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State of the Org 2024: Funding Shifts and Next Steps

Natural Creativity has come a very long way in eight short years.  When we opened in 2016, we were renting a decent-sized room in a church in Germantown, and serving a community of 16 families.  Our board of directors consisted of a handful of people who really believed in what we were doing and trusted us to operate according to our principles and values.  We relied heavily on funding from one, then two major donors, and we were able to keep our operating costs down by scavenging, borrowing, and begging for materials and volunteer support.  We cared deeply for the families who took a huge leap of faith with us.

In the years since, we have grown in so many ways, from staff size and ability to overall community size and program quality.  We built a culture that honors the authentic selves of our young people and provides support for them to thrive in ways that matter to them.  We moved from that decent-sized room (thank you, FUMCOG!) to an all-outdoor pod-based program during the first year of COVID, to our current home at 5534 Pulaski Ave.  Our community grew from 16 young people to 56, with almost no effort put into marketing or self-promotion; we delivered a high-quality educational experience for our families and they told other people about us, who then told even more people!

Over the years, we operated our business model from a perspective of sincere social justice.  We insisted that families who had been previously excluded from this type of learning environment due to financial reasons would excel if given the opportunity, and we sought funding sources with shared values.  We attracted a range of funders, at various levels, so we were able to keep a high quality program accessible without requiring staff to become financial martyrs.  None of us were becoming rich from this work, but neither was anyone asked to go without so that we could keep a balanced budget.

Additionally, we operated with as much transparency with our community as possible,  revising our program multiple times through COVID changes to develop mutually beneficial possible solutions.  We offered further program fee reductions when families were hit with financial hardship, and we found ways to partner with other organizations to offer services at no or reduced costs.  We continuously moved toward the kind of organization we have always wanted to be, and we believe those who know us - young people, parents, community members, partners - are eager to come along with us.

As we look out onto the philanthropic horizon, we are greeted with a fairly stark view.  Organizations that would previously fund us have shifted their focus, or have narrowed the funnel of their resources to more conventional models.  We operate in a strange space where we are often philosophically aligned with many different funders, but we do not fit logistically with their ideas about what a program should be.  We continue to try to cultivate these relationships, and we have occasional successes, but we are growing less enthusiastic with each passing rejection.

So, here we are.  The leadership team of Natural Creativity has spent the last two years redesigning our business model, and are beginning to see some returns from it.  Specifically, we are moving away from a significant reliance on philanthropy, and toward a model that is able to generate our own revenue.  We are offering summer camps, weekend classes, and space rentals.  We are building workshops and consultation systems.  We are in the process of designing evening adult drop-in opportunities, and staff development programs for other organizations.  Generally speaking, we are becoming more of a true community hub than we ever imagined we would be, and we believe there is real traction in this approach.  By generating more of our own income, we will be less susceptible to the whims of philanthropy, and we can focus on partnerships that really value who we are and what we do, and want to come along for the ride.

Our goal is to make this change with minimal impact on the current community.  We are doing our best to maintain our commitment to offering financial support for those in need without impacting staff salaries more than necessary.  We are still seeking funding support to help us bridge this transition, and we are exploring new sources of potential funding.  2024-25 will be a stressful year, but we are optimistic and enthusiastic about the possibilities, and about what NC will become.

We have been so humbled by the outpouring of support from our families, including parents volunteering to help with special projects, grant-writing and editing, and connection-making to other opportunities.  We truly are in this together, and we are continuing to seek ways to keep our community thriving and our program accessible.  Please consider sharing info about our program, or about community-giving opportunities your employer may offer; share our fundraising campaigns on social media, or share our newsletter with everyone you know!  We never know who may respond to our story, and so we want to have it in front of as many people as possible.  

Thank you so much, and we look forward to the next phase of our growth together!


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