Pitch Your Peers passes out grants

Group founded by Mercer Island women awards $95,000 in grants to local charities.

The power of giving is increased when people give together.

The Seattle chapter of the nonprofit organization Pitch Your Peers (PYP), founded by two Mercer Island women, just had its third annual Grant Recipient Celebration on Dec. 6 at Gray Sky Gallery and gave $95,000 to local charities.

StolenYouth received the grand prize grant amount of $70,800. Second place went to Kindering in the amount of $17,700. The third place grant award of $7,000 went to Space Between.

The local all-woman collaborative giving group started about three years ago when Mercer Island friends Erin Krawiec, president, and Alison Burks, vice president, were thinking about ways to give back to their community over a glass of wine. They were inspired by the PYP organization that was started in Greenwich, Conn., and, after connecting with them, they started its second chapter in Seattle in 2017. Now there is a third chapter opening in Chicago in 2020.

“We just loved it and thought it was a great idea,” Krawiec said.

The local chapter now has 50 members, about half of whom live on Mercer Island. Each year, at their Pitch Night event in October, they all pitch organizations benefiting King County that the group could choose to give to.

Then, during a series of followup events, the members get to know the charities, their teams, and see what they do firsthand. Ultimately, the members vote for the organizations who will be grant recipients. Whoever pitched them is named a grant champion.

As a membership requirement, each member donates at least $1,000 into the grant pool, so there is always at least $50,000 to start off with. The chapter also utilizes corporate matching and individual private donors who pledge to match a certain amount.

In the tiered giving system, 80 percent goes to the first prize recipient, while 20 percent goes to the second prize recipient and the third prize recipient gets any corporate matches.

The Dec. 6 event was attended by about 80 people. The PYP members, their spouses, the grant champions, and the grant recipients and their team members were present to celebrate.

“By then we know the recipients. It’s a chance to celebrate them and our grant champions, as well as our members, our neighbors and our friends,” Krawiec said. “It’s really nice.”

Recipient charity team members speak and are presented with oversized checks.

This year’s grand prize winner, StolenYouth, is a nonprofit founded by Seattle women that fights to end child sex trafficking in Washington State. Krawiec said they got to meet and hear the story of one trafficking survivor who now works with the charity on prevention efforts and to help other survivors.

“Her story took our breath away,” Krawiec said. “It’s an issue you can’t turn your back on.”

Michelle Dumler, Mercer Island resident and 2019 new PYP member, was the one who pitched the organization. She is involved with the organization as a volunteer and thought it would be a great charity to receive one of the PYP grant awards.

“I’m incredibly honored to have won the first prize grant award for StolenYouth. It’s an important issue people don’t really know a lot about,” Dumler said. “We often think about trafficking being in other parts of the world, but it’s happening in our own backyard.”

She said she grew up here and has lived on Mercer Island practically her entire life. When she first learned about StolenYouth and heard the horror stories, she said it was surprising and overwhelming.

“It was pretty shocking to me,” she said. “I had no idea this was an issue here.”

The charity focuses on three key areas: prevention, critical services and recovery. More information about the group’s efforts can be found online at stolenyouth.org.

Dumler explained that child trafficking is traumatic and lengthy. Then the kids have to learn how to survive in regular society after years of sexual and physical abuse while reliving that trauma every day.

“Having this organization is incredibly important,” she said.

She also said the opportunity to pitch the charity to the PYP group is valuable in and of itself because it raises awareness.

“Whether you win or not, you are able to present to an organization of incredible women who are an engaged audience and want to learn and help,” Dumler said. “It’s really about awareness.”

Krawiec said the PYP members are most active during their grant season, September through December, but they also complete volunteer work together at various events throughout the year.

“The women in our group are rockstar women,” she said. “I’ve met amazing women through this.”

She said the group also offers members a unique opportunity to get to know the charities and feel connected to the causes they are supporting. Krawiec also mentioned that it’s more inspiring and motivating to learn about a cause when one’s peers are advocating for it.

“When somebody you know is passionate about a charity, you’re more willing to listen,” she said. “Being able to support charities together is really fulfilling, and being able to support our peers.”

Krawiec said anyone wanting to learn more or get involved can go online to www.pitchyourpeersseattle.org. More information about the winning charities and grant champions also can be found there.