Southern Willamette Valley

College, Classes, and Community Grants

Emma Koontz, 21, Eugene


Finding time to review grant applications during exam week wasn’t easy for Emma Koontz. But it was worth it for the opportunity it gave her to make an impact on the nonprofit world that she’s studying in college. 

Koontz, a junior at the University of Oregon who grew up in Southwest Portland, is majoring in planning, public policy and management. Her mother immigrated to the United States from Korea; her father grew up in Oregon. As a Community Grant evaluator for Oregon Community Foundation, she is able to share what she’s learned at UO about nonprofit administration, as well as her experiences as a college student and a person of color, with other, typically older volunteers. 

“I appreciated being able to collaborate with other people and share my insights around my experience, and why I think a particular grant is important, that they otherwise might have overlooked,” she says. 

For example, Koontz says it’s important to award grants that help nonprofits cover mundane yet vital internal costs — like software subscriptions, so staff can hold virtual meetings, or a new van for food pantry workers to make deliveries.  

“The default for funders is to go and fund the super-exciting projects and not think about funding the people within the nonprofit organization and their needs, who are just as important, because they're the ones who make the big projects happen,” she explains.  

She learned from her fellow volunteers, too. 

“I am not a huge numbers person. So having someone on our team who had a background in finance — she could balance my humanistic perspective with her numbers perspective. It was just a great place to collaborate. Everyone brings their own insights to it, and that's super-interesting.”  

To young adults and other Oregonians who doubt they know enough about philanthropy to be grant evaluators, Koontz says: OCF needs you.  

OCF “has so many volunteers who know everything about the grant review process. They have program officers who know plenty of things about the foundation. That’s not your value,” she says. “Your value is that you bring your own expertise. Your value is that you will be able to look at a grant application, think about that project and ask, ‘how would that work for the communities that I'm a part of?’”  

For Koontz, “racial equity and closing the opportunity gap” are driving factors in her life. In that area, “OCF is really pushing the boundary in terms of what other foundations are doing and continuing to strive to improve,” she says.  

She cites OCF’s prioritization of historically marginalized communities for Community Grants; its efforts to diversify staff and volunteers; the education that OCF provides for donors to learn about local issues and challenges; and the ways in which staff engages with and seeks feedback from nonprofits, rather than assuming that OCF knows best what communities need. 

“I'm mainly just looking for opportunities to do good, and OCF is one of the places I can do that,” Koontz says. “I continue to volunteer for them because I know that they are continuing to move in the right direction.”

Emma Koontz is a volunteer featured in the story is a volunteer featured in the story A Gift Beyond Measure: OCF Volunteer Impact.