Nine nonprofit executives recently published a widely-circulated letter about how to strengthen philanthropy. Titled “We are in this together: a letter to philanthropy” has created quite the discussion in the Foundation community. On behalf of the Iowa West Foundation, I like to share my thoughts on the letter in hopes it will continue to foster dialogue.
The open letter identified ways nonprofits and foundations can work together to create greater outcomes as partners.
1. Building healthy organizations by thinking bigger and longer.
In recent years, Iowa West leadership has emphasized our capacity building program because we believe in the importance of strong nonprofit partners. In 2015, we awarded our first capacity building grant. Our message to that nonprofit’s board was, “We think you’re doing important work. We would like to support not only the work, but your ability to continue to do the work in the most efficient and effective manner in the future.” In a similar vein, Iowa West’s Board of Directors approved a multi-year funding pilot program in 2016. We researched organizations critical to the delivery of essential human services in Pottawattamie County. Our Board had already demonstrated a commitment to funding these organizations over a number of years. These organizations were then offered a three-year commitment of general operations funding to direct toward their most important needs. This commitment included an opportunity for each organization to receive training and consultation to grow the organization’s capacity.
At the Iowa West Foundation, we use a variety of channels to engage with the community. You can find everything you need to know about our work and our grantmaking on our website. We also maintain an active relationship with the Daily Nonpareil, and routinely share important news through traditional media and social media. This past year, we conducted extensive listening sessions throughout Pottawattamie County to share what we saw as our successes from the past five years and ask you what you saw as the priorities for the next five years. We have taken that feedback to our Board and it has helped shape our next strategic plan. (More to come on that soon.)
3. Learning Together.
Our Board of Directors has prioritized strengthening the evaluation component of our work. In 2015 we streamlined our grantee reports and introduced a feedback mechanism so we can provide comments to grantees. We have committed to investing in evaluation with our partners so that together we can evaluate the impact of our investments. The learning is not one-way. Our boards’ annual retreat is focused on understanding how other communities are successfully addressing the issues we are working on in Council Bluffs and Pottawattamie County. We follow those experiences with a commitment to engaging community leaders to take the lessons we’ve learned and apply them here at home.
4. Strategy Partners.
Over the past five years, our funding has shifted from being mostly grants-driven to a focus on partnerships and initiatives. This change has brought our staff to the table with our partners to develop strategies together. When we understand the capacity needs of our partners, we’re able to invest more deeply in community solutions. We understand that transformational change takes 10–15 years to accomplish and requires strong partners to lead the work.
5. Crack through Systemic Inequality.
Much of our work stems from addressing the symptoms or causes of poverty. We know that Council Bluffs has one of the highest poverty rates in the metro area. That is why our Board of Directors made the decision to focus our human and social needs support in Pottawattamie County. In our community, we see that the greatest population growth is happening in Latino households. But, as indicated in the IWF-sponsored report “Invisible and Voiceless” by UNO’s Office of Latino / Latin American Studies, many Latinos do not feel like they can fully participate in the community. This is one of the motivations for our support to El Centro Latino and their community organizing efforts. We believe that to reach our economic potential, we need to include all of our residents.
In closing, we are excited about the new ways we are working with our partners and grantees. We are just scratching the surface in some of these areas, but by listening and through engagement, we are able to constantly grow and adapt. We are committed to transparency, and we are always available if you want to speak with us. We value your partnership in achieving our vision: “a community where families want to live and businesses want to locate because of the quality of life and the standard of living.”