Meet Our Heroes

Challenged Athletes Foundation



Empowering grantees through a legacy of compassion.

Jim MacLaren was a young, exceptional athlete with exciting adventures ahead of him. After a motorcycle accident resulted in the need for an amputation, Jim was left without a leg, but not without his love of sports and his desire to be active. He persevered, becoming a triathlete.. 

When a second tragic accident a year later resulted in Jim becoming quadrapalegic, three of his friends came forward to put on a triathlon to raise funding to provide Jim with an accessible van that would allow him to drive independently.

That one gesture opened Jim’s community to the cost and burden families of those with physical challenges face regularly, and sparked the mission for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). Their work set into motion a ripple effect that has impacted 26,000 individuals via grants, and more than 60,000 through clinics, camps, and community outreach since its founding in 1994.

“The founders got together to help more athletes with challenges get back into the game of life,” shares Laura Wolf Stein, Senior Marketing Director of the CAF. “The spirit of friends helping friends has lived with us for 26 years, and has impacted how we run our organization.”

“From one came many,” says Senior Programs Coordinator, Jayme Jarvis, referencing one of the foundation’s mission drivers. “We started with Jim, but now we have thousands of applicants annually that benefit from our various programs, and they are the cornerstone of the organization.”

Enabling athletics for everyone

While most of the work the Challenged Athletes Foundation does focuses around grants to cover the adaptive equipment those with physical challenges need to enjoy their favorite sports and activities, other initiatives vary depending on the needs they are seeing. These include classes, camps, and educational events.

“A lot of what we do is in response to the desire of the individuals,” says Stein. “It starts with their motivation -- if they come to us with motivation, they’ve moved up on our list.”

Grantees are diverse, their love of sports uniting them. About 25% of the organization’s grant recipients are kids under the age of 18, but in 2019 they provided assistance to a recipient who was 77 years old.  CAF grants supported 103 different activities in 2019 and grantees represented every state and 42 countries around the world. CAF helps athletes of all levels of skill from recreational activities to elite athletes competing in prestigious competitions. In fact, approximately 50% of Team USA’s Paralympians have received assistance from Challenged Athletes Foundation at some part in their athletic journey.

Improving the application process with technology

As the foundation’s grant programs -- which include an open, annual grant program and a rolling program for military veterans called Operation Rebound -- expanded, managing the multiple applications manually became prohibitive. The team also wanted to use a system that would be easy for their applicants to use, which meant a cookie-cutter form was not going to work.

Thankfully, CAF struck up a conversation with WizeHive, and since 2013 has been running programs on our grants management software, Zengine.

“What I love about Zengine is it allows us to create a personalized resource for the athletes,” says Jarvis. “We get the right athlete to the right application form and give them a better experience. Other platforms have not allowed us this customization that has been so beneficial to us.”

Zengine’s review portals and the ability to customize the review workflow have also helped the organization improve how they award.

“In an ideal situation we’d be able to raise enough funds so we didn’t have to turn down anyone. But it is a very competitive grant, so we have a variety of criteria that will allow those applicants we feel have put in the effort and represent our mission to rise to the top,” explains Jarvis. “The review process in Zengine allows us to really objectively score the applications.”

Criteria includes financial need -- 40% of last grantees in the 2019 cycle had an annual income of less than $20,000 -- as well as community service, letter of recommendation, and solid details on their athletic plans and goals. 

“The thing that's really been so great is the customization we've been able to create,” continues Jarvis. “We serve one population, but within that are so many levels of experience, sports, and situations, and that requires different applications for each segment. Zengine has allowed us to build forms that are tailored to a specific group. As a result, we collect more accurate information, and it’s a better user experience for them.”

Helping the foundation better serve their mission

While the investment in a grants management system was driven by the grantee experience, the fact that things have improved for the administrative team is a plus, too.

“The reporting is extremely user friendly,” says Jarvis. “I have multiple dashboards set up so I can see what applications have been submitted to pie charts of requests in amounts. These quick snapshot data points allow me to report better and more quickly, and give us an idea of where we are at.

“The other thing that’s really cool is we have thousands of applicants; Communicating with them is crucial and would be time consuming if I didn’t have a way to reach out to different populations. The email functions have cut down on the time and work to communicate messages to so many people. And that cuts down on phone calls and personal emails and the frustration of athletes. Being able to send a bulk update to a filtered group is huge.”

Stein, Jarvis, and the rest of the team have been optimizing their workspace, applications, and processes nearly annually in Zengine, honing in on what works and what will further help their applicants or internal team. 

“Having a solid grants platform is a make or break deal for us. We really have found something solid in using Zengine in helping us carry out our mission.”

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