Philanthropic Vehicle

In addition to making an annual contribution (minimum of $25,000) for participation in the Fund, many partners invested additional grants for sector-wide initiatives or for specific projects.

Particularly, once the funding partners learned to trust each other and the Fund as a working entity, several of them choose to use it as a vehicle for more than technical assistance grants to any local nonprofit that applied. The Fund became another tool in many of the partners’ toolkits to achieve their foundation’s mission.

For example, the Fund only awarded grants in Milwaukee County for the first three years. However, in 1998, the Northwestern Mutual Foundation asked that the Fund conduct a diagnostic clinic of an organization which they were very interested in funding, but it wasn’t quite ready for a serious investment from this major corporation. The only problem for the Fund was that the organization was located in Ozaukee County. Northwestern Mutual was so interested in this organization that it made a special grant to the Fund to cover the cost of that organizational assessment, and paved the way for an expansion of the Fund’s eligibility boundaries.

While Northwestern Mutual may have broken ground for investing in particular projects, it didn’t take long for other partners to follow. Over the years, the Faye McBeath Foundation urged the Fund, with a grant of $5,000, to determine nonprofits’ needs in technology. The Greater Milwaukee Foundation asked the Fund to award grants to strengthen nonprofits in the Harambee neighborhood with a small balance from the Neighborhood and Family Initiative.

The Helen Bader Foundation found the Fund to be the perfect vehicle for a series of initiatives beginning with making a special grant to build the capacity of five AODA residential organizations. Later, the Bader Foundation included the Fund in their multi-year Arts in Education Initiative to conduct assessments of 15 arts organizations, the analysis of which became the impetus for art$upport.

Every once in a while, the Fund partnered with another entity that was not a good match for regular participation. For instance, the City of Milwaukee’s Block Grant Office tried to join the Fund, but as a small donor-advised Fund at the community foundation, we just weren’t ready to adhere to  another layer of governmental accounting procedures. So instead, we found a compromise that suited everyone: the CDBG office would fund a diagnostic clinic for one of its grantees; then the Fund and CDBG would split the cost of the first follow-up grant for strategic planning, marketing, or whatever was needed. It developed into a great working relationship, without financial encumbrances.

Sometimes, a local funder who was not part of the Fund still saw it as an opportunity to address a concern about one of their grantees. For example, WE Energies identified an organization in which they wanted to invest long-term, but that group’s board needed some guidance and it lacked a strategic plan for growth. WE Energies made a $9,000 grant to the Fund so that we in turn could make two grants to build the capacity of the identified group, which would then be eligible for a much larger investment by WE Energies.

Additional funds were easily raised when the partners agreed to sponsor or organize a small project or a large initiative. Sponsoring the Board Initiative that became BoardStar certainly took a greater investment of time and dollars than paying for a facilitated planning retreat, which resulted in the idea of creating a pro-bono legal clinic affiliated with Marquette University’s Law School. Yet, each project was very important.  Just as organizing focus groups of nonprofit executives to determine the interest in establishing a degree program in nonprofit management was a relatively small payment for what became a huge impact in Milwaukee through the Helen Bader Institute for Nonprofit Management at UWM.

Most of the partners found that the Fund was the perfect vehicle to invest in projects aimed at building a segment of the sector or specific organizations that were instrumental to their philanthropic mission.

3 comments | Add a New Comment
1. Brenda Peterson | May 20, 2014 at 09:41 PM EDT

There is only one thing to say. Thank you

Thank you Pat for envisioning and leading community initiatives that help us educate future leaders and build better boards.

Thank you NPMF funders, better word... investors for investing in our community.

OK, four more words. Keep up the good work.

2. Karen Higgins | May 20, 2014 at 10:24 PM EDT

The ability of the Fund to be spry and adjust to assist with building infrastructure benefited many grassroots organizations in ways other communities will never benefit from. I see this as my organization affiliates with a national church body that has over 21 agencies that do similar things but struggle because of their issues with oversight and nonprofit governance. The Fund is something to be cherished and maintained at all cost.

3. Jim Marks | May 21, 2014 at 02:33 PM EDT

I think these examples again illustrate the value of having a fund specifically focused on nonprofit management and capacity building issues They also demonstrate the value of flexibility and willingness to accommodate funders with specific interests or concerns that can't be met through an ordinary grant making agenda or process.

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