In philanthropy, there is often talk about being donor-centric, which is undoubtedly important. However, while nonprofit professionals spend a lot of time centering donors, Foundation Center has a special knack for centering the nonprofit professional.
Foundation Center provides a number of services and programs designed to empower social sector professionals. At the heart of this is the Funding Information Network (FIN), which is a network of libraries, community foundations, and other nonprofit resource centers that can be found across the U.S. and around the world. In the Midwest, there are currently 108 FIN locations. Anyone is welcome to utilize FIN resources, which includes access to Foundation Center databases, training and community networking opportunities.
FIN managers are usually the first person one will encounter when visiting a Funding Information Network location. They are often connectors, linking individuals and organizations to the resources they need to thrive. Linda Koss, a recently retired FIN librarian, recalls a time when a woman visited her location with an idea to start a nonprofit that helped K-12 students learn about career-readiness. Linda advised her to think about it another way, “I asked her, ‘Do you really want to do that? Maybe what you want to do is work with the school system and have them apply for a grant and hire you to do that.’ She came back later and said, ‘Yeah that's what I did and it worked out.’”Sometimes it gets personal. One woman called desperately looking for funding to pay for reconstructive surgery after suffering from a debilitating disease. Rather than turn her away, Linda spent time looking through directories and websites to find medical grants for individuals and made good on her promise to call the woman back with options to pursue.
Marilynn Fauth landed in her role as a FIN manager in Indiana after years of development and education experience. She makes it clear that passion for the mission is not enough to be successful. In her decades of service, hundreds of people have come through her doors after unsuccessful and uninformed internet searches for grant funding. Her desk became an impromptu prospect research class for patrons with walk-in consultations sometimes running three hours. For Marilynn, it was not enough to provide information, she created an internship program at her location. Designed to inspire a talent pipeline for the social sector, the program has graduated more than two dozen young leaders. She recalls, “I loved doing that, and I love the enthusiasm that the young people gave me.”
Linda Hale, a passionate supporter of Funding Information Network, manages the Microbusiness Center, which is housed at the Akron Summit County library in Akron, one of 28 FINs in Northeast Ohio. She explains how she serves as a thought partner to patrons who are interested in starting their own nonprofit, “They don't really understand what a nonprofit is, so I do have a tendency to try to have them work through the sort of customer validation piece and see if maybe social entrepreneurism is a better idea for them where they can help the community and be more concerned about their stakeholders instead of their stockholders and still be able to get paid for what they do. We did find most people don't have the knowledge or the experience or the finances to start a non-profit. We're the ones that are giving people that initial information so that they can understand the process better.”
FIN managers are natural advocates of information and knowledge services. Linda Hale wants to help people understand just how valuable information provided by Foundation Center is to the sector. “Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value,” she asserts. Linda Koss explains, “A lot of times people will come to us after they've tried Google and they said, ‘Google wasn't a great way’ and Google is like going in a big city sometimes that has really nice houses and neighborhoods and sometimes it's got a lot of dark alleys with shady characters and with the Foundation Directory Online and the Foundation Directory for individuals, you are getting a product where you know there are honest brokers involved and that it's very comprehensive.”
In Toledo, the FIN has become a source for hope. In a community with economic depression and public education challenges, individuals come to Foundation Center's FIN to use computers, build skills, and seek out resources to fund their endeavors. Foundation Center’s role in Toledo’s workforce development has been a vital public service. Linda Koss lists off a number of partnerships aimed at helping residents learn financial literacy and career-readiness skills.
Julie Rittenhouse, a Foundation Center Midwest Advisory Council member and instructor at Cleveland State University, takes her college students to Foundation Center Midwest’s library each semester so they can learn about the rich resources available to the community. She observes, “The students are so surprised that this rich resource is right here in our backyard.” The information provided is pivotal to a larger moment in history from her perspective, “We are in a time of the largest transfer of wealth the world has ever known. Foundation Center has a role in helping the field of philanthropy, philanthropic leaders, and the nonprofit sector navigate that.”
Service takes many forms. It means being present, being responsive, listening, guiding, equipping, and inspiring the region’s dreamers and doers. For Foundation Center Midwest the human touch provided by its regional hub staff and FIN partners is irreplaceable.
Inspired by its recent 40th anniversary celebration and theme of “Doing Good Better”, the Vision and Voices series is a collection of blog posts based on storytelling from Foundation Center Midwest leaders and stakeholders.