Soiree Straight Talk

Recently, I asked a dozen or so executives of Fund grantees to attend a soirée at my office. During the “Meet and Munch” segment, several connections emerged among these leaders. Interestingly, few knew each other when the evening started, yet various promises were made to meet for coffee and discuss future collaborative opportunities.

Of course, as we all know there is no such thing as a free cocktail hour, so I had prepared a few questions for these nonprofit leaders, making them work for their refreshments.

What positive impact did the Fund’s investment have on your organization?

  • “Grant helped leverage more money.”

  • “We found value in grants, classes, guidance, and having experts come talk to our Board.”

  • “The Nonprofit Management Fund helped the organization be better stewards of the resources received.”

  • “Helped us create an organizational structure.”

  • “Before the Fund, I stumbled around in the dark and didn’t know what it meant to run a nonprofit. Meeting Pat changed all that, I no longer felt in the dark, and was able to connect with other nonprofits.”

  • “I was getting poor advice that was all over the place from the few resources I was able to connect with as a small organization.”

  • “Without the Fund’s encouragement African American Children’s Theatre wouldn’t be in existence; you gave me encouragement to just try for another year, encouragement to try other things, encouragement to fix problems, encouragement to use other resources that are available.”

How has the Fund enhanced the nonprofit community?

  • “Provided training that the Board Directors received, which helped them when they moved on to other Boards in the community.”

  • “Small organizations feel they have little power; I felt that the Nonprofit Management Fund could speak for us.”

  • Several individuals noted that the Fund, built the capacity of organizations and gave nonprofits access to professional, high-level training opportunities that they couldn’t otherwise afford.

  • “Encouraged our staff to take time for planning, not just focus on day-to-day survival.”

  •  “The Fund is the only Milwaukee organization with a focus on infrastructure.”

Aside from money, what was the Fund’s greatest gift to Milwaukee?

  • “The funding is great, but without the other resources and guidance, there will be a void.”

  • Change agent

  • Vision

  • Broker of resources that strengthen infrastructure

  • Belief in the improbable

  • “Pat has a sincere appreciation for our missions.”

  • “Conveyed credibility about the nonprofit sector to the corporate elite.”

  •  “The Nonprofit Management Fund has high caliber resources, it isn’t just milk toast.”

     

    What separates the Fund from other funders?

  • “Program funding is easier to get than funding for organizational assistance.”

  • “There is an exchange that happens at the Fund that is more about relationship building and engagement than just about a transfer of money.”

  • “NMF helped give direction and prioritize were to spend energy in order to grow.”

  • “I believe it’s easy to feel lost and like you aren’t making a big enough difference, having the Fund’s attention is encouraging.”

  • “Other funders don’t want to know the nitty gritty of how you are making it happen, they just want to know what your outcomes are going to be.”

  • “As the Fund advisor, Pat was a human being with values and commitment, not just a piggy bank.”

  • I felt it was easier to be held accountable when I knew the person asking questions and checking on the organization actually cared (and wasn’t just calling because of requirements).”

  • “Pat didn’t tell the organizations what to do, but helped guide them on their own path.”

  • “I believe the Fund was a person.”

     

    While the comments represent only a sample of the rich discussion, the participants truly enjoyed meeting each other and I had no difficulty in keeping the conversation flowing. We learned executives loved being convened for a leisurely, yet focused, discussion.

◊ They freely contributed to the conversation, and were not intimidated to share an opinion contrary to others.
◊ Executives want a strong nonprofit sector, not just a strong organization.
◊ They all felt the Fund had a huge impact on both their organization and Milwaukee.
◊ The Fund is unique—in that its focus on organizational infrastructure is not duplicative of other funders.  
◊ The Fund is inclusive, acknowledging even the smallest of nonprofits.
◊ Many of the consultants are very helpful and willingly share their expertise.
◊ Only a few organizations felt the need to look beyond Milwaukee for a specialized consultant.
◊ That the Fund offered more than grants was a significant asset.
◊ The Fund provided vision for the local nonprofit sector.
◊ The guidance of a Fund Advisor is critical to the success of the Fund. Executives stressed the importance of finding another Advisor with nonprofit expertise and not changing to a more robotic and less individualized funding approach in the future.

 

It became clear as folks lingered after the sessions ended that there are too few opportunities to connect with other executives. The standard meeting routine is only to contribute to items on the agenda, but this conversation encouraged the leaders to think beyond their turf and discuss how the Fund plays a very important role in strengthening our local nonprofit sector.

3 comments | Add a New Comment
1. Rachel Forman | June 05, 2014 at 09:07 AM EDT

I was one of the people who gathered for the soiree that is referred to in this blog. The agency for which I am executive director, Grand Avenue Club, has received several grants from the Non-Profit Management Fund under the leadership of Pat Wyzbinski. Among other things, they have helped bring our computer system into the twentieth-first century, made it possible for us to have a website, and facilitated the modernization of our embarrassingly outdated and time-consuming accounting practices. In addition, they funded the publication of the first book about our art gallery, which contributed directly to the confidence of the many GAC members who do art and set us on a confident course of publication. (Our third book is about to picked up from the printer!) So we are very grateful to the Non-Profit Management Fund, as we are to the many generous Milwaukee funders who see the value of our work over the past 23 years.

However, what has made the Non-Profit Management Fund unique is its strong conviction that there is indeed a human service COMMUNITY of non-profiteers who should be engaged with each other in stimulating, challenging, and often supportive conversation. At the soiree I met for the first time a young man who is full of conviction and energy about starting a health facility that will offer opportunities for wellness (working-out, learning about nutrition) that will integrate people who cope with disabilities alongside others. Just last week, Pat made GAC aware of another non-profit organization beautiful place just 40 minutes outside the city that offers respite, recreation, and mini-vacations to groups of \special needs\ citizens. Her efforts facilitated a short, but very renewing vacation for 52 GAC members, many of whom had never left the city in their lives. Both of these new relationships will lead to grand collaborations and will enrich the work we are doing at GAC.

My hope is that the Non-Profit Management Fund will continue to bring us together and will also continue to ask us provocative questions. The Fund is creating just the right kinds of connections among those of us who are eager to contribute to the quality of life here in Milwaukee, especially for the most vulnerable among us, which, given the vagaries of life, always means all of us.

2. Barbara Leigh | June 05, 2014 at 12:26 PM EDT

The fund has been enormously helpful to MPT through the years--and Pat, you play such a vital role--listening to us, encouraging yet probing, you've been the head and heart. THANK YOU!!

3. Rob Meiksins | June 05, 2014 at 04:03 PM EDT

I am one of the consultants who worked on projects with nonprofits that had been supported with a grant from the Fund. In years past I was Executive Director of Future Milwaukee, and we received a few grants from the Fund to help with capacity building. From these two unique perspectives, here is what I found:

- From the consultant side, the Fund helped make it possible for us to work with the smaller agencies. These are groups that need capacity building as much if not more than the big organizations, but do not have the ability to pay for the work.

- Also from the consultant side, the work of the Fund in promoting our personal growth helped us to establish a community of consultants talking to and working with each other. But it also helped us take our work just a bit more seriously, promoting in us the idea that we have to be continual learners.

- From the nonprofit side, the Fund helped as I was trying to build Future Milwaukee as a stronger, independent, stand-alone organization. The conversations with Pat (and Scott at the time) helped me focus won what I needed to do, but also what I could do. And, of course, the grants gave me a chance to pay for some help I desperately needed.

So, all in all, what it seems to me is that for the past however many years, the Fund has been very effective in creating a community of both nonprofits and consultants working together to enhance the effectiveness of the sector. Not too bad.

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