Doing Good Better Sometimes Requires A Helping Hand

Part I – Janus Small

It wasn’t necessarily her art school education that prepared her for current career, but rather her dad’s position as a city councilman for 32 years that gave Janus Small her start in nonprofit management. Starting in elementary school Janice would help with her father’s campaigns managing volunteers and asking for donations. Ultimately, she did get her Master’s degree in nonprofit management back when not too many schools offered it as a degree of study. Her first encounter with Foundation Center was during graduate school. Her fundraising course was particularly overwhelming. As she recalls, “Our teacher took us to the Cincinnati Public Library that had a collection from the Foundation Center and once we saw what was out there and how much information was available I thought, ‘This was amazing. This wasn't overwhelming anymore.’”

Janus has come a long way since being a fundraising novice. She now runs her own consulting firm, after having led three different nonprofits over 20 years. Using her decades of experience, she helps organizations find their way. Janus often encounters clients who think the issue is lack of money. In actuality, she says, it’s a lack of clarity around their mission and how to fulfill it. “If you just go out there and ask everyone for money without doing your research, most of the time you're going to get rejected because you're not going to people who are aligned with your mission.” She continues, “It doesn't matter how great of a grant writer you are, or how great of a researcher you are if you're not clear on who you are and what you're doing and why you're doing it, and that there is indeed a need in the community for what you do. You’re going to have money problems that are not going to be taken care of.

Many nonprofits are run by passionate, talented people. However, operating a nonprofit takes specific skillsets and knowledge bases that have to be cultivated and practiced over time. Janus insists that investing in strengthening these areas is critical to success and “very worthwhile.” The National Council of Nonprofits backs this up saying that “when capacity building is successful, it strengthens a nonprofit’s ability to fulfill its mission over time, thereby enhancing the nonprofit’s ability to have a positive impact on lives and communities.” Foundation Center has great tools that support capacity building, including Foundation Directory Online and the newly relaunched Grantspace.org.

Besides studying, leading, and consulting for nonprofits, Janus has come full circle and is now an instructor in a nonprofit graduate program. As a teacher, she sees where there are gaps in developing the sector’s talent pipeline. “I feel that some of the programs out there are not preparing people for the real world life of working in nonprofits. I feel like internships and hands-on type programs are few and far between and that’s a problem. I learned so much of what I learned when I spent extensive time doing internships during my graduate program.”

Janus has a number of tools in her toolbox that she uses to serve her clients. Foundation Center Midwest is one of them. Janus encourages her clients to use Foundation Center as a resource where they can conduct prospect research. She helps them learn how to build relationships with foundation funders saying, “I often very often tell organizations to think of their foundation funders especially as people still with wisdom that they can turn to for ideas and to bounce ideas off totally aside from looking for money.” Programs like Foundation Center Midwest’s Coffee & Conversation series that features foundation staff members discussing their grantmaking and taking questions from grantseekers is a free and accessible way for nonprofit leaders to connect with funding decision-makers in a low-pressure environment. “The only way you'll really know so you won't be out there in the dark is to go to the Foundation Center where you will find unbelievable information about who donors are, what they say they give to, what they actually give to, and all of the information you need so that you're going to people whose life missions align with your organizations.” Northeast Ohio has benefited greatly over the past forty years from the services, programs and products provided by Foundation Center.

Needless to say, Janus has extensive experience and perspective. She is able to offer balanced insight of what’s positive and what needs improvement in the sector. She does not let the perennial challenges that face nonprofits such as capacity building, board training, resource development, and long-term planning cloud what she sees as the ray of light. She is hopeful about the increasing number of individuals she sees interested in serving as “professionals and lay volunteers, and board members”. To Janus that means the sector will carry on with new energy, different voices, and expanded capabilities. Change, for Janus, is always on the horizon.

 

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.