouras said. “These can be intimidating and confusing to new grantseekers and distracting and confining to experienced grantseekers. Put them aside for a while. Underneath all of that stuff is thestory of how you’re changing your community. Tell it.”