Whether the cause is a soup kitchen on Capitol Hill, a feminist radio network or a camp that teaches kids about the stock market, Common Capital Fund, a year-old, nonprofit foundation in town, will hear the proposal out, with one proviso -- it must "organize working and low income communities, work in a democratic, nonracist, nonsexist manner and challenge fundamental societal inequalities."
The foundation will initially award approximately $60,000 in grants ranging up to $5,000 to grassroots organizations that are "too small, too new, too controversial or too unsophisticated" to get money from more traditional funding sources.
Tom Siegel, who with Phyllis Jones is one of the fund's two administrators, helped organize Common Capital Fund last year after spending part of 1979 as a volunteer intern for Vanguard, a similar foundation in San Francisco.
Vanguard, along with five other "alternative community funds" around the country, comprise an alliance called the Funding Exchange. The Common Capital Fund expects to join the Funding Exchange this year, according to Siegel.
Each of the foundations in the Funding Exchange was started by young people who, like Siegel, are the sons and daughters of wealthy parents, and who, according to Siegel, "wanted to do something with their inherited wealth."
Siegel, who is 25, donates his time to the fund. He lives on the income from this late parents' estate. His father, a Russian immigrant, built hotels and developed other real estate in Miami Beach.
Jones, 30, is the fund's only paid staff member. She previously did press work for the African Liberation Support Committee and worked as a telephone installer.
Siegel moved to Washington eight years ago to attend George Washington University. After four years at GWU, he began working for the City Wide Housing Coalition, which he says helped spur his interest in community organizing and social activism.
In January 1980, Siegel, along with about a dozen other local community activists, began planning the creation of an alternative community fund for the District, its aim to provide grants "seeking to empower District of Columbia residents for progressive social change."
During the year, the foundation received its initial funding resources in gifts and pledges, and Siegel says he anticipates receiving an additional $25,000 by the end of March.
Donations from 24 persons have ranged from less than $100 to $8,000. Some of the donors are wealthy, others are middle-class wage earners. Siegel himself is a contributor, although not the largest individual donor.
Applications for the fund's first disbursement of money will be accepted through April 10. Additional funds will be awarded in the fall, with deadline for applications in late August.
Certain kinds of projects will not be funded: religious events; those outside the D.C. community; one-person efforts; those national in scope; academic research; or elite arts. Projects with large budgets also will not be aided.
At an informational forum last week at Southeast Public Library, Siegel and Jones heard some prospective projects described.
Two women from the Sursum Corda Tenants Association, at 1st and M streets NW, said they wanted money to help their association purchase their homes as a cooperative.
Sara Deane representated a group of displaced homemakers trying to help women in the 14th Street corridor start their own businesses.
Rick Davis, a volunteer at the Washington City Church of the Brethren at 4th Street and North Carolina Avenue SE, said he hopes to receive money to support another staff person for two church projects: a tutoring program for children attending Brent Elementary School, and a soup kitchen that provides a daily brunch for alcoholics and other street people.
Siegal emphasized that the fund has tried to make application procedures as simple as possible. The procedures involve filling out an information sheet about the organization and writing a proposal stating what the group's goals are and how the grant would help achieve them.
He added that an organization can prepare a draft of the proposal and have the fund's staff review it and offer suggestions. He said this would not guarantee that a project would be funded, because the staff does not participate in the grant-awarding process. Awards are made by a funding committee of community activists.
Members of the selection committee and their affiliations are: Jo Delaplaine, active in local feminist organizations; Bernard Demczuk, a government workers union representative who has been fighting budget cuts for social services; Niani Kilkenny, who has worked for national and local women's and anti-racism groups; Clarence Lusanne, a Southeast Washington community organizer and member of a national tenants union; Maria Elena Orrego of the Andromeda Hispano Mental Health Center; James Parks, a Northeast Washington community organizer; Loretta Ross, of the local Rape Crisis Center and a City Wide Housing Coalition worker; Ama Saran-Callender, involved in local arts and humanities organizations, and in efforts to organize nonprofit management groups; and Larry Weston, a co-operative housing advocate.
For information about the Fund and its grant application restrictions call Tim Siegel or Phyllis Jones at the Fund office, 265-1305. The address is: 2451 18th St. NW. Suite 21, Washington 20009.